Is product design evil?

Coutts, Euan Ross and Edward, Jack and Knight, Richard and Duffy, Alex and Grierson, Hilary; Maier, Anja and Škec, Stanko and Kim, Harrison and Kokkolaras, Michael and Oehmen, Josef and Fadel, Georges and Salustri, Filippo and Van der Loos, Mike, eds. (2017) Is product design evil? In: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17). The Design Society, CAN, pp. 209-218. ISBN 9781904670896 (

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Product design presents an ethical dilemma. Despite increasing awareness of limited resources the majority of product design endeavours contribute to unsustainable over-consumption. Is the product design industry self-fulfilling; creating products in order to create more products and manufacturing demand to follow suit? Through complacency has product design become unintentionally harmful and morally questionable, has it become the greatest “evil” of our time? This paper intends to provoke thought and reflection over the role of the designer and their responsibilities. Literature on the subject of ethics, morality and responsibility in product design is reviewed and discussed, the key agents who possess responsibility in design are also explored. It is proposed that designers, while aware of sustainability concerns, possess a diminished sense of personal responsibility for these concerns. A study was conducted to assess the level of empathy possessed by product designers in this regard, it is concluded that while on the whole product designers are empathetic they are complacent with respect to environmental concerns to the extent that it may be considered harmful and damaging.