The Designer’s Oath


The Challenge: Designers are now responsible for creating more than ever before—not only designing services, but also experiences, environments, products and systems for millions of people. With this increased influence, we must take a step back and recognize the increased responsibility we have to those we design for. We can learn from other professions, like healthcare, where those who practice medicine acknowledge their responsibility by swearing to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. This binds them to a clearly defined set of rules that guide the ethics of their interactions with patients. Designers also now have the ability to impact human health as well as the health of the environment itself, so we need a similar code of ethics to guide us.

The Designer’s Oath is a tool that helps multidisciplinary teams define the ethical guidelines of their engagement. These Oaths play a dual role: 1) sparking conversations within multidisciplinary project teams about the ethics of their work and 2) providing documentation of the ethics collaboratively agreed upon for reference and sharing. Designer’s Oath is a tool that is applied to our individual design processes to ensure that the end result does good.

Teammate: Me & 1 Behavior Change Designer

My role on the project: Thought Leadership, Co-Curation, Creative Direction, Public Speaking, Workshop Creation & Facilitation, Project Direction

7_Ethics and Gamification Oath

The Birth of the Designer’s Oath

The Oath began in an IxDA Boston workshop. Following an interactive session exploring the Ethics of Gamification, we asked 30 participants to reflect upon their experience by collaboratively completing a fill-in-the blank version of the Hippocratic Oath to make it more applicable to design.

Writing & Publishing a Designer’s Oath Article for the Service Design Network

We decided to continue experimenting and began work on an article for the Service Design Network publication, Touchpoint. We wanted to create new Oaths that would showcase the voices of individual designers and include voices beyond our geographic boundaries. We also wanted to hear opinions from designers working across the spectrum of design fields.

We asked 15 designers from across the nation to remotely fill out one specific piece of the Hippocratic Oath in a fill-in-the-blank template. We then combined those pieces together to create 3 Designers Oaths.

SDN Article Publicaiton Image


Three Examples of the Oath from Our SDN Article




Designer’s Oath Workshop at HxR 2015

Our next goal was to bring people together in one physical space to create Oaths. We had the opportunity to do this at Mad*Pow’s Healthcare Refactored Conference, or HxR. Working on the Oaths in a shared space fostered more conversations between people than was possible in our remote collaboration. We hosted a lunch and learn where we brought together conference attendees (clinicians, designers, entrepreneurs) in a single geographic location to talk with each other, share and iterate on their Oaths in real time.



The Designer’s Oath Installation at HxR 2015

This is where we began to realize the real power of the Oath. It’s not about creating one oath for all designers and design teams and it’s not about the existence of the oath itself; the power of the Oath lies in the conversations it sparks! The Designer’s Oath has evolved into a tool that multidisciplinary teams can use to define the ethical guidelines of their engagement.



Bringing the Oath to BarnRaise 2015

Moving forward with this idea, we brought the Oath to BarnRaise, an interactive conference/Hackathon for design-minded people exploring the boundaries of social design. There, we led one team through the entire design process from research to prototyping to pitching in one weekend. We kicked off the conference by asking our team to create a Designer’s Oath outlining their ethical guidelines as a single group that would be working together to solve a problem over the next few days.



 The Designer’s Oath: A Year in Review

The Designer’s Oath has been a year-long experiment exploring the ethics of designers between 2015 and 2016. We partnered with designers from disparate disciplines and backgrounds to understand and document how they see their responsibilities. We encouraged designers, clinicians, students and faculty to create collaborative Oaths that speak across design practices, project teams and organizations. After a year of outreach, conversations, and trial and error, we finally hit upon the real power of the Oath. It’s not about creating one oath for all design teams, and it’s not about the existence of the Oaths themselves; it’s about facilitating conversations! The Designer’s Oath has evolved into a tool that helps multidisciplinary teams define the ethical guidelines of their engagement.