Integrating Care Ethics and Design Thinking

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Journal of Business Ethics

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This article explores the integration of the seemingly disparate notions of care ethics and design thinking. The business community has adapted “design thinking” from engineering and architecture to facilitate innovation and problem solving through participatory processes. “Care ethics” is a relational approach to morality characterized by a concern for context, empathy, and action. Although design thinking is receiving significant attention and application in business practices, care ethics has only achieved limited traction among business ethicists in academia. “Caring design” is offered as a mutually beneficial integration of the two ideas. Care ethics and design thinking have much in common. For example, the relational and responsive dimension of design thinking is analogous in some important ways, namely empathy and inquiry, to the relational and responsive approach of care ethics. The shared themes in care ethics and design thinking make the integration of the two plausible and reciprocal advantages make the combination compelling. Explicit ethical language can shape design thinking as more than a tool of productivity while the participatory processes of design thinking can aid in expanding the circle of care ethics as a social and political ethic. Furthermore, caring design may provide a palatable path for greater acceptance of care ethics among business professionals. An overview of design thinking and care ethics is offered prior to exploring how the synergies are mutually beneficial. The article concludes with a focus on how to educate the next generation of business students for caring design.



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