value-sensitive design (VSD)

Value-sensitive design (VSD) is a concept that advocates the consideration of human principles and standards when planning technology. The concept was developed by professor Batya Friedman, a software developer who observed that developers in the technology community often focused on technology without considering the implications of their creations and the user experience (UX).

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 all others impacted by the technologies -- regardless of whether those individuals will ever actually use the technologies. As such, 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.

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 advocates that developers start with a conceptual phase, in which they begin to identify the direct and indirect stakeholders and how the planned technologies might impact their values; an empirical phase in which the developers confirm, expand and tweak the ideas developed in the first phase through investigations using surveys, interviews and other methods; and then a technical phase in which the information gathered is used to shape the final product.

The idea 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 March 2016

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