Fairness design model


The fairness design model is a visual representation showing the relationship between Effort (E) needed of issuers to produce a form and users to fill in that form, and Opportunities (O) provided by issuers, and utilised by users, to aid with form completion.

The model expresses the relationship between E and O as a series of equations that correspond to concomitant scenarios in the design process. The equations are then graphed to visualise each scenario and identify zones of fairness, which occur under conditions when E ≅ O.

Fairness design is the subject and output of my PhD thesis (2022), and is my original contribution to knowledge. My name is Arjun Khara. I am a lecturer and design researcher. I created the term ‘fairness design’ to describe my thinking and model of how public information — especially documents designed for mass use — can be made fairer for all users. The fairness design model was tested using government digital forms in Singapore that were produced and used during the Covid-19 pandemic. The model has since been extended to analyse additional public document genres.

Fairness design is rooted in the foundations of political philosophy. Different ideas and principles of governance and state-citizen interaction offer a framework for public policy makers when designing government forms. The fairness design model converts these ideas into equations, and graphs these principles to visually represent the relationships between forms issuers and forms users. In doing so, the model identifies zones of fairness, i.e. areas in which the form’s interactions achieve fairness parity for all stakeholders. The model is applicable to both digital and paper forms, and is being extended to other document genres, including SMS and wayfinding instructions.

Fairness design is not inclusive or universal design. While the disciplines overlap for certain terms and concepts, a key difference between inclusive design and fairness design is that the former targets the widest possible range of users for the general benefit of everyone. Fairness design, on the other hand, is grounded in the principles of reciprocity and sacrifice of certain assets in order to achieve an end result — in the same vein as social democracy, liberalism, or communism. The primary feature of fairness design, however, is that benefits are specifically targeted towards a particular group, rather than all users, under the notion that the improvement of one group’s circumstances is valid so long as this improvement does not negatively affect other groups. This specificity is crucial to the fairness design method and model.

Fairness is a cornerstone of societal structures and exchanges; accordingly, fairness design is a key consideration in human-to-human and human-computer interactions. For instance, the integration of artifical intelligence into design software makes creating and iterating forms a rapid and easy process. Experiments using AI in forms development reveals the software can out-iterate human efforts by several factors. However, in none of the tests did the AI conform to a prescribed design method or approach when planning questions, designing field lengths, placing checkboxes etc. This is a common concern with AI whereby the software demonstrates flexibility in iterations but does not deliver consistency.