obvious consequences can be found in my earlier cell phone example. How are family relationships changed when everyone has their own phone instead of sharing one in the home? Does being able to always reach someone affect the amount of time you spend physically collocated? What are the long-term effects of cell phone signals on human health?
Unintended consequences raise profound ethical questions for designers, who are responsible for the scripts and intentionalities of products regardless of whether or not they deliberately inscribe them. Ethically, it is not enough for designers to concern themselves only with a product’s stated function. It may well be useful and usable when evaluated based on goal completion, but what of the many ways it may mediate a person’s relationship with the world? It may be desirable today, but will its consequences be the same tomorrow? Verbeek believes that the mediating role of products makes design “an inherently moral activity,”17 that designers “materialize morality” in the scripts and intentionalities of products. Unfortunately, this is usually done implicitly with designers focusing on specific functionalities and not “explicitly aiming to influence the actions and behavior of users,”18 if considered at all it is usually in an evaluative way after a product is released. These considerations need to be consciously integrated into the design process itself. Considering these issues is complicated because “scripts transcend functionality: they form a surplus to it, which occurs once the technology is functioning.”19 A designer’s work happens before a product is put to functional use in the real world. If products shape the actions and perceptions of people during use, then how can a designer know what types of mediations will occur? Additionally, people may not use a product in the
Verbeek, Materializing Morality, 368.