Ethical Design Sprints – the process
The Ethical Design Sprint schedule is rooted in the classic GV sprint, but heavily tweaked to draw on approaches from speculative design, applied ethics, design academia, and what I call ‘post-UX’ practice. It introduces new language, tools, and techniques for ethical design, while proving their value in a real, accelerated project.
Want to book me for an ethical design sprint for your company? Read more about benefits, price, and availability. Want to run one yourself? Feel free to use this process as an outline. I’ll expand on these definitions over time – drop me an email if you’d like more detail before then.
Kickoff meeting to discuss logistics, team, facilities, overall sprint plan. The client team will usually be between 4–8 people from a range of roles. It’s important to book a suitable room for the whole week and clear all team calendars.
Objective: Kick off strongly, introducing some ethical background, then focus deeply on diverse stakeholders and interviews.
Introduction to the Ethical Design Sprint: Dispel the myth of technological neutrality, introducing mediation theory and the idea that ethics should accompany technological development, not necessarily oppose it (from Peter-Paul Verbeek’s Moralizing Technology). Review plan for the week.
Personal introductions, discuss roles. Introduce role of the designated dissenter, a constructive antagonist in the design process (from Design for Real Life by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher).
Discuss sprint objectives and success criteria, creating a list of Questions of Interest.
Introduce the three ethical lenses – deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics – and four useful ethical tests (collated and simplified from classic ethical theory):
- Universal law of behaviour
- Means or ends?
- Maximising happiness
- The ‘grandchild test’
Stakeholder analysis (inspired by value-sensitive design):
- Discuss direct-v-indirect / visible-v-hidden stakeholder categories, focusing on not just individuals but also communities, or even abstract concepts (e.g. ‘freedom of the press’).
- Use stakeholder prompt list: have we missed everyone?
- Considering relevant stakeholders, sketch a draft user journey in swimlane format.
- Hold Ask the Expert interviews to learn from stakeholder groups. Capture salient ideas as ‘How Might We’ questions. Ask experts to review user journey.
Revise user journey, choose the week’s focus, discuss plans for Friday testing.
Objective: think creatively about unintended consequences. Identify critical project values, and use these to sketch interaction / UI ideas.
Discuss personas non grata (from Sam Jeffers, named by me). Create quick persona non grata profiles if required.
Explore unintended consequences:
- Participants select trend and technology prompt cards (adapted from Strange Telemetry’s Futures Poker deck, the Gartner Hype Cycle and other sources).
- Use the futures wheel (Jerome Glenn, 1972) to imagine potential first-, second-, and third-order consequences of the project, inspired by the prompt cards chosen.
- Discuss potentially surprising benefits and harms for stakeholders.
Identify key values:
- What are the most important values these futures highlight? Capture these.
- Use a values prompt list: have we missed anything?
- Which values are in conflict? Create values spectra.
- Do any design requirements emerge from these values? Create first draft of design principles.
Rapid, iterative sketching based on value spectra, design principles, and other relevant ideas to date.
- ‘Crazy 8s’
- Solution sketches
Review Questions of Interest and recruitment for Friday testing.
Objective: review sketches with ‘ethical critique’, make storyboard, increase the detail
Review and update design principles. How well did they stand up in the sketching?
Review sketches through ethical design critique:
- Use prompt questions, the ethical lenses, and the four ethical tests to offer an ethically focused perspective on the classic design crit process.
- Encourage resistance from the designated dissenter.
- Could bad actors – the personas non grata – use our work for harm?
Create a semi-comprehensive storyboard from existing sketches.
Introduce the idea of the provocatype as distinct from a classic UX prototype. Discuss progress and agree scope. Identify gaps in storyboard and interactions, allocate sketchers, and fill in the gaps.
Review Questions of Interest and status of Friday testing, focusing particularly on timings and facilities.
Objective: create a working prototype aligned with business, user, and ethical goals.
Agree prototyping platform and roles, e.g. designer, stitcher, writer, sourcer. Provide quick prototype training if required.
Break storyboard into sections and get prototyping.
Discuss ethical assessment: how will we know we’re on the right track in Friday’s tests? Introduce mutually destructive metrics as ethical safeguards.
Complete interview script, finalise test logistics including meet-and-greet, NDAs, incentives. Discuss whether to take a static or RITE approach during the test. Agree division of test roles; provide quick facilitator training if required.
Review Questions of Interest.
Objective: test the prototype with representative users. Does our ethical approach create a better product?
Hold series of tests (usually 4–6) with representative users or other relevant stakeholders.
If following the RITE approach, update prototype between tests. (Be aware of time constraints!)
Discuss major patterns and findings.
Review design principles and success criteria. Has the ethical approach helped us create a better product?
Revisit Questions of Interest. Which have been answered? Which need further exploration?
Sprint wrapup; discuss next steps for project.