Perhaps, then, one should adopt a deontological approach and consider the intentions of the designer or the principles of the design act in terms of consistency and universalizability. Indeed, as something less than full-bodied action, designing might well be compared to having an intention. Although many of its particular maxims may be open to serious challenge, it is difficult to see how the design process as a whole should not be inherently universalizable. Criticisms of modern technological design often focus on the inherent consistency, the rightness and wrongness, of various design maxims. But without the design process as a whole, how could one possibly address the problems inherent in the designed techno-lifeworld?
Nevertheless, as making in miniature, design is something more than an intention. In however diminished a form, it is still physical activity. It is thus a busyness that, as such, does not encourage inner self-examination. Moreover, as physical activity, design is something that always has immediate physical consequences—even if they are, as it were, quite small, even minute. Its inner principle is the linking together of physical materials and energies in functional units to meet predetermined functional specifications, something to be worked out through modeln and testing. Design is inherently tipped toward action, is immanent activity, a proto-pragmatism.
Consider, then, an ethics of consequentialism, which would refer the moral character of action to the goodness or badness of its results. But the designing of an airfoil or a structure has no immediate socially significant consequences. How could one calculate costs and utilities except in the most indirect terms? Probably most such designing leads nowhere, since the majority of designs never serve as a basis for full-scale construction. Design is more like a self-contained game. Its full-scale consequences, whatever they may be, occur only at secondary or tertiary removes—once the design serves as a basis for construction. A consequentialist judgment of designing readily strikes any designer as an abstract, far-fetched focusing on remote results that an indefinite number of contingent variables may alter.
There are two further points that can be made about the difficulties of consequentialism. As Hannah Arendt has noted with regard to human action, and as Hans Jonas has argued with regard to modern technology, the remote consequences of activities are inherently difficult to predict. John Stuart Mill, anticipating such an argument, replies that the remote and unpredictable character of consequences can be mitigated by experience. In more recent language, the difficulties of “act utilitarianism” can be met with “rule utilitarianism” grounded on common experience. Human beings can learn that telling lies eventually has bad consequences most of the time. The problem with any appeal to experience in the case of modern design acts, however, is that insofar as designs are unique, their consequences are also continuously new. Principled change undermines the mitigating power of historical experience. (Could this account for the modern resistance to any reduction in the pace of technological change, and that continuously renewed optimism about design transformations that makes it so difficult to learn from failed experience and expectations?)
Yet the apparently diverse material products grounded in the new way of life defined by the principled pursuit of technological innovation through design do exhibit certain common features. Albert Borgmann has linked these together in what he terms the “device paradigm.” Devices are to be contrasted with things. A thing, such as the fire-bearing hearth, entails bodily and social engagement. A device, such as a central heating unit, “procures mere warmth and disburdens us of all other elements.” “Technological devices … have the function of procuring or making available a commodity such as warmth, transportation, or food … without burdening us in any way [by making them] commercially present, instantaneously, ubiquitously, safely, and easily.” The products of modern design are typically commodities that fit the device paradigm. Indeed, modern designing might even be described as “devising,” the process of making present devices.
-  See Arendt, Hannah (1958), The Human Condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, especially chapters 32—34.
-  See Jonas, Hans (1984), The imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, particularly chapter 1, “The Altered Nature of Human Action.” For further analysis extending the ideas of both Arendt and Jonas, see Cooper, Barry (1991), Action into Nature: An Essay on the Meaning of Technology. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
-  John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), chapter 1, near the end.
-  See Frankena, William K. (1973), Ethics. 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, pp. 35 ff.
-  Borgmann, Albert (1984), Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 42,77.