Articles  |    |  August 21, 2018

Twenty years of value sensitive design: a review of methodological practices in VSD projects

Article by Till Winkler and Sarah Spiekermann.
Published in Ethics and Information Technology.


This article reviews the academic literature (1996–2016) that emerged under value sensitive design (VSD). It investigates those VSD projects that employed the tripartite methodology, examining the use of VSD methodological elements, and illustrating common practices and identifying shortcomings. The article provides advice for VSD researchers on how to complete and enhance their methodological approach as the research community moves forward.


Value sensitive design (VSD) can look back at over 20 years of constant development and is considered by many as the most comprehensive approach to account for human values in technology design (e.g., Manders-Huits 2011; Davis and Nathan 2015). Against this background, the goal of this paper is to review the methodological practices in VSD projects. We want to understand how VSD has been applied, especially in terms of the reported use of selected methodological elements for design projects that employ the VSD tripartite methodology. To achieve successful incorporation of human values in the design process, VSD employs an integrative and iterative tripartite methodology, consisting of conceptual, empirical and technical investigations (Friedman et al. 2006). In the conceptual investigation, direct and indirect stakeholders are identified, followed by an analysis of how these could be harmed by or benefit from a new technology. Additionally, values implicated by the use of technology are identified and defined (Davis and Nathan 2015). As soon as values are identified and discussed, value tensions can emerge (Friedman et al. 2006). Under empirical investigation, qualitative and quantitative methods are employed to evaluate how stakeholders experience a technology with regard to the values they consider important (Manders-Huits 2011). One aim of the technical investigation is to combine insights from the other investigations and explore how a technology might be designed to support the values identified (Manders-Huits 2011). All three investigation types are interdependent and inform each other (Manders-Huits 2011). Burmeister (2016) shows how an identified value can be refined by empirical insights, which support its in-depth conceptualization and understanding. Due to the interdependency of the three investigations, we consider iterations between them as an important cornerstone of the VSD tripartite methodology.