What is Ethical Design?

Ethical design refers to the practice of designing products, services, and systems that prioritize ethical considerations such as accessibility, transparency, and user involvement. In the context of healthcare marketing, ethical design means designing marketing materials that prioritize the well-being and dignity of patients and healthcare consumers, as well as the broader public interest.

The central factor of ethical design is respect for the customer, and that respect can be divided among three key aspects: human rights, human effort, and human experience. This is best shown in the ‘Ethical Hierarchy of Needs’ pyramid by Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag.

Each layer of the pyramid is dependent upon the other. For example, if a design can support human effort by being functional, but does not support one’s human rights by being accessible, then the design cannot be considered ethical. 

Here are a few key factors to keep in mind while practicing ethical design… 


Accessibility should be considered at the beginning of the design process, not as an afterthought at the end of production. Although products are typically designed for a target audience, it’s important to keep in mind those who are adversely affected by being unintentionally left out.

For example, when websites fail to meet ADA compliance, those websites may not be navigable for those who are visually impaired. And, according to the World Health Organization, 2.2 billion people live with some kind of vision impairment. That’s a lot of missed business opportunity.


Transparency in design is key for reducing complexity and providing simple steps for the end-user that guide them into making the proper choices without any misleading information. It is generally agreed that 16-18 px is the proper size for viewing body copy on the web. So when, for example, a business makes the conscious decision to decrease the font size of subscription terms, the customer may not fully understand what they have just agreed to. This can lead to mistrust in the brand, and a loss of potential business.

User Involvement 

Design for the needs of the user. User Involvement is concerned with how design will improve the user’s experience. This strategy can also be called human-centered design. Human-centered design suggests that there should be equal parts involvement from users and understanding of the task requirements. Doing user testing in small groups is an effective way of studying user involvement and will show you where the flaws lie; then, you can revise the design and test again. 

Whether it’s a lack of time or budget, it’s easy to overlook ethics in design, but it is an essential notion to keep in mind when designing for the healthcare space. By taking the time to familiarize yourself with some of these values, you may lay the foundation for progress.

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Rachel Rinks