An exploration of the ethical principal of justice in design.

Part 1: Critical Understanding

  1. The principle of justice may be misunderstood as meaning reimbursement for harm caused to a subject in a study. However, it could be clarified that in scientific research, it is much broader and means “burdens” should be distributed fairly and “benefits” should be given to those entitled to them (Belmont Report). The principle of justice also encapsulates equality as well. The Belmont Report states that “equals ought to be treated equally.”
  2. The principle of justice is difficult to apply as it can be difficult to decide how to equally distribute “burdens” and “benefits”. For instance, when working with an age group of 4–12 year olds, “differential treatment” may be necessary (The Belmont Report). It must be determined which ages can handle which burdens in order to not push an individual past their limit. It may require difficult tests to determine the level of burden each individual can handle, which in itself could be too much of a burden for a subject. Also, a 7 year old may not necessarily be able to handle more of a burden than a 5 year old, so determining how to distribute burdens and benefits can be difficult as it involves many factors and not just age.

Part 2: Application

  1. In my experience with usability testing, the principle of justice could be applied in making sure the tasks are equal for each subject participating in the test. Our tasks were consistent for every individual testing the microwave, so the burden was equal for everyone. However, we did not determine beforehand if any of the subjects would have particular difficulty completing a task which could have caused unequal burden. For instance, an injustice could have occurred if someone had seeing impairments and did not have their glasses that day. The tasks would have been more of a burden for that subject than the others. We tried to create equal benefit in our test by allowing each subject to keep the popcorn we had them pop for a task. However, this could lead to an imbalance of benefit distribution if an individual was allergic to the ingredients in the popcorn and could not enjoy the food like the other subjects.
  2. In the visualization sprint, the principle of justice could be applied by making sure to be as inclusive as possible in the information presented in order to create equal benefit to those viewing the data. For instance, I created my data to show the frequency of bike thefts for commuters 7 days a week, which included those who work on the weekend and not just normal business days. I also included the frequency of bike thefts per hour, 24 hours a day, to include those who work late night or early morning shifts and not just those who work 9 to 5. The benefit of the data could be more equally spread by ensuring that the colors chosen for the data points are easy to see for those with color blindness or other visual impairments. This would make sure that each user of the data can easily and accurately read it so that they all can commute safely, and thus ensure justice for all users.
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