Design with and for certain philosophies



Ethics & Values

Design phase:

Values Theory


Extended Abstract




This teaching activity supports the understanding and experiencing of “the good and the beautiful” concept coined as “to kalon” by Aristotle, referring to the unity of the good (ethics) and the beautiful (aesthetics).

Through designing products, systems or services with a predefined (primary) function for different ethical frameworks during a design workshop or design project, students will be able to integrate an abstract value into the aesthetics of interacting with a product and the use of to kalon as a design principle. They will also be able to contrast the differences between various ethical frameworks and values from a design perspective, and connect, analyse and reflect upon theoretical concepts (to kalon and ethical frameworks) to design practice (building, experiencing various designs).


As claimed by Verbeek (2006, p. 361 ), engineers are “doing ‘ethics by other means’: they materialize morality”, which also applies to designers.

The challenge that students often face is either: 1) a lack of awareness of the ethical dimension of their designs, e.g., the design of social platforms like Facebook and Instagram are pushing teenagers to perfection and collecting likes from everyone, since all their peers seem to be flawless and liked, or 2) a lack of competency to be able to relate ethics and aesthetics in their designs. e.g. how can one design the public space in such a way that it is inviting the 1,5 meter COVID-19 distance, while respecting the autonomy and creativity of people?

By ethics, we mean the moral principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. By aesthetics, we mean the appreciation of the beautiful and its effects.

It is fairly hard to design, making abstract values “experienceable” when engaging with a product, system or service. Not being able to identify, describe, apply and reflect on the underlying values and ethics of products. systems and services and the relation with aesthetics, might lead to all kinds of unintended consequences of designs in use: users feeling frustrated, belittled, not able to express themselves, endangering themselves or others, etc. It might unintendedly push certain values, where others might be societally preferred or beneficial, as also shown with the example of the impact of social media on teenagers.

The outcome of this teaching activity helps students to understand, experience and reflect on the relation between aesthetics and ethics. This teaching activity offers a fairly explicit way of using ethical frameworks, students will start to understand the underlying relations, thus having handles to design and generalise their reflection on ethics and values to other design projects.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • integrate an abstract value into the aesthetics of interacting with a product, system or service and the use of to kalon as a design principle,
  • contrast the differences between various ethical frameworks and values from a design perspective,
  • connect theoretical concepts (to kalon and ethical frameworks) to design practice (building, experiencing various designs), which they jointly analyse and reflect upon at the end of the activity, The reflections may lead to a greater understanding of to kalon, especially the subtleties of ethics and aesthetics, as well as students’ own position towards ethics and values.


This teaching activity can be done in various ways, running from a two hours workshop till a half year project, where the outcome is directly linked to the level of depth, both theoretically and practically.

  • Prepare a short presentation on to kalon (or at least the relation between the beautiful and the good) (see the slides provided) and select the ethical frameworks to work with. If preferred it is possible to use the set-up used in the paper of Ross et al., 2012.

    To use this teaching activity, it is not necessary to be fully knowledgeable about the rationales of these ethical frameworks. Rather, the aim is 1) to give students the basic elements of these rationales, 2) to provide examples to contextualise effectively these rationales without the need of a lengthy lecture, and 3) to invite students to look for more information themselves, e,g,. on various online Publications.

  • It is beneficial for students to approach to kalon through aesthetics of interaction, hence an important part of the exercise is making a prototype. Make sure that there is sufficient material for the making of the prototype. Depending on the product to be designed (especially size-wise), it is beneficial to include materials that can support interactivity (joints, elastic bands, rope, connectors, rotating/sliding mechanisms, etc.).

    Moreover, a diversity of materials is preferred, including odd materials, in order to stimulate a rich, aesthetic interaction. In case the students have more time and build the prototypes outside class, they should be clearly reminded that the self-explanation and “experienceability” of the prototype is important. These prototypes need to be “tested” without explanation or guidance. Using already existing things/half-fabrics can accelerate the making process.

  • Arrange settings for group work.


Step 1:

  • Introduce the students to the concept of to kalon by using the slides provided or a modified version thereof.

  • Thereupon, briefly introduce the students to different ethical frameworks through an explanation of the underlying rationale (e.g., Confucianism, Kant’s Rationalism, Romanticism or/and Nietzschean ethics, see the slides), as well as through examples from related writing, paintings, movies, music, etc. As previously mentioned, it is not necessary to be fully knowledgeable on these rationales. Basic elements of the rationale and the possibility for students to explore further on the internet should suffice.

