Product Design: An Ethical Conundrum.

In January myself and 30ish other students from Just Love, Glasgow went on a retreat to learn more about social justice, the biblical precedent for it and the practical ways in which we can pursue it as well as to have a bit of craic.

As part of our programme we set up a Skype call the Ruth Valerio, the author of ‘Just Living’, a book about how our everyday actions relate to social justice and how we can live our lives ethically. In the name of full disclosure, I will admit that I still haven’t read her book, but it is on my list- perhaps I will get it for my birthday? Who knows…

One thing in particular which Ruth said really stuck with me and challenged the future I saw for myself.

We asked Ruth what the most significant change we could all do to truly pursue Just lives was, her answer was that we should choose to be content. She argued that we needed to escape the mentality of always striving for bigger, better and more.

Let me explain; we go to school to get good jobs so that we can buy a nice house and a nice car and so that we can go on nice holidays and ultimately impress others so that we can get a better job with a bigger paycheck. Then we replace the nice car with a better car or the nice house with a bigger one in a better area and we buy more expensive holidays and buy nicer things. Then after a while we aim to move up again, the paycheck gets bigger, the car gets bigger and we spend more and more of our money on things which we don’t keep.

This mentality leads to mountains of waste, tons of needless greenhouse gases and the exploitation of people at home and abroad.

The conundrum then is this; design is never content.

Design is always striving for better and so is always producing more, consistently making product after product obsolete despite it still being functional. So can design (specifically the design of products) ever truly be ethical if it is always concerned with producing more?

Is it possible to strike a balance between being content and pushing forward?




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