Designing Ethically: Embracing a Designer’s Hippocratic Oath

Uday Dandavate
3 min readDec 22, 2023

A great designer once said, “A good design is innocuous. It may not even be noticed and may not get credit for the comfort, convenience, and delight it brings to people.

On the other hand, a bad design stares us in the face; we stumble on it or, even worse, may get injured because of it without crediting it for our injury.

A good design is the outcome of the creativity of an empathic designer. In contrast, a bad design may result from an apathetic, narcissistic, or egotistic designer.

A designer of good design is sensitive to the pain and suffering of everyday people and treats design as a power to heal. In contrast, a designer of bad design prioritizes disruptive innovation, mind/behavior manipulation, and monetization over the well-being of the people they design for.

I envision a future where designers also have our own Hippocratic Oath. I took a shot at redrafting the original Hippocratic Oath in the context of design:

A designer’s Hippocratic Oath

I swear that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.

To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him a partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money, to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the Healer’s oath, but to nobody else.

I will use my design skills to benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgment, and I will do no harm or injustice to them. Neither will I unethically manipulate anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. I will keep pure and ethical both my life and my art. I will not use design, not even, verily, on those upon whom it may cause harm.

Into whatsoever professional engagement I enter, I will enter to help the needy, and I will abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm, especially from abusing the vulnerabilities of man or woman, bond or free.

And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with people, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.

Now if I carry out this oath and break it not, may I gain forever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.

In conclusion, as the design landscape evolves, the call for ethical responsibility becomes more pronounced. Embracing a Designer’s Hippocratic Oath is not merely an idealistic proposition but a practical commitment to prioritize the well-being of those impacted by design. Whether crafting a seamless, unnoticed design for comfort or avoiding the pitfalls of injurious, neglectful design, the ethical designer’s pledge is a beacon for a future where creativity is harmonized with empathy. By vowing to use design skills judiciously, eschewing manipulation, and upholding the sanctity of ethical principles, designers can contribute to a positive transformation in the field, ensuring that the power of design serves as a force for healing and collective well-being.

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Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.