From Thoughtful Interaction Design, Stolterman & Löwgren, 2004.

Design is also a political and ideological activity. Since every design affects our possibilities for actions and our way of being in the world, it becomes a political and ideological action. With designed artifacts, processes, systems and structures we decide our relations with each other, society and nature. Each design is carrying a set of basic assumptions about what it means to be human, to live in a society and companies or large technical systems, most people realize how they affect the way we can live our lives. We would like to point out that the same also holds true in a small-scale perspective. Every digital artifact restricts our space of possible actions by permitting certain actions, promoting certain skills, and focusing on certain outcomes. To some extent, the user has to adapt to the artifact. Since all designs influence our lives, they become manifestations of political and ideological ideas.

People often dismiss the relation between ideology and design as insignificant, in terms of impact as well as importance. We believe this to be a mistake. The role of digital artifacts has to be recognized and measured in relation to the way they have a real impact on our lives.

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Since design is unique, ethical, aesthetical, political and ideological, it puts pressure on the designer. […] Someone might argue, “As a designer, i am only satisfying the client, so the client has the responsibility”. […] For a professional designer, it is not enough to make the client happy. A designer is also a citizen in a society and a member of a group that possesses specific professional knowledge. Consequently, the designer has the power to change and influence the development of society, which implies significant responsibility.

 

I found this excerpt to express quite clearly what kind of responsibilities a design professional is facing. I tackled very slightly this issue myself in my soon-to-be-published thesis, but was very glad to discover that book which gives credibility to my concerns.
My main argument is based on Jeff Schmidt‘s observations about the salaried professionals’ attitude to politics. His point is that a professional is trained to serve the goals of his/her hierarchy, which are by nature political goals. Following this established vision without taking responsibility or being even conscious about it can lead to a very reduced field of action for designed changes. The creative professional can be an instrument among many others to act on the everyday life of many people, to the service of some political views.
This, coupled to the disturbing documentary “The Corporation“, leads me to think that huge companies benefit from a severely underestimated political power, in action. I do believe that part of that power is funded on marketing strategies, which analyze precisely ways to sell products, and in the end propagate a certain ideology in a very practical, influential and ubiquitous way. Of course, I don’t put all companies in the same bag, but I think that being conscious about these processes can make us second-guess what we could easily take for granted when designing.
I’m very interested in what other people have to say on the topic, so if you’re concerned please do share the thoughts…