Prepare to Design the Future
March 19–20, 2017: Training
March 20–22, 2017: Tutorials & Conference
San Francisco, CA

Designing smart things: Balancing ethics and choice

Gretchen Anderson (Primary Angle)
1:15pm–1:55pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Beyond the screen
Location: Tower Salon A
Level: Intermediate
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 1 rating)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Product designers and product managers working on "smart" products

Prerequisite knowledge

  • A basic understanding of product and service design methods
  • A basic grasp of smart devices and the IoT

What you'll learn

  • Understand current thinking by the AI community on ethics and morality in computing and the challenges it presents
  • Explore examples of the ethical choices that products make now and will make in the near future
  • Learn how designers might approach designing experiences that face moral dilemmas


The design community has gotten very skilled at crafting UIs, whether on a screen, through voice technology, or even via gestures, even as products like the Nest thermostat, the software running wind turbines, and autonomous cars are increasingly automating choices to simplify their use for people. While data scientists and AI experts are becoming more adept at delivering these algorithms, there hasn’t been enough discussion about their impact on design practice. As the technology we use becomes more intelligent, empowered, and automated, how will we designers need to evolve our practice? And how do we, as stewards of user needs and rights, ensure that the algorithms people use actually reflect the moral and ethical choices we might make as humans? Is that even the goal? Gretchen Anderson explores the challenges we face when designing the user experiences of the complex behavioral agents that increasingly run our lives.

Photo of Gretchen Anderson

Gretchen Anderson

Primary Angle

Gretchen consults with clients to inform their product strategy and improve team collaboration skills, and her book, Mastering Collaboration is available from O’Reilly in early 2019. She spent the first part of her career in design consulting for firms like frog design, Cooper, and LUNAR. Recently, she was Head of Design at PG&E, California’s largest energy company Prior tonthat she led the design of the hardware and software of a next-generation surgical system, and served as VP of Product at

Her past clients include Virgin Records, Samsung, Johnson & Johnson, and Intel. Gretchen is a Bay Area native who left only long enough to get a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in History & Literature.