Design bound by ethics — Being able to sleep at night after work.
Mon, Nov 13, 17
12 minute read

Design bound by ethics — Being able to sleep at night after work.

Design is a beautiful thing. You have the ability to take an idea effectively make it a great experience for another person. In other words, your design has the power to affect the people that come face to face with it. When you have that type of role in the design process of these ideas, you are bound ethically to how your design helps or hinders someone their goal.

Originally posted on Compass of Design Original article link

Darian Rosebrook's avatar— by Darian Rosebrook

Design is a beautiful thing. You have the ability to take an idea effectively make it a great experience for another person. In other words, your design has the power to affect the people that come face to face with it.

When you have that type of role in the design process of these ideas, you are bound ethically to how your design helps or hinders someone their goal.

Great design blends in and furthers the goals of the person it’s used by.Bad design is, in it’s purest form, harmful to the person it’s consumed by.

Whether their goals are: physical, emotional, psychological, financial… there is something that person needs to accomplish with something that you have designed.

If they can’t accomplish their goals, or are even hindered by it trying to use it, then you are essentially at fault.

The great thing is that if it’s partly your fault, you are aware and now have

the ability to fix it.

Your responsibility:

Be accountable to the intended audience

Most of us are at the forefront of the user-experience.

We drive people to choose options, to favor on choice over the other. We display information in ways we believe that someone should consume the content. We design the way a product is intended to be used. We are then responsible in part for making sure that we did our best to help them accomplish what they need to.

You can’t always predict how something you made will be used though, because at most, we design for human beings. Therefore, we can not scapegoat the fact that you did design that ‘thing.’

I want to quote a paragraph from Mike Montiero about this topic.

Design is a discipline of action. You are responsible for what you put into the world. It has your name on it. And while it is certainly impossible to predict how any of your work may be used, it shouldn’t be a surprise when work that is meant to hurt someone fulfills its mission. We cannot be surprised when a gun we designed kills someone. We cannot be surprised when a database we designed to catalog immigrants gets those immigrants deported. When we knowingly produce work that is intended to harm, we are abdicating our responsibility. When we ignorantly produce work that harms others because we didn’t consider the full ramifications of that work, we are doubly guilty.

The work you bring into the world is your legacy. It will outlive you. And it will speak for you.

You cannot claim ignorance if the thing was intended to harm. However, you want to make sure you do your due-diligence when designing something, and ask yourself some hard questions about the intent behind the design.

Is this being designed to help people or is this to help the company at the people’s expense?

Dark UX:

Be wary of misleading or misdirecting

Dark UX, or the dark patterns of user experience, are created when the goals of the company aren’t aligned with the goals of the end user.

There are times where the company believes its goals are more important than the end user.

As a designer, your work serves the goals of the people who are face-to-face with your design. You need to understand that your employer or your client might not see it that way. So based on the goals of the company you might find yourself getting close to compromising your ethical/moral boundaries.

When your moral boundaries are being tested, you must decide to put yourself in their shoes. If you came across this design, would you actually understand or want what is being displayed?

Dark UX shows up in many places now around the internet in ways you might not expect. This trend is not okay.

Have you tried to finish reading a page on the internet, went to exit the page, and then were greeted by a really obstructing pop-up box? Do you remember what it said?

This kind of message that is popping up in pop-up form is what’s called “confirm shaming.”

Confirm shaming happens when you see a pop up that offers something to the end user with exchange for an email address or purchase. However, should you choose to opt-out of the option you have to click a self-deprecating response much like these below.

The images above do what I just talked about. They make the popup super “in-your-face” and really try to hide the option they don’t want you to choose.

Dark patterns are dangerous in design because they trick the user into doing something that they don’t want to do or benefit them.

There are a ton of dark ux patterns to look into. I’ll highlight some of the more prominent ones I’ve seen, but you can check this list here to educate yourself on ones to avoid doing :

These dark patterns are completely avoidable when you learn what they are. It is our duty to notice these when we are asked to include them in our designs, speaking out against them with our moral fiber.

Presenting Data:

Avoiding the pitfalls of misrepresentation

This still is from a Film Theory video on YouTube from the first 60 seconds

My research in this area is sparse, but I wanted to talk about the way we present data. The image/link above here sparked my interest. It’s from a theorist who pulls apart video games and film/tv and ultimately pulls theories together that drive the story, the cultural reference, or the science/feasibility of certain aspects of them.

The first 60 seconds of the video is what I’m referencing.** The representation of data.**

You can choose to watch the rest of the video, but only the first minute shows what I’m talking about. If you don’t watch it, he basically says that “Data” doesn’t lie, but the way that “data” is represented does. We rely on accurate data in order to make decisions, to save lives, to inform the public, etc. When we can’t parse the information correctly, we lose our clarity on what to do with the information. In the example, they present a presidential candidate’s rating in the last position even though his data is higher than the one before him, indicating that he’s in last for the race.

There have been numerous accounts of this in the past, and it’s an issue that we’ll continue to deal with

Whether intentional or un-intentional, the way we visualize data needs to be accurate without bias or implying things.

