I often talk about design values when I introduce myself or industrial design as a topic. For me, these are things like elegance, sustainability, honesty and empowerment. Others' values might be functionality, aesthetics, or humour. A company might value profitability, a school, learning, or for a family it might be economy.
I think this is a great way* of interrogating oneself or the task one is undertaking, and draws into focus all sorts of aspects of your reasoning and the constraints that related parties are putting on the design process.
And when your values are directly at odds with those of a colleague, you know that it probably isn't a match made in heaven.
One beautiful example of this is last summer's story of one user of i.Materialise, an online 3D printing bureau, attempting to commission an 'ATM skimmer' for production (that is a parasitic device used for collecting bank card details as the card is inserted into a cash machine). The printers refused, fraud presumably not being one of their company values. The story throws up some interesting questions:
Were the printers right to refuse? Should the designer of the 3D model have refused? Was the purchaser the same person as the designer? Did the designer know the intended use? Could this disagreement have happened within a closed manufacture model (ie. one where design values are imposed throughout the production process)?
Design, like anything created by humans, is a medium through which values are embodied and questioned. I would say, for some reason, it happens to be a particularly good interrogator!
*one that the Product Design Department in DJCAD introduced me to.