Blogless: Blog of Design Less Better.

Posts tagged Ethics.

Four Ethics Links: March 22, 2010

You know and love Four Design Links; now say hello to Four Ethics Links, a review of recent stories in applied ethics.

Beware of corporate consulting firms offering awards for corporate ethics - Slate

Sometime in the next week or so, something called the Ethisphere Institute is scheduled to announce this year's list of the "World's Most Ethical Companies." If past years are any indication, the winners will have their press releases ready to go, and news outlets across the country will eat it up. There's just one hitch: These ethics awards—let's call them the Ethies—may have ethics issues of their own.

Read all about it here.

Vermeer: A Girl Asleep
Vermeer, A Girl Asleep
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PaulMar 22, 2010

Doing Well And Doing Good

In India, where business strategy and social mission go hand in hand, researchers find companies are doing well because they do good.

We’ve been saying it all along. If you commit to doing good, your business will do well; good design and good business sell. Peter Cappelli’s post on the HBR blog describes a study he conducted which cements the case for serving the needs of all business stakeholders – doing good, beyond profits:

My colleagues and I recently completed a study of Indian businesses based around interviews with the leaders of 100 of the biggest companies in India (the basis of our book The India Way.) Every executive we interviewed described the main objective of their company in terms of a social mission. They expected to make money, but they expected to do so while doing good.

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AndreaMar 17, 2010

Ranking the most ethical companies in the world

What are the ethics of advertising ethics?

As we currently wrestle with a definition of design ethics, I have been struck by another question: what does the endgame for this project look like?

Not to jump ahead too far, but assuming we come up with a model of "good" design, what next?

I think we ask: What can be done to educate designers and consumers on good ethical practices? Moreover, how can we hope to enforce those ethics?

This post was inspired by Ethisphere, a business ethics think-tank that also publishes a magazine on the topic. I learned about them last week during this piece on NPR.

Besides their mission, what interested me is how they create awareness about business ethics in accessible ways. Ideally, if corporations and the public are better informed about ethics, that may serve as a kind of enforcement. Therefore, as we enter into the next stage of DLB -- publication -- I am interested in metrics and visualizations people use to talk about ethics.

For instance, Ethisphere has an annual list of the most ethical companies in the world. I can't begin to imagine what a task it would be to compile a list of the most ethical designs, but it's an idea. People like lists. They're easy to digest and a good way to get people interested in complex topics.

Graphs are nice, too:

World's Most Ethical Companies versus S&P 500
According to Ethisphere, ethical leadership leads to greater profits. It's something we've been saying for a while, but now we have proof of it in handy chart form. Via Ethisphere.

I'm a bit skeptical about Ethisphere's methodology, however. Participation in the index seems to be voluntary, so it's not exactly comprehensive. It seems to be a more collegial affair; the magazine isn't out there doing investigative journalism. There is no "least ethical companies in the world" list each year. (Though, I'd like to see that, too.)

I wonder why this is the case? On one hand, as a company that needs to sell magazines and fill conferences, how objective can Ethisphere afford to be? Who is to say they aren't creating their own market by judging unfairly? Or being too generous to avoid stepping on toes? On the other hand, if they aren't ethical or objective themselves, then they can't claim any kind of authority. The more I think about it, the more complex the situation becomes.

I think DLB is in a similar pickle. How can one sell ethics in a trustworthy way?

I will try to figure that out on Thursday. See you then!

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NickFeb 24, 2009

The baseball analogy

All of our practices - from baseball to design - have an extrinsic ethical component just because we do them.

Nick made a great point last week, when he suggested that "aesthetics and usability are not good enough." Today, I'd like to continue this suggestion. I hope to show why ethical concerns are supervene on the standard concerns of design practice (aesthetics, usability), whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. By way of analogy, I've concocted two situations for a fictitious professional baseball player, Gerald. Gerald is the starting pitcher in tonight's game, which is of no particular significance to his team's season.

John Rawls
The baseball examples are in honor of the American philosopher John Rawls, whose pioneering essay Two concepts of rules gives this discussion much of its shape.

Maximizing Value

Imagine that Gerald is approached by a person previously unknown to him, called Michael. Michael informs Gerald that he is the personal aid to the president of a major American steel mill, and shows him his card. He tells Gerald he has discovered that his employer has bet the company's entire payroll against Gerald's team winning the game. This means that should they win, several hundred workers will go without pay that month, a fact that may have potentially devastating life consequences for them.