Step 2:

  • Next, divide the students into groups and assign them one of the ethical frameworks, without letting the other groups know who is designing for what. Depending on the available time (in case of having more days for the activity), ask the students to find additional inspirational material about their assigned ethical framework.

Step 3:

  • During a short introduction, explain which product, system or service that needs to be designed, e.g. designing a vending machine evoking the values underlying a specific ethical framework. It is preferable to select an interactive product, system or service, which requires different actions, while not being too complicated to understand.

Step 4:

  • The students design their product, system or service. In case of a short workshop, they use simple props and materials to represent their product. If feasible, they can also use a Wizard-of-Oz approach, where the designers give the appropriate feedback through the (non-functioning) props. In case they have plenty of time, they can build an experienceable prototype.

  • During the making, the students are advised to document regular reflections, including making pictures of their process. This can support them afterwards in understanding the link between the aesthetics applied and the evoked ethics.

Step 5:

  • During the presentations, students either demonstrate their design by showing the interaction (during short workshops) or invite others to engage with their interactive experienceable products, systems or services (for longer design projects). The other students are asked to reflect on the values they see, and detect the underlying ethical framework.

  • For the presentations, it is advised that each group has a dedicated place to set-up their prototype (in case of a longer workshop/project) or props used for showing the interaction (in case of a short workshop). Each group is visited by the class one by one. In case of an experienceable prototype, another team is invited to try it out and guess which ethical framework is designed for and shortly explain why. In case of a demonstration of the design, the group acts out the interaction scenario and the class guesses which ethical framework is designed for and why.

    It is advised to document (video and photo) the designs and interactions during these presentations, thus generating inspirational educational materials for the next class using this teaching activity, like the video of the Nietzchean vending machine (Groenendaal, Wesselink & Yin, 2014). Overall, the presentations should not be longer than a few minutes per team.

Step 6:

  • The teaching activity is followed by a discussion and reflection session on to kalon. This final discussion takes place in order to elaborate the common understanding of to kalon and related ethics and aesthetics, based on the concrete designs that were made, as well as relating to kalon to existing products and services.

    Moreover, students can also compare their own values, worldview and vision on design with the ethical frameworks.


To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).


Assess students’ learning by asking them to create maps of the theoretical frameworks and concepts (summative assessment) focusing on a) how the ethical frameworks differ from each other from a design perspective and b) how theoretical concepts connect to design practice and their own position towards ethics and values.

Assess students’ learning by having them record a personal video (ipsative assessment) analysing and reflecting on how they can integrate abstract values into a product, system or service and how they can use the kalon in their own position towards ethics and values.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • using to kalon as design principle to work with abstract values,
  • highlighting the difference between various ethical frameworks and values from a design perspective,
  • connecting theoretical concepts to design practice and their own design position towards ethics and values.


On to kalon

Ross, Philip R.; Overbeeke, Kees J.; Hummels, Caroline; and Wensveen, Stephan A.G. (2012). Designing for to kalon: How the unity of beauty and good inspires interactive product design. International Journal of Product Development (IJPD). Special issue on Integration of emotional and technological values in the design of pleasurable products and systems, 16(3/4), 187-206. http://10.1504/IJPD.2012.049833

Bas Groenendaal; Rik Wesselink; and Pei Yin (2014). Nietzchean vending machine [Video file]. Retrieved from

On aesthetics of interaction

Klooster, Sietske; and Overbeeke, Kees J. (2005). Designing products as an integral part of choreography of interaction : the product's form as an integral part of movement. In Design and Semantics of Form and Movement, proceedings of the 1st European workshop on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement. Newcastle, UK, p. 23- 35.

Hummels, Caroline; Overbeeke, Kees J.; and Klooster, Sietske (2007). Move to get moved: a search for methods, tools and knowledge to design for expressive and rich movement-based interaction for design. Pers Ubiquit Comput 11, 677-690.

On ethics and morality

Verbeek, Peter-Paul (2006). Materializing morality – Design ethics and technological mediation. Science, Technology and Human Values, 31(3), 361-380. http://10.1177/0162243905285847



Suggested Assessment Activities: