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Ethical UX-Design Guidelines

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As the UX-Professional on the team, you are the person advocating for your users. You know their needs, where they like to buy clothes, which restaurants they like to eat at and what hobbies they have.

You are there for them, designing every pixel to meet their needs.

That also means that when it comes to making decisions regarding the design of your product or feature, you are the one that translates the needs of your users into user-friendly features.

You are building that gateway for them to be able to harness the power of technology.

As such, we also have a huge responsibility towards those that choose to use our products and services. The role of technology is there to enhance society, to create a mindful, more inclusive world.

Our products should reflect this sentiment, or at least we should want our products to reflect this.

Weaving Ethics into your Designs

Here are some key points to consider when designing:

The most important guideline that should run through every design that leaves your desk is that you are designing for your user. For no one else.

Notifications

This is a very important point when it comes to building a product. What and when do we want to be notified?

The default for many products is simply whenever there is something relevant to be notified about, right?

The answer to that would most likely always be “Yes”. But what or who defines what “relevant” means?

It is very subjective and will mean different things to different people, which is why some products tend to get very creative with their definition of the word relevant.

Notifications, although very helpful in reminding us that something needs our attention, can get misused very quickly. Particularly, if the aim is to get us back onto the platform as soon as possible.

When does the user want to be notified?

When does the user want to divert their precious cognitive resources?

How does the user want to be informed that there is something that needs their attention?

Does the user even want a notification with a number indicating to them how many events have happened since they last logged on, followed by E-Mails explaining to them what has happened and that they are missing them?

Would you want something like that?

I do not, which is why I have removed my notifications, because they have become very annoying and very distracting.

Make use of your superpower as a UX-Designer: Empathy.

Value the user’s time and do not waste it with arbitrary notifications that are designed to get them back onto your platform. Do that and the trust between your product and users will grow.

This pandemic has definitely helped wake everyone up to topics such as health and well-being. This has influenced how we spend our time and platforms that encourage us to value our time will definitely become a trusty partner in the future.

Transparency

Being transparent is always a good default to have. Ensure you users are informed about the state of the system is one of the usability heuristics outlined by two of the godfathers of UX-Design: Jakob Nielsen and Ben Shneidermann.

Let the users know how much everything will cost, including shipping and taxes. Don’t surprise them with this information at the end. Inform them.

It builds trust.

Do not pretend that a given product will be out-of-stock soon and force those that are on the fence to make a spontaneous purchase they never wanted to make in the first place.

Be transparent.

Be transparent about what data is being collected and make it easy for the user to see what is being used and how. Allow them to retract any permissions they might have made in the beginning.

Be on the side of the user.

Design the platform for them.

Does the user want to share any information with us?

Do they want to invite their friends and family?

Allow them to decide what information they want to share with you and make it very easy for them to change their mind.

Ask them if they want to invite anyone from their contact list, do not simply expect that everyone wants to spam their friendship groups with unnecessary invites.

Ensure that they have enough information to make a decision that is best for them, not one that is best for business.

Inform them that the subscription is running out and that their bank account is about to be relieved of some money. Again ask yourself, how can we inform them so that they can make a decision that is in their best interest?

Value your user’s time

This point does tie into the previous two, but I feel this is a very important point to make.

We hate wasting time and tend to always have a feeling of not having enough time to get everything done. The result is stress.

It is no different for those that use your products. We are all human after all.

Show them how much time they have spent on the platform over the past day, week or even month. Encourage them to spend less time using their devices and more time with family and friends.

Be transparent about why a user is seeing a post and do not bombard them with ads and posts that they have no idea about where they came from.

One of the biggest time-wasters and one the best hacks that has come about in recent times has been the infinite scroll design pattern. As a human-being, we are only very limited in our capacity in stopping a seemingly endless supply of fresh content that might entertain us or our friends and family.

Make it harder to keep going.

Create friction.

We tend to take the path more easily travelled and by making it more difficult to continue, we are more likely to get a bit bored of always having to press a button to get more content.

Value the experience of your users, value their time.

Above all, value them as human-beings.

Dark UX-Patterns

There are many examples that can be used to show how UX-Design has been used to tap into the way we perceive and process information to benefit the bottom-line of businesses.

These design patterns have been referred to as Dark Patterns.

These patterns, while good for business and growth, can and are having detrimental effects on the way we view the world today. These are designed to manipulate the user into action, not always to their benefit.

Technology that can unite us, connect us to the people on the other side of the world, is dividing us.

This can be found everywhere, from products that highlight the choice they want you to make and obscure the alternative to products where you are being shamed for not subscribing to a newsletter.

These patterns are very effective at getting users to do what you want them to do. Just as tapping into the psychology of humans can help us become better and better, we can also exploit this to our own advantage.

As UX-Designers, we need to be on the side of our users, constantly asking ourselves what they would want in this situation and what information they would need to make an informed decision.

No easy task, but someone has to do it.

It is not easy also bringing about a cultural change to the way products are built.

Change takes time.

As technology becomes more and more prevalent, we need to make sure that the benefits do not come at the cost of what makes us human-beings.

Ethical Design Guidelines

There are different levels where we can incorporate more ethical behaviour:

  • Usability: Every design that leaves our desk should be easy to use. The design should prevent any negative consequences the actions might have for the user.
  • Privacy: Data is great for us as UX-Designers. It helps us to inform our decisions. We need to know when to draw the line and stop collecting data that we really do not need.
  • Influence/Persuasion: We need to value experience over business. Helping users prevent certain errors from occurring is important for the overall usability of your product. Pushing the user to buy something they did not want to buy is not in the interest of the user.
  • Mental-Health: This is something not often talked about, but very important. We need to be aware of the potential impact our designs can have on the users mental-health and well-being.
  • Society: Lastly, we need to be aware of how our products can have an impact on groups and societies as a whole.

These I would consider high-level goals that light your path towards building products that are more benevolent to society as a whole.

Conclusion

I am not naive enough to think that this is going to be simple. It is a cultural change that needs to happen.

Cultural changes take time.

More importantly, businesses need to make money and these dark patterns are very effective tools that enables businesses to make money. It plays out the age old tale of your users vs. your company.

But whose interests will win?

Whose interests should win?

Perhaps balance is needed to ensure that we do not rob companies entirely of their ability to generate income. All the while also ensuring that the well-being of people and society as a whole is not being sold off to the highest bidder.


Ethical UX-Design Guidelines was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.