A Personal Project

Imagine now that Gerald is approached by his ailing father, John. John informs his son that he is in debt to a dangerous bookkeeper for much more money than he can afford to pay. If he fails to pay, he says, surely he will be violently assaulted. His last hope, John tells Gerald, is to bet on a baseball game that Gerald plays tonight, and to ask Gerald to do his best to ensure that his team fails to beat the spread. Gerald has no reason to disbelieve his father, or to imagine that he is exaggerating the consequences of non-payment.

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PaulFeb 23, 2009

Weekend Ponderable: Design, blogging and trust

DLB has something for you to ponder this weekend: What role does trust play in your daily interactions with design and blogging?

I like Jay Rosen. He's teaches at the NYU School of Journalism and, more importantly to me, is the author of PressThink, which is a blog mainly about journalism, but which often focuses of educating traditional journalists about blogging.

'Trust Fall' by Lauren Nassef (August 27th, 2008)
Trust Fall by Lauren Nassef (August 27th, 2008)

His most recent blog post is titled If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue. (one of the reasons I like him are his witty, prolix, and often multi-sentential titles). It makes the following point nicely:

Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, says a blog is not defined by the software or features in the format (like comments) but by a person talking: "one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think." Blogging, he says, is "writing without a safety net" and taking personal responsibility for the words.

To trust a blogger is to trust in a person, talking to you, who is working without the safety net of an institution.

This weekend, Nick and I are going to be thinking about trust, which will be our topic next week. We invite you to do the same.

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PaulDec 19, 2008

Pål Hollender: Virtualizing accountability

Hot on the heels of Monday's look at a a bout of undeserved frenzy over what I interpret as a relatively undramatic bit of artistic social commentary, I've just been handed a slip of paper alerting me to Swedish performance artist and filmmaker Pål Hollender, whose supposed moral dilemma is a bit higher stakes.

In 2003, Hollender invested SKr100,000 (around $12,500) in "unethical" companies — an arms manufacturer, as well as representatives of the tobacco, alcohol, pornography and gambling industries. He has thus far distributed SKr32,500 (around $4,000) in "scholarships" derived from the returns. The grants were awarded to visitors last month to "The Pål Hollender Foundation for Ethically or Aesthetically Offended Consumers of Culture" at Malmö Art Museum in southern Sweden.

Pål Hollender and his installation Death Equalizer, 2006
Pål Hollender and his installation Death Equalizer, 2006 (via)

The reactions to this that I've seen tend to range from applauding the fund as social commentary to condemning it outright as mere provocation.

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PaulDec 17, 2008

Prisoner’s Dilemma or Stag Hunt?

While the rational self-interested play in a Prisoner's Dilemma might always be to betray your partner, business ethics in the real world are an altogether different game.

Yesterday, Nick introduced us to a classic problem of game theory: the Prisoner's Dilemma. A standard PD goes something like this:

Two suspects are arrested by the police, who, having insufficient evidence for a conviction, separate the prisoners and offer each of them a deal: If one testifies against the other (who remains silent) the first goes free while the second receives a 10-year sentence. If both refuse to testify, both receive a six month sentence. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. No prisoner can know what choice the other has made before the end of the investigation.

The Prisoner's Dilemma, he noted, often provides grist for the dominant argument here in late capitalism that any rational player in an economic game should act unethically. This is because, in the form of a single PD game, a self-interested player (who wants the least possible amount of jail time) will always do better for himself by ratting out his partner.

For example, let's say you are Prisoner A, and your accomplice Prisoner B can make the following choices: stay silent or betray you. Assume B is silent: If you also stay silent, you get a 6-month sentence; if you betray your pal you get no jail time at all. A self-interested agent, here, should betray. Now assume B betrays you: If you stay silent, you get a ten year sentence, and if you betray him, you get a five year sentence. Again, you should betray. Betraying is thus what game theoreticians call a strictly dominant strategy.

So far so bad, clearly, for the advocate of adopting an ethical stance in business. However, the picture is not so clear in the real world. Why? Well, for one thing, the world of business does not involve a single isolated economic exchange. If it is a prisoner's dilemma at all, it is a continuously iterated one, for which it is not clear at all that such a strategy is optimal.

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PaulOct 29, 2008
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