Definition

value-sensitive design (VSD)

What is value-sensitive design (VSD)?

Value-sensitive design is a concept that advocates the consideration of human principles and standards when planning technology. 

VSD brings human values to the forefront of the technical design process, providing technologists, designers, business leaders and others involved in developing technology with strategies for identifying and incorporating human values into the design and development process. Value-sensitive design aims to consider the values not only of the users, but of all others impacted by the technologies -- regardless of whether those individuals will ever actually use the technologies.

VSD advises designers and developers to consider the values of direct stakeholders as well as indirect stakeholders. For example, a caller using a cell phone is a direct stakeholder. The indirect stakeholders are the individuals surrounding the cell phone user who may be bothered by the phone ringing in a quiet space or by having to involuntarily hear the contents of the cell phone user's conversation.

High-level overview of VSD investigations

In addition to being a concept, VSD is also a methodology for developing technologies in a way that considers and addresses the values of direct and indirect stakeholders. It's broken down into the following three areas of investigation.

  1. Conceptual: Developers begin to identify the direct and indirect stakeholders and how the planned technologies might impact their values.
  2. Empirical: The developersconfirm, expand and tweak the ideas developed in the first phase through investigations using surveys, interviews and other methods.
  3. Technical: The information gathered is used to shape the final product.

Trends and challenges of VSD

The goal of VSD is to develop technologies that respect the values of all those impacted by them by identifying and addressing those values early in the development process, thereby limiting or eliminating potential problems once the technologies have been deployed. However, VSD can conflict with the desire to bring products to market quickly, as value-sensitive design requirements do indeed add extra steps to the development process.

VSD and similar approaches such as design thinking are gaining a larger following, with individual designers, as well as companies, educating employees more about this concept and methodology. Additionally, the concept of VSD is expanding beyond information technology to other disciplines such as civil engineering and transportation systems.

This was last updated in October 2021

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