Strive for justice in technological design

News - 11 January 2024 - Webredactie

In the development of new technology, it is crucial to consider ethical considerations and societal values, such as privacy, sustainability, and security. Justice is an aspect that often receives less attention. That’s a shame, because it is equally significant. That’s why the Design for Values institute at the Delft University of Technology choose justice as its annual theme to raise awareness and provide guidance for integrating justice-related questions into design processes. We spoke with Ibo van de Poel, Scientific Director, about the importance of this value.

Why justice?

While safety, sustainability, and privacy receive ample attention in the design process, justice has been somewhat neglected. Ibo emphasizes: "Justice is essential to consider, especially given the increasing complexity of technological systems related to societal issues like energy transition, urban planning, and artificial intelligence." He explains how justice can be integrated into design processes.

Three dimensions of justice

Ibo discusses three forms of justice within design processes. Firstly, there is procedural justice, where involving all stakeholders in the design process is crucial, allowing them to have direct influence on design choices. For example, if wind turbines are to be placed in a specific area, residents in proximity should be involved in the process, influencing decisions on location and even design aspects like colors that blend into the environment.

Secondly, distributive justice strives for a fair distribution of benefits and drawbacks among different societal groups. Consider the construction of a factory in an urban area, where residents in the immediate vicinity may face more disadvantages like pollution or explosion risks than those farther away. Distributive justice aims to equitably distribute these pros and cons, potentially by making the factory safer or exploring alternative locations.

Lastly, recognition justice addresses existing inequalities in society, aiming to acknowledge and ideally minimize these injustices in the design process. Ibo clarifies: "When designing technology, it's crucial to recognize that certain groups in society are already disadvantaged." For instance, medical technology primarily tested on male subjects can result in healthcare inequalities for women. Recognition justice prompts designers to create tests considering diversity in gender, ethnicity, and other relevant factors.

Inclusive approach

Ibo tells why justice is so relevant, stating that a focus on justice creates a more inclusive and fair approach, taking the interests of all stakeholders seriously. "Simply put, from an ethical and societal perspective, you develop products that have a positive impact on society. Simultaneously, research shows that technology has a greater chance of success when aligned with societal values. Just design not only increases acceptability but also the likelihood of technology being actively used."

In the pursuit of just design, Design for Values is a pioneer, actively involved in creating awareness, providing guidance, and fostering a dialogue on justice in technological design. The institute aims to fundamentally change how we understand and accept technology, resulting in a more just and inclusive society.

Learn more during workshops

If you want to delve deeper into the concept of justice, the Design for Values institute is organizing multiple workshops and events throughout this academic year on this theme. Various forms of justice, including spatial justice, justice and AI, climate justice, and design justice, will be covered. These sessions will catalyze the development of a whitepaper outlining the theme's relevance and offering guidance for practical applications in design processes.

The upcoming events include:

For the latest information about the events of the annual theme, see Design for Justice - Delft Design for Values Institute.