Asee peer logo

Justice And Humility In Technology Design

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Engineering for Social Justice

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.851.1 - 11.851.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Steven VanderLeest Calvin College

visit author page

Steven H. VanderLeest is a Professor of Engineering at Calvin College. He has an M.S.E.E. from Michigan Tech. U. (1992) and Ph.D. from the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1995). He received a “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” Award in 2004 and 2005 and was director of a FIPSE grant “Building IT Fluency into a Liberal Arts Core Curriculum.” His research includes responsible technology and software partitioned OS.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Justice and Humility in Technology Design 1 Abstract Engineering design requires choosing between various design alternatives, weighing each option based on technical design criteria. Broader criteria have been suggested that encompass the cultural, historical, and philosophical contexts in which the new technology becomes embedded. These criteria, called design norms, can only be applied effectively by engineers with a strong liberal education. This paper examines two design norms in some detail. The first norm, justice, has been noted in the past as an important criterion for design decisions, but not to sufficient depth to provide practical design insights. Design for justice requires consideration of all stakeholders of a design. Technological designs can intrinsically lead to injustice, for example, if they disrespect stakeholders or cause discriminatory inequities. The second norm explored in this paper, humility, has typically been considered a good quality of the engineer, but not often applied to technology. The implications of using humility as a design criterion might include more emphasis on reliability, user feedback, and more broadly, a recognition of human limitations and fallibility.

2 Introduction Traditional engineering education teaches students how to use technical principles to make engineering decisions. However, the EC2000 criteria encourage broader engineering education that includes non-technical, contextual disciplines. Unfortunately engineering students often see courses in the humanities as a hurdle to get past, and revert to using narrow technical approaches to solving problems and producing technology. Transferring knowledge in one domain (liberal arts) to another (engineering) is difficult.1 One approach that helps students integrate their contextual, liberal arts education with their technical learning is the use of design norms. This paper explores two norms, or guidelines, for technology design: justice and humility. We begin by looking briefly at the design process and defining the design norm in Section 3. The following section explores the parallel idea of use norms. Section 5 reviews a number of ways to define justice and concludes with the application of justice as a technology design norm. Similarly, Section 6 applies humility as a norm.

3 Design Norms When designing a product, the engineer works iteratively through a step-by-step process: • Specification: Define the problem. Clarify the requirements of the project. • Ideation: Identify alternative solutions to the problem, often by brainstorming a variety of ideas. • Prioritization: Identify decision criteria to rate the various solutions, such as cost or weight. • Decision: Apply the decision criteria to decide between the alternatives, often using a decision matrix. • Implementation: Work out the details of implementing the chosen solution. Frequently the knowledge and ideas generated during one step in the process leads back to earlier steps for refinement and modification. Thus, the design process is more iterative than linear. This paper focuses on the prioritization step, where the engineers identify the decision criteria, sometimes called the design criteria. The criteria used to rate the alternative solutions usually include cost and may include speed, power, time to market, or reliability, for example.

VanderLeest, S. (2006, June), Justice And Humility In Technology Design Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--54

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015