5.2.1 Relevance of Design for Values

Course subject(s) Module 5. How to Design for Values (DfV)

Why Design for Values?

The idea of making moral and societal values a starting point for technological development can already be recognized in the effort of doing technological assessments (TA) (Grunwald, 2009). These assessments were initially meant to identify the outcomes of particular technological developments upfront and in this way aimed at providing governments with a basis for judging the desirability of particular technological developments before they were adopted.

This approach ran into the Collingridge dilemma (Collingridge, 1980), which states that early in the process of development of a technology, possibilities to intervene in the process are significant. However, information about its unintended or undesired outcomes is scarce, while later on in the development of the technology, thanks to their technological momentum, steering of technology is either impossible, marginally possible, or prohibitively expensive (Collingridge, 1980).

Later forms of technological assessment, such as Constructive Technology Assessment (Schot and Rip, 1997), were therefore aimed at identifying and bringing in moral and societal considerations during the process of technology development, thus moving technology assessment toward the inclusion of moral and social values in the design of technologies. In this way, the assessments become more anticipatory and proactive as they also address technology developers rather than the government.

Moreover, technological innovation is no longer a development that is separate from the values that users and society hold. Design for Values integrates design with our values and allows an active value-driven steering of and intervention in technological development. Design and designers can be frontloaded with moral and social values and are able to realize these values and can be held accountable for doing so. Technological innovation can then become responsible innovation. The hope is that failure by societal opposition during implementation and adoption can be a phenomenon of the past as value issues are being addressed from the start. In this respect, Design for Values can contribute to the success, acceptance, and acceptability of innovations and as such, will also have economic benefits. The explicit and transparent articulation of values is thus important to innovation processes.

In sum, values and moral concerns of all concerned need to be articulated when they can still make a difference to design, they need to be formulated in such a way that they can inform the design, and designs and artifacts need to be evaluated in terms of the values and moral concerns.


Collingridge, D. (1980). The dilemma of control. The Social Control of Technology, 13-22.

Grunwald, A. (2009). Technology assessment: Concepts and methods. In Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences, North Holland: pp. 1103-1146.

Schot, J. and Rip, A. (1997). The past and future of constructive technology assessment. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 54(2-3), 215-268.


Responsible innovation is needed to address the grand challenges of the 21st century. It requires proactively addressing relevant moral and social values already in the design phase of new technologies, products, services, spaces, systems, and institutions.

There are thus several reasons for adopting a design for values approach:

    1. The avoidance of technology rejection due to a mismatch (or conflicts) with the values of users or society. New technologies can be rejected by users or society because of mismatches between the values certain technologies symbolize. With design for values such mismatches can be anticipated and avoided.
    2. The improvement of technologies/design by (or to) better represent/express these values. Designers (un)consciously incorporate moral and social values into their designs – doing this more consciously and better improves products, services and systems.
    3. The stimulation of values in users and society through design. (stimulation in this case can also imply generating new values).
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