The Untold Benefits of Ethical Design

Ethics need to be at the core of everything we build. We have to consider our impact and rethink how to build digital products. This way we will not only build more responsible products, but gain additional benefits in the areas of performance, security, privacy and user happiness. This talk will show how to truly care about users & improve the user experience at the same time. Most importantly, this talk will be a technical inspiration, question the status quo and help us build for a better web.

WDS18 Day 2

Holger does a lot of client work; and that means you usually have budget restrictions. He wanted to work on something where they were free to put ideals into it; to build it the way they wanted to. So he got together with some like minded people and built Colloq.io, a conference platform.

Some ideals…

  • Build a “better” product
  • User interests & benefits
  • Challenge the status quo about how products are built
  • Put ethics at the core of everything they do

When Holger speaks about design he means the broad discipline, not just visual or interface design.

Ethical design: design created with the intent to do good.

Isn’t all design done with the intent do good? Even design with good intent can still go wrong.

We spend a lot of time thinking about tooling, tech and frameworks; but how much time do we spend thinking about the impact of what we’re building?

Are we making the world a better place? – it’s an easy thing to say, easy to claim, very common with startups.

Many products are simply part of surveillance capitalism, which is likely to end up violating human rights. Systems that make decisions about people using data can often cause harm.

Some products actively use dark patterns to push users into making decisions they didn’t want to make; or to stop them completing an action they’ve already decided to do. It’s fundamentally wrong.

Question to the room: how many people like going on holidays? Most people! Holger likes to travel without making all the bookings ahead of time, so he uses a lot of hotel booking systems on the road; and on his mobile. They are full of stress triggers, alerts that you are going to miss your booking, that others are already booking it, etc.

Human centred design is a powerful tool to do good work. But that means you have to consider a lot of factors, many outside UX. When designing we have a responsibility to the user.

Data breaches are out of control, breaches of less than 100m peoples data barely get mentioned. How much time do we spend thinking about collecting data, and how much time thinking about how to secure it? Should you collect it at all without a good reason? The data you don’t have can’t be leaked, lost or stolen.

Web performance is really important. 8meg hero images? Really? That could mean someone simply can’t get to checkout in your system, because they’re on a slow connection.

The Vivino application has a nice way of handling a slow connection – where it ‘admits’ it’s going to take a long time and suggests you go do something else and it will notify when the results arrive.

Rethinking the approach

The internet is still very young. We are still basically experimenting. It’s important to try things even if they fail.

We take things for granted. We have cool things like modern electric cars. (walking through the history of cars…) In terms of evolution, the internet is up to the Model T Ford. It’s another 40 years before the first car with seatbelts; and another decade after that before the first seat belt law (in Australia).

So the internet is still very young. Should we be adjusting the trajectory?

We have learned how to do stuff. After twenty years we can vertically centre things which is great. Now it’s time to start building in user centred things as part of the base.

We lots of technical fundamentals and standards, but nothing on the ethical and moral side.

web standards: html, css, js
web essentials: privacy, responsibility, security

These essentials should become the standard. Currently people tend to say things like accessibility are too hard, too expensive, or “we don’t have those users”. Do we ever say “we don’t have a budget for CSS”?

Coming back to Colloq, a big question was “how do you want to be treated (as a user)”… and what are you willing to do for it?

They built it to principles of accessibility, inclusivity, responsibility; built it to be progressively enhanced. Progressive enhancement saved them from a JS error, because the fallbacks kept everything working (it wasn’t even urgent to fix it!).

Security gave peace of mind to both users and developers. They handled all the standard OWASP stuff, honoured do-not-track, and so on. They integrated Have I Been Pwned so they could stop users setting a compromised password.

We need to get our values right.

By thinking about the users a bit better, we can provide a better experience including performance and security. It makes us better designers, developers and product owners. Follow your moral compass. Start with the small things and incrementally improve the experience.

Design with the intent to good. If that’s too much, simply design with the intent to do better. And do better every day.