How do people make an ethical choice?

A qualitative research study reaches out to understand people's evolving value-based actions.

14 week project including:

Generative Research

On Site Interviews

Observational Synthesis

Insight Development

Partners in investigation:

Jillian Bak and Chai Roongrangyuot​

What are ethics about anyway?

We set out to understand how people define their ethics 

when it comes to making a purchase. We first needed to understand what are ethics & where do they come from?

Do our ethics effect the purchases we make?

Our ethics are built on top of our morals, so this is a good

place to start: not just how you act, but first, how you feel. 


A focus group.


We chose an initial scope of Millennial consumers from ages of 25-29 living in densely populated Los Angeles County. These 5 people participated in a series of qualitative research methods, helping us uncover tacit knowledge and behaviors.

The journey of making a decision.

Any purchase is a choice. Ultimately, we were able to create a map of the journey of this process from the insights gained from research participants.


This linear process can be divided into 3 parts: morals/values, meta ethics, and applied ethics. The process inevitably returns to an observation state, where our morals and values are created and changed.

Generative research tools.

The 3 exercises were curated by our team to reach specific knowledge goals. Conversational tools, in tandem with these exercises, created a safe environment for meaningful insights to be revealed that may prove invaluable to a future design process.


I can show you the world

Goal: Understand how people perceive their world & their impact in it by asking them to use shapes, stickers, & markers to illustrate 'the world you live in'.

The context of good and evil

Goal: Analyze how certain stimuli like: environment, relationships, work, etc. motivate ethical actions by describing a hero and a villain in your world.

A change of heart

Goal: Learn what types of experiences are powerful enough to change lifestyle or behavior by reliving a decision and how they felt before, during and after.

"My perspective     of ethics is..."

After a 4 week period of connecting the dots after our interviews, we observed all of the challenges and feelings that were shared by all the participants. The main insights are represented below:

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The cyclical nature of making decisions.

We discovered many layers in the journey of making an informed, ethical decision that could be committed to routine. The baseline, a choice to be 'actively blind', is the starting point where you can then choose to engage further in building ethical structures. These steps we found to be far less linear, but in fact, a cycle with many chances to disengage from the difficult task of reaching committed ethical practice as a consumer.


Thinking toward every stage.

Because we were able to map each stage of this increasingly taxing journey, we uncovered opportunities for design at each stage of the process. We hope each one of these could lead to a more meaningful observation of ethics that is, at its core, user-centric. 

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