Skip to content

New OTESSA Conference Strand: Ethics in Design Showcase

Call for Proposals

The OTESSA conference will be launching an inaugural conference strand this coming year: the Ethics in Design Showcase. For this conference strand, we are seeking design examples and design cases that illuminate how you or a team of collaborators are incorporating different ethical considerations into either your design processes or designed artifacts (tangible, spatial, digital, or otherwise).


This is a special call for proposals for 2024. Click the button below to go to the general call.

For accepted submissions, we will organize these into a conference feature that allows conference participants to tour the designs as if attending a museum exhibit with a virtual exhibit as a central feature connecting both in-person attendees and virtual attendees. We will also be organizing a companion special issue of the OTESSA Journal (post-conference) for those who wish to also publish a design case (please see more details below on support and guidance for this strand). Depending on responses, our plan is to continue this as a conference track and on-going publication opportunity, and we will likely identify sub-themes to focus on in the future such as social justice, dignity, care, and so on.

Ethics in Design

Premise of the Ethics in Design Showcase

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum regularly curates exhibits of design across all different design disciplines and industries. Many of their curations frequently feature various ways that designers, developers, and manufacturers incorporate different ethical considerations into their work. For example, they hosted an exhibit on “Why Design Now?” that centered around how “doing good” can be translated into tangible artifacts, physical spaces, processes, and other design activities and artifacts. That exhibit included examples such as the Cabbage Chair where the designer incorporated comfort, aesthetics, and environmental considerations into the design and manufacturing process. Another exhibit focused on the principle of dignity in healthcare design, and as part of that they published a book on how hospital design can foster (or interfere with) dignity for patients. As yet another example, the museum itself developed Design at Home, an activity book aimed at increasing “educational equity in communities with less access to digital tools and platforms” (McNally, 2020, para. 1). The design of the book drew explicitly on principles of universal design, aiming to reach multi-generational audiences, and explicitly constrained the design process and artifacts to require no internet connection or special materials and be usable and applicable for different age groups. The museum’s collections are an inspirational starting point for how we can think about ethics in the instructional design and technology discipline and start to share our designs with each other as a form of knowledge building.

Design is a useful theory of action that can help us translate critical ethical, social, political, and cultural considerations into parameters and constraints that inform our design processes and artifacts. Design is also a visionary activity through which we can begin to image and construct alternate or desired futures. Simon (1969) defined design as being concerned with how things ought to be, and the designer is one who devises a course of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. Page (1966) defined design as an imaginative jump from present facts to future possibilities. Asimow (1962) described design a purposeful activity that is directed toward the goal of fulfilling human needs. And Weisbord (1992) described design as a way of resolving basic human conflicts to iterate towards a desirable human future. Inherent in design is a sense of imagination and creative possibilities.

Although ethics are typically framed in cognitive terms (knowing and understanding different philosophical approaches) or affective terms (e.g. caring feelings), it is actually considered part of the little-studied conative domain that focuses on will, volition, intention, and choice. Design similarly reflects will, volition, intention and choice, and is even considered a synonym for conation (Design and Conation, 2016). Design is the act of exerting our will – where we may bring our knowledge (cognition) and our feelings (affective) to bear on problems and needs but with the primary intent of translating knowing and feeling into action, or into “doing.” Gray summarizes the relationship between design and ethics nicely when he states “design is an ethical act” (2023, para. 3). As such, design is value-laden, and the artifacts of that process are inscribed and etched with the values, beliefs and dispositions that designers explicitly and implicitly embed (Gray & Boling, 2016). Ethics as design reflects an intentionality of incorporating non-technical and non-pedagogical considerations more explicitly to lean on technologies through the acts of learning design, technology selection, and technology implementation. Moore et al. (in press) use an analogy to wrought iron to describe technology as wrought into shape by artistry or effort, depicting the work that we as designers and learning professionals do as we fold ethical and other considerations into our work with various technologies.

In this exhibit, we seek sessions that illuminate that work – both through examples of artifacts and processes as well as a discussion on how you as a designer or your team of individuals incorporated or confronted ethical considerations and dimensions. This involves a frank discussion on what challenges you encountered and an honest discussion of conflicting constraints or demands and how you navigated those. While every design situation features ethical dimensions, in some contexts these may play a more critical role in team dynamics, the process, and/or the products or artifacts resulting from the work. Sometimes, designers are explicit and intentional in addressing considerations. Other times, ethical issues arise in the course of a project or design and cause a designer to adjust or reframe.

Examples of design cases that highlight ethical issues and tensions in design work are Gallup et al. (2018) on empowerment in the design of homecare worker training and Steele et al. (2018) on designing accessible maker spaces and conflicting needs for user groups that they encountered in that project. As you consider whether to propose for this strand, we recommend you read those (links below) to see how the designer-authors illuminate conflicting values or needs and how they detail the complex aspects of their projects without offering simplistic or tidy solutions. This is the discourse we seek to facilitate on design practices as designers navigate complex and often conflicting values, interests and priorities.

