“Designing for the Vulnerable: MacIntyre’s Concept of Proxy as Ethical Framework”


Sébastien Proulx
Published January 2018


This article introduces Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of proxy as a social role providing moral guidelines to address the challenges associated with designing for vulnerable populations from a caring perspective. While user-centered design approaches paved the way to empowering design interventions, a genuine shift from a curing to a caring perspective has yet to be fully embraced. Failing to adopt a caring approach is a point of contention for preventing designers from truly empathizing with their users and recognizing significant factors affecting the quality of user experience. To address that question, we discuss how MacIntyre’s moral framework considers the complex realities of vulnerable and dependent people and how to approach them. Through MacIntyre’s account of the proxy, it will be argued that design can adopt a caring approach by allowing consideration of the facts of dependency on others as social differences but not abnormalities. It will be suggested that adopting the proxies would prepare designers to face the challenges of advocating for users by leading them to consider the situation of dependent people as socially normal. Relying on insight from moral philosophy, this article suggests how design May embrace a genuine empathic stance in regard to the vulnerable.

Cite this article

Proulx, S. (2018). Designing for the Vulnerable: MacIntyre’s Concept of Proxy as Ethical Framework. The International Journal of Design in Society, 12, 45-53.