Values clustering for developing students' value vocabularies



Ethics & Values

Design Phase:

Values Theory






This teaching activity expands students’ value vocabulary when thinking and working with values in design. The students will consider the nuances, associations and different connotations of a specific value word, and through that exploration broaden and deepen their vocabulary around specific values.

To build an expanded value vocabulary, the students will create value clusters through conceptual explorations that identify, combine, and name value words’ synonyms, antonyms, associations, connotations and denotations.


When working with values in design, students sometimes lack a nuanced and elaborate vocabulary for communicating about values. This creates the risk of a narrow understanding of what values in design imply and how to work with and talk about values in a holistic and multifaceted way. By expanding our value vocabulary, we might also gain a more nuanced understanding of the values we are working with – in effect creating better products, systems, or services.

If students lack a nuanced value vocabulary, values run the risk of becoming one-dimensional buzzwords with no depth or situated meaning.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • broader knowledge about values through identifying and naming associations, synonyms, antonyms, connotations and denotations for specific value words,
  • deeper knowledge about values through combining value words and constructing clusters of value words around specific value words.


  • Arrange settings for group work.
  • Ask the students to prepare a short list of the value words that they would like to work with. It could either be a shared pool of personal values, or values related to their projects.
  • Prepare a common worksheet (in an analog or digital format, for inspiration see the worksheet provided under Materials).
  • Decide upon how the value clusters should be visualised and documented (in an analogue or a digital format), for example, as a list of primary and associated values, or as a mindmap.


  1. The students are introduced to relevant thesauruses, dictionaries, value vocabularies (such as the HUValue Tool or Schwartz Theory of Basic Values) and other materials that might help them broaden and deepen their vocabulary for, and understanding of, a certain value.
  2. The students put their chosen and named values (prepared ahead of class) in front of them. They might want to document their values in a digital format, so that it is easy to copy to other digital tools such as a thesaurus. Students might, for example, use the provided worksheet as a way of generating and mapping out their value clusters.
  3. The students start to generate and write down connotations, denotations, and synonyms of the selected values words. Relevant thesauruses, dictionaries, value vocabularies or other materials may be used by the students to look up and write down connotations, denotations and synonyms of the selected value word.
  4. The students connect the generated vocabulary of related words for each value word, for example as a list of primary and associated values, or as a mindmap. This is the value cluster.
  5. The generated value cluster is discussed in groups to come up with additional synonyms and associations and connect these with the value. To expand the value vocabulary even more, students can look up connotations, denotations and synonyms for the new value words as well as add their own associations to the different value words in the cluster. This will add another layer to their value cluster (this process can be repeated to add even more layers).
  6. The value clusters are shared and reflected upon in a plenum discussion. The students are asked to reflect on their choice of words and whether they relate to the kinds of stakeholders and life situations that they work with in their projects.
  7. Documentation of the value clusters can be commented on by the other groups or the teacher to provide reflections, words or feedback to the value cluster.

    The value cluster can be used in succeeding teaching activities as a value vocabulary in the students’ design projects, when communicating with stakeholders or when analysing existing products, systems, or services. Furthermore, it can be used to reflect on the ethical implications of a design.


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 their expanded value vocabulary (summative assessment) focusing on a) explicating and integrating nuances, associations and connotations of specific value words and b) combining value words into clusters.

Assess students’ learning by making them co-create a round robin chart (formative assessment) with open-ended questions. Ask them to use their values clustering to reflect on the value words and their organisation of their clusters and what that might mean to them as responsible designers.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • identifying the associations, synonyms, antonyms, connotations and denotations of value words,
  • combining value words along with their associations, synonyms, antonyms, connotations and denotations of value words to create a complex net of values,
  • describing their values clustering and what implications this might hold for them and their design practice,


Bos-de Vos, Marina (2020). A framework for designing for divergent values, in Boess, S., Cheung, M. and Cain, R. (eds.), Synergy - DRS International Conference 2020, 11-14 August.

Boztepe, Susan (2007) User value: competing theories and models. International Journal of Design 1(2), 55-63.

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

Kheirandish, Shadi, Funk, Mathias, Wensveen, Stephan, Verkerk, Maarten, Rauterberg, Matthias. (2019). HuValue: a tool to support design students in considering human values in their design. Int J Technol Des Educ.

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