Values manifested in products, system and services



Ethics & Values

Design phase:

Values Theory






In this teaching activity, students learn how to analyse, compare and criticise the underlying values that are embedded and manifested in products, systems and services.


While new products, systems or services are often promoted as adding value to people’s lives, such statements might also veil the philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural influences on a particular design (Friedman and Hendry, 2019).

If students don’t engage in a critical reflection on how values are manifested in products, systems, or services they may not understand how these embedded values might have an impact on the way we think, our lifestyles, and our culture. In other words: how products, systems and services “speak” to us and shape our everyday lives and mindsets.

This teaching activity provides students with some examples of existing products where the underlying motivations and contextual influences behind the designs are brought up for discussion. Students learn to find the underlying values that are embedded in a product, system or service.

This teaching activity trains students in noticing what kinds of cultural and philosophical influences are behind a product, system or service. When students have done some analysis, they might be able to come up with research questions that address the philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural influences that shape contemporary products.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • analyse which values are manifested in existing products, systems or services,
  • compare what characteristics of a product, system or service exhibit certain values,
  • critically discuss what kinds of “language” products, systems, or services speak to the users, and how the products, systems, or services reflect the cultures and societies that have designed them.


  • Prepare slides that present products, systems and services that demonstrate values (for inspiration, see the slides provided under Materials).
  • The criteria for selection of examples are that the products, systems or services should represent clear examples of how values can be embedded in the product, system or service: either through the way they look and/or through the actions that they suggest people to engage in when using them.
  • Arrange settings for group work (suggested group size: 4 students). Students are asked to bring pen and paper and post-it notes to the class.
  • Distribute the two worksheets provided to the student groups.
  • As an inspiration, a collection of values words such as the HuValue Tool or the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values can be shared with the students.
  • Alternatively, the worksheets can be re-created in an online collaborative platform (e.g. Miro or Mural) and the students can work with digital versions of the worksheets.


The teaching activity is divided into three steps.

Step 1:

  • Present a selection of examples that clearly demonstrate different cultural aspects, philosophies and/or theories behind different products, systems and services.

    The values could be related to ways of seeing human virtues and qualities, ways of perceiving the values that new technologies might bring into people’s lives, and ways of understanding the particular culture in the way that a product, system or service was made.

  • In dialogue with the students, highlight the underlying values and “mindsets” behind the examples. In case it is unclear where the values come from, pose some questions to the students regarding the presented products, systems and services that can be used to explore why students perceive certain values and how they might be influenced by their personal social and cultural context. For each value discussed, reflect upon, question and discuss the kind of context that influences students, philosophy and culture, that underpins the choice of values manifested in the particular products, system or services on display.
  • The slides provided display products related to the theme “parents and children” and communicate values related to the upbringing of children:
    • Two different bikes for toddlers (different visions behind parenting and child development).
    • Barbie through history (how females were perceived in the Western society from the 1950s and on).
    • Pampers diapers connected to a mobile app (how the vision of new technology influences parent-child relationships). While being a marketing example, it also exhibits values in the culture where it was produced.

Step 2:

  • Now ask the student groups to find one product, system or service that they think clearly exhibits some values, and to use worksheet 1 and 2 to document their analysis.

    Instruction for worksheet 1:
    When looking at the product, system or service, the students are asked to put as many value words as they can think of in the circle to the left (they may want to use the HuValue Tool or Schwartz Theory of Basic Values for inspiration).

    Afterwards, students review the value words they put in the circle. They should identify the ones where they can see what characteristics of the product somehow manifest that word. Then students should draw a line from the circled word to one of the boxes to the right, and explain what it is about the product, system or service that manifests a particular word.

    Instruction for worksheet 2:
    The students should copy the value words from the circle in the worksheet 1 into the circle in the worksheet 2.

    Ask the students to question if the designers of that product, system or service had an underlying philosophy, or if they based their design on a theoretical framework, or were biased by a specific trend in the culture where the design comes from.

    Thereafter the students should draw a line between the value words and the themed boxes (Assumption/Logic/mental model of the designer, Theoretical framework, Cultural perspectives, Philosophical perspectives) and write some notes about where they think the value words come from. In other words: by which sources and cultural trends the designers were influenced.

  • The students work independently, while the teacher walks around between the groups and occasionally jumps into the group discussions and gives input on how they fill in the worksheets.

Step 3:

  • The student groups present a visual documentation of the product, system or service that they have analysed. They bring the two worksheets to the plenum presentation, and show the results of their analysis.
  • Then they describe the different reflections of the values that they found in the product, system or service and present their questions that might lead to further research on where the identified values come from. After this presentation, the teacher and the students can comment on the analysis.
  • The student groups compile their worksheets and create a document with an image of the product, system or service that they analysed and the corresponding worksheets where they compared manifestations with value words, and where they critically discussed where the values come from.

The documents are made available to all the students in the class, so that they can review each other’s products and corresponding worksheets.


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 making them create a value-based video pitch (summative assessment) focusing on analysing and comparing the underlying values that are embedded and manifested in products, systems and services

Assess students’ learning by asking them to apply their knowledge on real-world examples (authentic assessment) to compare and critically discuss the kind of cultural and philosophical influences that are behind products, systems or services.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • analysing existing products, systems or services in relation to their manifested values and underlying motivations,
  • comparing existing products, systems or services in relation to their exhibition of certain values and cultural influences,
  • critically analysing and discussing the kind of “language” that are behind the selected products, systems or services in relation to the cultures and societies that have designed them.



HuValue (2021). HuValue Tool. Retrieved 2021-04-15 from

WFLA News Channel 8(2019, July 20). Pampers Smart Diaper commercial [Video file]. Retrieved from

Friedman, Batya & Hendry, David (2019). Value sensitive design : shaping technology with moral imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Schwartz, Shalom H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Psychology and Culture, 2(1).



Suggested Assessment Activities: