Are we using design to make the world a less valuable place?

4 min read Max Koh

During the Sydney portion of the Optimal Workshop Roadshow, we were joined by Tobias & Tobias Experience Designer and Researcher Michael Palmyre.

Michael shared his thoughts on value: what it is, the different kinds of value that exist, how people determine it, and how it fits in with experience design.

Watch his presentation below or read some of the key takeaways here.  

Human centered design versus business centered

Human centered design focuses on delivering value to people, building organizations around needs and desires. Whereas business centered focuses on business value — focuses more on money coming in than going out.

Goods and services are often a reflection of our social values and dynamics. The economy itself refer to money and the circulation of goods but it’s actually people that make these things happen.

What’s exchanged is based on behaviors, cultures, and values, and these things don’t always align to economic concepts of value. 

How has value been theorized?

Sociological value – Personal, cultural and social values. Equality, harmony, success, competitiveness. These justify or discourage our actions towards others.

Linguistic value – Meaningful difference, contextual meaning. For example, we understand the color red because we know what it is not (it’s not blue or green). It is the meaningful difference that defines its value. Value is also based on its relationality to other things in a certain context. For example “She threw it” versus “She went threw it” and “She went through it”.

Economic value – The price one is willing to pay for a thing. How much you desire something determines its value. This doesn’t really tell us about why people are willing to pay that much for something though.

Value is a social construct – Values are embedded in social fabrics and exist in our minds, not just in the act of production and consumption. For example, the experience of cooking — the value is not just producing and consuming food; it’s the whole experience and not necessarily about the final product.

The very idea of experience is qualitative – It’s not easily reduced to a good or service. These things are what economics aren’t good at explaining. As experience designers, this is the field we’re working in. 

Value is not fixed – The world is not made of numbers; not everything that is valuable can be measured. This is why many businesses have trouble with experience design.

The values of modernity – Organizing ourselves around the use of machines for increasingly efficient mass production, consumption and profit. But also, conducting calculated, rationalistic actions over emotional traditional behavior. A focus on individuals, not groups, communities or cultures. 

Efficiency and social value – As efficiency increases, value decreases.

Technological upscaling – Devaluing and disempowering in childbirth. For example, low-tech childbirth – women are the source of knowledge and power. High tech childbirth – machines and specialists are the source of knowledge and power. 

We’re in a time when it’s easier to contact one another, produce things faster, and consume things faster. Should we dogmatically design everything to be fast, easier to access and more efficient? Does it make the world a better place? Is it sustainable? Is it a good thing for us to have so many things to consume? What organizations need does not equal what people need.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what is valuable the same as what is measurable?
  • In making things more efficient, are we removing meaningful things?
  • In reducing social interactions, are we removing affective engagement?
  • Who’s being empowered by our work? Who’s being disempowered?
  • Are we enabling people to live their values, or are we hooking them for business benefit?
  • What does growth mean? Is it about social well-being, ecological health, or economic value?
  • What kind of world do you want to live in? Is that reflected in your work? If not, why not?

We’re hitting the road — come along for the ride!

If you’d like to hear about what some of your local UX heroes have to say, come along to the Optimal Workshop Roadshow! We’re heading off to the United States and Canada in a couple of weeks and bringing some sweet swag and awesome presentations with us.

Check out the full list of cities, dates and speakers here. See you there!