Ethical considerations are becoming increasingly important in the design and development process of new apps and products. There have been a spate of examples of unethical design, or how companies are exploiting their users in various ways. A few examples are of misusing data to show targeted advertisements, creating social media addiction by feeding users messages that increase a fear of missing out, to even modifying user behavior. There are many ways in which user experience can cross an ethical line.
Before we jump into understanding how UX designers can implement principles of Ethical UX, and the key takeaways from ethical design, let us understand why ethics is important in UX design.
Firstly what do we mean by Ethical UX?
Ethical UX or ethical design is design made with the intent to do good. Everywhere around us we hear horrifying stories of how data is being used for corrupt or malicious intent. The root of the problem lies within the business model used by tech giants to monetize user data.
Designers and developers have a moral responsibility to build user experiences that are better than this. Their goal should always be to create experiences that benefit the user and serve their needs, rather than focusing on serving the needs of businesses. However designers often prioritize creating products that are profitable and attract a lot of users. This can cause them to lose out on the ethical considerations of UX design.
Thus, it is extremely important for UX designers to have at least a basic understanding of ethical design principles.
Why is ethics important in the design process?
Users place a lot of trust in a product when they purchase it or make the decision to start using it. Therefore when companies break this trust, it can result in a lot of fallout. With technology becoming such an integral part of our day to day lives, users do have the expectation that technology will make their lives easier in a variety of different ways.
There have been certain horror stories of companies betraying their users’ trust and misusing their data. Users of these apps and products felt exploited when they learned that their trust had been exploited.
Ethical design prioritizes this trust that users place in companies and businesses when they buy a product. It emphasizes on designing experiences that are ethical and deserving of the users trust. When the user experience is ethical, users are assured that their trust wasn’t misused. It validates their choice to purchase that product or use that app. They feel good about their decision to use it. Even if it might not be obvious to the user, they will be able to subconsciously know when the user experience is ethical. They will not feel cheated or experience psychological discomfort while using the product or app.
In conclusion, good UX design is incredibly dependent on a foundation of ethical design principles.
How can UX designers balance business and ethical considerations while designing a product?
Ultimately the goal of most businesses is to attract a lot of users, retain them and profit from them. Developing a product or an app is an incredibly expensive process, and companies need to earn a profit to stay in business. Since UX designers are employed by the business and must stay aligned to the goals and objectives of the company, business considerations could overshadow ethical considerations. However, UX designers need to stay involved in every step of the decision making process and should not blindly accept the company’s requirements.
If they notice a requirement that is morally dubious, it is their responsibility to question the business and raise a red flag. While they are not the only stakeholders, their voice is an incredibly important one. They must act on behalf of the users and uphold the principles of ethics design. Designers must consider their own intentions and regard their users as real people who will use their products. Ethical design ensures that designers take a step back, pause and carefully consider both business and ethical considerations while designing a product
5 Key Takeaways from Ethical Design
- Use data to improve user experience rather than unethical practices such as increasing user consumption and traffic. Data can be extremely beneficial in improving your users overall experience. Certain data can help designers identify where their users are facing an issue and customize their experience based on this information. This kind of customization can make user experience faster and more efficient. For example, an American pharmacy, Walgreens uses customer data to send them reminders when it is time to refill their medicines or vitamins. This is an extremely useful feature.
- User experience designers should prioritize the needs of their users above business considerations.
- Always ask why – question why certain decisions are being made. If you are being told to make an unethical design feature, ask why it is being done that way.
- Advertising is not necessarily bad – advertising can also be done without data tracking, making it more ethical. Companies should not rely on just one single platform for all of their advertising.
- Always prioritize usability – if a design is not usable, it is most often an example of unethical design. Without usability a design is ineffective and for all practical purposes completely useless.
The movement towards a more ethical future of design has already started to take place. As design becomes more global, businesses and designers need to come together to balance their business goals and personal values. Change is a long term process, and businesses and designers will need to be mindful of creating incremental change one step at a time. Human centered design that prioritizes the needs of its users is the need of the hour. Designers should be mindful of their users’ consumption patterns, how they are using their information and the right to privacy. They should incorporate more design practices that help their users protect their data, and do not exploit their users by using addictive design patterns.