29 May 2009

The Designer’s Hippocratic Oath—A Reformulation

The practitioner is constantly barraged with new guidelines: platform guidelines, guru guidelines, papers and articles on heuristics, case studies and anecdotes that promote practice directives. And then there’s the occasional Web forum, workshop, or hallway conversation that suggests there is an overarching method to our madness. We enter the fray with this, our May-June Rave, honoring a long tradition and making it our own: The Designer’s Hippocratic Oath. Say it out loud: I Believe!

I swear by Don Norman, Douglas Engelbart, the Eames, ergonomics and all the powers of cognitive psychology and good design, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation—to reckon the teachings of this Art equally meaningful as my own experiences, to share my experiences with my teachers and colleagues and free their perspectives from bias; to look upon all design in the same footing, and to share my thinking, if they shall wish to learn it, without condescension or confusion; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my peers, my colleagues, and to designers similarly bound to the Oath, but to none others who are not willing to endure it.

I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my users, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.

I will give no crash or unrecoverable error to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a single person the means to procure confidential company information or illegal copies of my product.
With openness to learning, to constructive criticism, and to negotiation I will pass my life and practice my Art.

I will not write code or falsely pretend to be a visual designer, but will leave this to be done by those who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever projects I enter, I will go into them with balance for the benefit of the unwitting user and the bottom line, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the temptation of awkward and incomprehensible user experiences, even as practical jokes or “experiments.” Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not, in connection with it, I see or hear in the life of usability participants, which ought not to be spoken of publicly, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret, sometimes even when they have signed an NDA and release form. While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!

— Hippocrates with some updates by Jonathan Arnowitz & Elizabeth Dykstra-Erikson

This is a draft version (preprint) of material which was later published in substantially the same form in my Rant column in ACM’s magazine. The published version is a copyrighted feature of Communications of the ACM. All requests for reproduction and/or distribution of the published version should be directed to the ACM.