Also, it just needs to be designed well. We need to remember this when we represent this data to the public.

Here, have a pie chart that was poorly designed.

or this one too

The Balance of Power:

Your work has the power of change

Design and art have always had a spot in history. Most of the best examples of this has been during influential and radical change of that period’s society.

Whether that change has been for the better (acceptance, peace, unity, education, cultural advancement) or for worse (war, fear mongering, control, defamation, death and destruction), the power of design is it’s power to change.

We have the ability to craft the way people view current issues through art; the power to influence minds through design, to strike a chord with masses of people with vision, to guide change.

A lot of us are not flexing our ability to make this change happen.

In our world today, we focus so hard on being politically correct; even in countries where there are direct consequences for our actions. This causes us to not tread on topics and ideas that people need to know about.

Revolutions are built on the essence of human creativity, because art itself is the human spirit being free and exercising choice. The same can be said about instating change and control.

We have the power, we have the control.

What we choose to do with that is our own issue.

I’d rather see that used for good.

Avoiding harming others

Accessibility, incluson, fairness and harm

Here in the United States, the percentage of organ donors through the nation varies state to state. Even as a whole, 45% of the U.S. is a declared organ donor (based off 2012 data, Donate Life states for 2017, it’s closer to 56%)

However, in other areas of the world, there’s a large amount of countries with higher than 80% rates of organ donors. A lot of it comes down to the way they display the default choice.

The countries that have the higher ratings use becoming an organ donor as the default choice (you’d have to opt-out of being a donor) where the other countries (and roughing this data here) use an opt-in choice to become a donor.

Though I view organ donation a good thing (not looking to spark politics, just stating) there are other examples for the default design that can ultimately harm the people intended to use these designs.

Thinking of a recent experience trying to switch phone carriers that cost us nearly $1,500.00 to fix. We were automatically added a phone line by our old carrier we didn’t need because we were “given” (never actually received it) by default a new wifi-hotspot for signing up for a certain plan. We didn’t know about it because of automatic billing and payments so when we went to switch to the new plan, the old account never closed.

The default choice here was not being told we can opt out, nor telling us we were being added to the additional plan in the contract.

The data within was hidden underneath massive amounts of text during something that usually takes a while to sign up for. Ultimately it was our fault for not reading through word by word, but the way the process was designed ultimately cost us a lot of money to fix.


Disability in the United States is something that we are well aware of. With 19% of the U.S. living with a form of disability in 2010 (solid data seems to take a while to be presented because all numbers I’ve found for 2016 or 2017 widely vary), that means nearly 56 million Americans (or 1 out of 5) would have difficulty using something designed for someone without the disability.

The lack of inclusion is in fact harmful to the experience of these people, even if it was an oversight.

One of the things my brother, who is left handed, has brought to my attention is that left-handed people have and continue to die from operating equipment that was designed for right-handed people.

Though I’ve had a hard time verifying this with numbers, I have found (even from practicing being left-handed) that there are tons of products that are poorly designed for left-handed people.

We as designers must consider every outlier of use cases that ultimately includes every able and inable bodied persons out there.

Accessability is still an issue when we consider every state, every user, every capability… We can run our budgets to the ground with trying to cover all bases. But if you neglect inclusivity, you are essentially designing a wall to block someone from your creation.

This is true with everything from gender bias, racial acceptance, cultural differences, financial classes, there always seems to be something that drives other humans to be “separate” from another group. People will even research something in bias just to prove a point, only representing things that make that report look good. Others blatantly exclude others because of minor differences in choice, appearance, orientation, etc.

This leads to empowering disgusting excuses for human beings.

Nothing trumps the good intentions of people more than biased hatred in the world.

As someone who was raised kind of sheltered to the world, in a good home, with morals, I’m constantly shocked by the actions of others. Though I am not perfect myself, I try to see things from the views of others, and am shocked by how prevalent the disparity between two seemingly different groups of people echo through our design world.

Think of the fact that gender roles have been a “conventional ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ choice” as an old “ism” that we have kept. We could just alphabetize the option or kill it entirely from our forms. I recognize the needs for medical use as another issue, but for most daily use in design, that data is unnecessary.

We need to avoid designing our work to favor any particular group and their ability, enabling them to perceive themselves as “ahead of” or “above another” human being. The data exists to be able to design our things to include others.

Disparity doesn’t stop, unless we help stop it.

We’re all made of the same stuff, born the same way, and we will all die the same.

The thing about ethics is that we think that it’s too much to deal with, or that there’s no way to change the way the world works.

That is not true.

We can defeat disparity through our careers as designers. We need to focus on being a more effective designer, working on mastering the founding principles and holding you and the community accountable for what you all design.

I think we will have the power to change the world.

I will continue to improve my own skills and pass along that knowledge to others. Remember keep your ethics in check and help educate those you can.

Take charge, and make change happen.

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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your design skills, business/freelance ethics, and design professionalism. Join us in the community or get on the newsletter to get access to exclusive content.

Originally posted on Compass of Design on Nov 13, 2017

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