The role of the industrial design educator in equipping design students to be ethical decision makers



Product & Industrial Design


  • production, sustainability, eco-sensitivity


The role of the design educator is to mediate learning and equip students to effectively contribute to their specific field once they graduate. With an ever-increasing demand for the ethical consideration of the sustainability of products and the impact of the manufacture thereof, so too the role of the educator should compensate and prepare learners accordingly. This paper aims to investigate the social and environmental responsibilities of industrial design professionals by referring to the works of key authors as well as current industry practices. Inquiry into suitable sustainability assessment tools which are used by designers and manufacturers is undertaken in order to identify appropriate assessment procedures which can be adapted / incorporated into design course content. This allows design educators to effectively prepare students for their future roles as ethical decision makers, conscious of their impact on the sustainability of the future. Within the field of industrial design a graduate is required to possess the ability to conceptualize, develop, and resolve problems during the development of products to a suitable manufacturable outcome.


As many developed products are intended for multiple units in manufacture, sometimes into the tens and hundreds of thousands, designers are largely responsible for what happens to these products once they are no longer used for their primary purpose due to obsolescence or failure.


Decision-making within the product design process has a direct impact in the suitability and sustainability of the outcome and there is a large amount of concern being placed on the suitability of the outcome with regards to its impact on the triple bottom line, being social, environmental, and financial implications. The designer therefore need to be an accountable decision maker, equipped to develop holistically considered products from conception through to long term impact, resulting in items which will benefit society and the environment. Design students who are able to interrogate their own design decision making against impact assessment scales will be able to better defend process, material and composition while still within the institutional environment, preparing them for their professional role as mediator between client, manufacturer, society and environment.

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