Format for Ethics in Design Exhibits

We envision at least three types of exhibits, although we remain open to other ways designers want to envision and depict their work: design cases, reconceptualization of design processes or practices (conceptual presentations), and critical design. Our preference is for most of the sessions / exhibits to be design cases so others can see specific examples in action and begin to reflect on how they might incorporate ethical considerations and perspectives into their work. Please select “Design Showcase” for your format if you are submitting for this strand.

Icon label

Design Case Exhibit: We encourage you to be creative in how you envision this, but the idea is to create an exhibit that participants can tour – primarily digitally but also in-person if you plan to attend the in-person days – much as they would a museum exhibit. For the conference, these presentations should feature the actual design solution (artifact or otherwise) to highlight key features and specifically highlight what principles or other ethical considerations you as the designer or your design team intentionally considered or encountered naturally. Your presentation should include a discussion of how you brainstormed various possible solutions and navigated any conflicting considerations (especially if two or more ethical considerations presented some tensions). Share both what your team opted for as a solution and the rationale as well as any resulting reflections on the project itself or implications for future work.

Icon label

Reconceptualizing Instructional / Learning Design: There is an active discussion now with multiple examples on the need to reconceptualize design processes and design activities. See Gachago, Bali and Pallitt (2023), Moore (2021) and Stefaniak (2023) for a few examples. This is important work with a lot of opportunity to explore how we think about, represent or visualize, and talk about learning design work.

Icon label

Critical Design: Critical design uses design to bring awareness to ethical issues and invite critical reflection. It is not a paper critiquing technology but a design that invites critique and reflection. One such example is the Pee Timer (CRIT, n.d.) described in Gray & Boling (2016). The Pee Timer offers a critique of surveillance technologies through a design that highlights the absurdity of such technology by exaggerating a dystopic vision of a technology in a learning or work environment. Other design disciplines engage in critical design, but the instructional / learning design community as of yet has not. The aim of a critical design is to raise questions rather than attempt to answer them and invite deliberation on the design itself, on the nature of design, and on the role and assumptions of designers. In addition to exhibits that feature inspiring solutions, critical designs can allow us to subvert and play with ideas and design practices.

For all three types of exhibits, presenters will prepare:

  1. A short blog entry (1000-1500 words) that briefly tells the story of your design or re-conceptualization of the design process, along with some visual artifacts (pictures, hand-drawn notes, etc.) that are relevant and helpful for other designers to develop an understanding of your design. These must be posted 2 weeks prior to the in-person conference dates (June 12-15), by the end of May. This blog entry may be adapted into conference proceedings for those wishing to also publish a conference proceeding, which is distinct from the design cases and conceptual papers that will be in the special issue. Example Post
  2. An in-person or virtual exhibit as described above. Further guidance will also be provided once we have a clear sense of the type and volume of proposals.

Related Publication Opportunity

Those proposing a conference presentation for this strand will have the option for the following publication opportunity as part of a special issue in OTESSA Journal:

Icon label

Design cases (for post-conference special issue): Design cases should cover similar points as the conference presentation and highlight one more ethical considerations and tensions that arise between varying perspectives of designers, users, and other stakeholders. These should not be neat and tidy solutions, simply a summary description of a design, or generalizable knowledge but instead aim to document design instances, decisions, and designerly thinking and creativity. More resources are below on design cases, and we will host some support meetings for those who wish to pursue this publication opportunity. You do not have to commit to a design case publication for your conference proposal to be considered – this is an additional, companion opportunity aimed at fostering a community of practice over time. Example design cases:

Icon label

Conceptual Papers: The examples provided earlier are good examples of conceptual papers that can offer critiques or re-envisioning of the design process or design practices. You may also want to consult West and Martin (2023) on writing theoretical and conceptual papers.

Icon label

Critical Design: If you elect to propose a critical design, you are also invited to submit a critical design paper for consideration in the special issue. While the conference exhibit should feature an actual design, the paper can take the form of a formative design paper that describes a prototype, fiction, or speculative design that would have characteristics similar to a design case (artifacts, designer rationale, key design decisions, etc.). The following are some examples from other fields and guidance papers:

Supports and Resources

For many, unpacking the ethical dimensions of one’s work or developing a design case may be very new. Additionally, design cases are a specific method and may be new to many. Design cases are not merely a description of an example, and their goal is not to generate generalizable knowledge. Critical design may also be new for many. To support interested colleagues, we will be hosting three online support sessions – one on preparing your proposal, and one on preparing your presentation (after proposal acceptance), and one on preparing your design case for the special issue. We have also compiled additional readings and resources (along with the examples above). During each of these, we will provide guidance and feedback. We will also dedicate time for folks to share what they are working on with each other for idea sharing and community support.

Support sessions:

  • Proposal support session: December 4, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. MST. Please register for this session to receive meeting details.
  • Conference presentation support session: During the week of April 22; details will be provided after proposal acceptance to all invited presenters.
    • Blog post deadline –end of May (details will be shared with presenters)
  • Special Issue support session: early- to mid-July; details will be shared with presenters

Please also feel free to email us any time with any questions.

Resources for design cases:

Additional readings on ethics and learning design:

Conference Strand Organizers

Stephanie Moore, University of New Mexico –

Ahmed Lachheb, University of Michigan –