What does it mean to practice human-centered design? The answer to that question is evolving. If you’ve read my research, you know it’s critical for businesses to embed accessibility and inclusive design practices into how they design and develop experiences. Doing so helps increase revenue, reduce costs, increase resilience, and build trust with customers and employees. Awareness of these benefits has increased, and we’re seeing encouraging progress. But there’s a broader issue now emerging as a business imperative: creating ethical products and experiences by practicing responsible design.

What is responsible design?

Forrester defines responsible design as creating experiences with the intent to do good and avoid harm to all stakeholders. It requires firms to:

  • Align on a set of ethical principles that fit the organization’s specific attributes, such as its values, sector, market, brand, mission, and commitments. Examples of ethical principles include transparency, privacy, respect, agency, and inclusion.
  • Embed activities aimed at exposing and mitigating potential harms throughout each phase of the product design process. For example, when ideating potential solutions to a problem, teams should apply open source toolsets like Artefact’s Tarot Cards of Tech or Omidyar Networks’ Ethical Explorer Pack. These tools prompt discussion around unintended consequences, helping teams identify early warning signs and brainstorm opportunities for positive change.

Why should businesses prioritize ethics in experience design now?

Practicing responsible design makes business sense for many reasons. Here’s just a few:

  • Avoid creating — or enabling the creation of — harmful experiences. Consumers, employees, and governing bodies increasingly hold companies accountable for creating experiences — either intentionally or inadvertently — that harm individuals. With the proliferation of emerging technologies such as generative AI, intelligent and autonomous systems, and extended reality, the risk of products being misused to create harm has increased rapidly. Meta’s controversial Blender AI bot, TikTok’s addictive algorithms, and ChatGPT’s data breach are just a few cautionary examples of what can go wrong.
  • Deliver on its values and commitments. Practicing responsible design puts action behind company commitments to its values, customer experience, and ensuring a sustainable future. It’s an approach that proves you’re doing what you say you care about by translating corporate values and commitments into the company’s operations, culture, and processes.
  • Earn trust with customers, employees, and partners. Forrester’s Trust Imperative research shows that by demonstrating seven levers of trust — accountability, consistency, competence, dependability, empathy, integrity, and transparency — companies can earn trust and, in turn, drive revenue-generating loyalty behaviors and realize greater growth potential.

Want to learn more? 

If you’re attending Forrester’s CX North America forum in Nashville or online, check out my talk on June 14 at 1:45 p.m. CDT. You’ll learn:

  • How practicing responsible design helps you earn trust with customers and employees and drive growth.
  • Key principles for designing responsibly.
  • Best practices to activate ethical principles in your design process.

I’ll also be around throughout the event to answer your questions.

I’m working on two new reports on this topic as well alongside my colleagues Aurelie L’Hostis, David Truog, and Senem Biyikli. Keep an eye out for those in the coming months. In the meantime, feel free to set up a conversation with me to ask questions or share your thoughts on the topic.