Why you should build corporate responsibility into business design research

Annachiara Foschi

Business Designer

8 min read

The forces of conscious consumerism are on the rise and show no sign of abating. Increasingly, people are opting for socially responsible and environmentally friendly brands over those that show disregard for their own workers or the planet. 

But this phenomenon goes further than just influencing buying decisions: Organizations should seek to inspire consumers, employees, and fellow businesses by demonstrating their commitment to the ethos of corporate social responsibility (CSR) across the organization. And there’s no better way to do that than to build it into the very core of your business design research. 

Software has social impact

More than 3.5 billion people now have access to smartphones, so it’s vital that the companies create their digital products with factors like openness, accessibility, and inclusion in mind.


Responsible user interface (UI)/user experience (UX) design is rooted in transparency. Users (rightly) want to be informed at all times on exactly what they’re doing within apps, what they’re clicking on, and what they’re giving away.


Ethical design should be clear, easy to understand, and informative. This means avoiding the techniques of dark pattern design by implementing responsible design principles from the drawing board and asking difficult questions about the human impact of practices such as data collection.


UX/UI designers should also strive to make products as accessible as possible. For example, they might take into account visually impaired users while innovating a new feature. This could mean enlarging text size, customizing color contrasts, incorporating screen readers, including video subtitles, and using alternative image text to describe images.


Software has much more social and emotional impact than many people realize. Responsible products aren’t created by accident: They have to come from a conscious effort from all involved to build something that has a positive impact on users and their community.

Champion social and environmental responsibility - and avoid “purpose washing”

There are countless ways that responsible practices can be built into business design research to produce real and impactful results. But be careful - it’s easy to think that simply writing a big check at the end of the year and sending it to your charity of choice is sufficient. This might count as philanthropy, but it’s not CSR.


Businesses can avoid “greenwashing” or “purpose washing” and practice real CSR by incorporating their values into the company culture, and enshrining their CSR goals into their company vision. 


Some recent examples of responsible action, with both internal and external impact, include Microsoft, which just announced its aim to become carbon negative by 2020, and Netflix, which offers 52 weeks of parental leave that can be taken whenever employees want. 


When it comes to operations, companies show that they have incorporated socially and environmentally responsible efforts into their business design by engaging in practices such as waste avoidance and transparency around their supply chain.


Whether it’s internal or external, action with social or environmental impact, incorporating the ethos of responsibility into business design will allow better practices to filter into all branches of the organization.

Capture intelligence for product development

Building CSR into business design doesn’t mean compromising on performance and reliability  - or your bottom line. In fact, it can result in higher gains as you use user data to power product development.


It’s crucial to listen to what your users are saying, not only so they feel valued, but also so you can improve your product further. What are their growing pains? What don’t they understand about your product? Do certain user groups find certain aspects of the software more difficult?


A product must be user-centric, so if you’re not listening to what the user needs, it’s doomed to fail.


You can uncover these insights by conducting regular surveys and beta testing with your users to gain intelligence on the issues to be addressed and improvements made. Incorporate essential feedback into your business design, and you show not only commitment to your product, but also to your users.


While many organizations are aware of the importance of CSR, they might not yet know how to implement it in the most impactful and practical way. Here’s where business design comes in: By building in CSR into the core tenets of your business and product, it will be clear that you’re not just making token gestures to appear responsible. You’re doing it because you truly believe in the values of corporate responsibility and the positive impact it can have across communities.
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