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The 7 Ethos Of Design: In An Age Of Endless Opportunity, Not Every Road Needs Travelling

Jim JacobyJim Jacoby

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

We are in an age of design where the question is not, “Is it possible?” Rather, it is more of a question of, “Is that honorable?”

With the rise of automated technology, chatbots, artificial intelligence, endless consumer analytics, remarketing tools, digital tracking systems and all the like, the global conversation around the future of design tends to be lacking a very fundamental pillar: What are the ethics behind the things we are building?

It’s a complicated question, and one that often prompts the response, “It depends who’s asking.” Truth, and the intention behind these digital tools, can seem game-changing to one audience and intrusive to another.

Here are the 7 truths we, as designers and digital architects, look to guide our creative process—and we hope will encourage others in the creative industries to consider as well:

1. Value is built on serving people first.

Whether you make a digital product, aggregate data or manufacture a component, fundamental success will be judged by how well your business serves the people you touch.

If you are creating and moving forward without considering people on a human level, first, you are already headed in the wrong direction. We, as creatives, build tools for people—not tools simply for the sake of tools.

2. Efficient and responsible systems stand the test of time.

The best systems are highly efficient and self-regulated. In an environment where we, as creative problem-solvers can help you create or disrupt entire markets overnight, the strongest predictor of success will be built-in responsibility to market participants.

Again, building for the sake of building is not our intention. Our intention is to build something that works, yes, but works within the human boundaries of what is “honorable” to society.

3. The best innovations make us more human.

An innovation of the highest order makes us better people, makes it more likely we will do good, makes us connect in more meaningful ways. These are the innovations that will endure in a business environment differentiated by empathy.

It raises a question, then, if what we end up building removes the human element—makes us any “less human.” This requires a detailed and vulnerable sense of self-awareness, particularly within the designers themselves, since what they create is ultimately some reflection of their own human capacity.

4. Transparency in balance creates clarity.

Revealing something about your customer or competitor requires a fair exchange. We instinctively seek fairness in these trade-offs. When designed well, relationships grow and brand position gets stronger over time.

We, as the creators, have to remember that ultimately what we’re designing goes even beyond the term “experience.” We are, literally, designing a relationship—between humans through technology, and to the technology itself. And as with any positive relationship, transparency and honesty is always the best foundation.

5. The most effective technologies go unseen.

Brilliant design results in an intuitive experience. You don’t think about the object or the interaction. Whatever we build must meet this standard, even as we break down old metaphors that seem most comfortable or proven.

What we love, more than the things we see and recognize, are the elements of convenience and care that we don’t see, that aren’t in our faces (on purpose) and alleviate unnecessary interactions. It’s minimalism at its finest, and where less truly is more.

6. Learning is the only path to meaningful change.

We all seek to learn about the world around us. The experience you offer the world should improve understanding in some way. When done right, knowledge is gained without effort and advanced as a result of the interaction.

It truly goes back to the age old, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats forever.” We, as creatives and technologists, have to see the things we build as opportunities to educate—not just consume.

7. Character precedes culture.

Culture is an outcome. Personal responsibility is an obligation. When addressed consciously, even if off-the-mark from time to time, our broader experience will improve at cultural and societal levels.

You don’t set out to “build” culture. You set out to build positive habits and interactions that allow the desired culture to manifest on its own. We are not the creators of culture, per se. We are the facilitators of the variables that allow culture to emerge without conscious effort.

Jim Jacoby

Jim Jacoby

Thinker · Master Craftsman · Human-Centered Designer · Founder of Bienville Legacy and ADMCi