Harnessing Safety in Design: An Essential Approach to User-Centered Products and Services

Incorporating Safety from the Drawing Board to the End User

Key Takeaways:

  • Safety in design is a proactive approach focusing on user safety and rights during the development and design phase of products and services.
  • The goal is to predict and prevent potential harm rather than rectifying issues after harm has occurred.
  • Safety in design principles, long-established in the physical realm, are being increasingly applied to online products and services.
  • Examples of safety in design online include age verification processes and content scanning and filtering technologies.
  • There’s a growing need for online products and services to incorporate safety features from the outset.

Defining Safety in Design

At its core, safety in design is an approach that places user safety and rights at the center of product and service design and development. This methodology aims to anticipate potential dangers and eliminate them proactively, instead of reacting to them after the harm has occurred. It involves integrating risk management strategies early in the design phase to ensure the safety of end users and minimize potential hazards.

The philosophy of safety in design is guided by the principle that safety should not be an afterthought or a feature added in the late stages of design, but rather a critical element that drives the design process from the very beginning. It aims to create a safer user experience, fostering trust, reliability, and functionality.

The Prevalence of Safety in Physical Design

Over the years, safety in design has become a common feature in physical products and services. Many safety features we now take for granted were once innovative design elements.

Consider the automobile industry as an example. Features like seat belts, airbags, and anti-lock brakes were all once novel inventions but are now standard inclusions in vehicle design. These safety measures were incorporated as a result of a shift in perspective towards anticipating potential hazards and addressing them during the design process rather than responding to them post-incident.

The application of safety in design is not limited to the automobile industry. Whether it’s the fire-resistance rating of building materials in construction or the fail-safe mechanisms in machinery, safety in design has permeated various sectors. It is a testament to how proactive risk management and user-centered design can significantly enhance safety and improve the user experience.

Safety by Design in the Digital Age

In the digital age, the application of safety in design principles has become more important than ever. With a large portion of our lives now happening online, ensuring user safety in the virtual world is a critical concern. Unfortunately, online safety measures have not always kept pace with the rapid evolution of digital technologies. There is a growing call for online products and services to integrate safety features from the outset of the design process, following the same safety in design principles seen in physical products and services.

A common application of safety by design in the online space is the use of age verification processes. These ensure that only individuals who are of a legal age can gain access to age-restricted websites or content. This feature has been crucial in protecting minors from inappropriate or harmful online material.

Another example of safety in design online is the use of scanning and filtering technology on platforms where users can upload their own content, such as social media sites. These technologies can detect certain forms of illegal or harmful material, like Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), and either remove it or flag it for human review. This proactive approach helps to create safer online spaces by preventing the dissemination of such material.

The Growing Demand for Safety in Online Design

Despite these advancements, more needs to be done to prioritize safety in the design of online products and services. The digital realm presents unique challenges, including cyberbullying, identity theft, online scams, and data privacy issues. Addressing these concerns requires innovative design solutions that prioritize user safety and rights from the inception of product or service development.

Organizations such as the eSafety Commissioner, INHOPE’s Australian member, argue for the need to embed safety features into the design of online products and services. As our lives become increasingly interconnected and digital, ensuring that online spaces are as safe as their physical counterparts will be crucial.

Safety in design online will involve educating designers and developers about potential risks, fostering a culture of safety, and developing regulatory guidelines that promote the integration of safety features from the outset.


Safety in design is a powerful approach that prioritizes user safety and rights during the design and development phase of products and services. While this approach is well-established in the realm of physical products, its application in the digital world is more recent. However, as we move further into the digital age, the importance of integrating safety in design principles into online products and services will only increase.

Adopting a safety in design approach not only enhances user safety but also fosters trust and reliability in the products and services we use daily. It requires a shift in mindset, viewing safety not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental element from the very beginning of the design process. As we continue to innovate and design new products and services, both physical and digital, the principle of safety in design will remain a critical guide for creating safer, user-centered experiences.

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