Layers of Effect

Difficulty Level:

Method Overview

Layers of Effect is a method designed to assist designers to evaluate the primary and secondary levels as well as forecast “unintended” as tertiary levels of effects of their product. The end goal is to help designers to re-frame the design of their product. 

Framework of ethics used:

Method Intentions:

Getting Started

You will need:

Materials:  Framework, Sheets of paper/ Whiteboard, pens, post-its

Participants: Design Team


Using an example provided here, do the following:

  1. Identify a product you want to forecast and reframe.
  2. Using the Layers of Effect Framework, list primary and secondary levels of effects of the product. 
    1. Primary Level: “These are the effects that you think of first when you think of a product or experience. Primary effects are pitched as the heart of a product. They are always intended and known” (Zhou, 2021). 
    2. Secondary Level: “These are the effects that might not pop up immediately as the defining characteristic of a product, but are still just as relevant to the company’s shareholders” (Zhou, 2021)
  3. Using the Layers of Effect Framework, forecast “unintended” consequences as tertiary level of effect of the product. 
    1. Tertiary Level: “These are the effects that are either unintended or unforeseen. These can be good or bad; in any case, tertiary effects are always surprises that start cropping up after users have had their hands on the product” (Zhou, 2021).

Further Reading

Material on Designing Ethically:

Other tools in the toolkit:


Zhou, K. (2021). Maslow Mirrored. Design Ethically Toolkit.

This methods microsite is based off of analysis which is available in a preprint manuscript. Feel free to review our methodology and other details! We welcome your comments and feedback ! Please also use this form if you would like to suggest a method as an addition to the collection!