Ethical by design

Sam Padmore
Experience Director
Automatic Summary

A Comprehensive Guide to Ethical Design: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Achieve it

Hello! I'm Sam Patmore, a design professional with a keen interest in ethical design. In the next couple of minutes, I will delve into this crucial subject and explain why ethical design should be a forefront consideration in design processes. My hope is to energize you to make more responsible design decisions while adhering to ethical considerations.

The Role and Implication of Ethical Design

Throughout my career, I've found that understanding what ethical design entails significantly alters perspective on current design practices and how they contribute to world events. As the world grapples with various social, economic, and environmental crises, we, the designers, must realize that our creations have a role to play in shaping the world – for better or worse.

Deteriorating States and Ethical Design

The ruinous state of our planet and how its suffering is largely due to human-generated designs is a glaring example of bad design. From toxic emissions resulting from combustion engines to guns leading to untold deaths, designs are working just as they were meant to – but with devastating consequences.

A more recent example is social media platforms. Designed to change our lives, these platforms may not always have had our best interests at heart.

Social Media Platforms and Privacy Invasions

Take the case of Facebook, for instance. Designed initially to keep people connected, Facebook's privacy settings resulted in the unwelcome outing of two gay college students to their conservative families back in 2012. While the settings were working as they should, this incident affirms that a design's intent and its real-world application can widely vary, often leading to drastic life-altering consequences for users.

Facebook's real names policy, implemented ostensibly for user safety, poses a threat to users who have valid reasons for using aliases – such as being transgender or victims of domestic abuse – as it denies them crucial means of anonymity.

This begs the question: Is design anymore about user needs and responsibility? Or has the focus shifted to being business-centric?

Stepping Up with Ethical Design

With instances of unethical design practices leading to dire consequences, it's time for designers to respond to a higher purpose. As individuals who shape daily experiences and interactions, we, as designers, are uniquely equipped to help create a better world.

Steps Towards Achieving Ethical Design

Implementing ethical design necessitates a keen understanding of manipulative design patterns and a commitment to user-centric design. Acting ethically means ensuring your designs are truly accessible, inclusive, and free from biases. Here are some key strategies to elevate ethical considerations in your designs:

  • Empathize with users: Every design impacts a human life. Embrace the customer, and strive to craft designs that serve their needs.
  • Check for biases: All designs carry biases. By staying aware of this fact and constantly challenging them, you can keep your designs ethical.
  • Promote ethical culture: Encourage transparency and consistency around ethical principles within your team. Make sure your designs truly represent these values.
  • Reiterate the legal and business implications: Ethical design is not only good for users and the society but is also beneficial for business. Ethical businesses attract more customers.

Realizing the Power of Ethical Design

From reducing food waste to promoting sustainable and ethical consumer choices, here are some inspiring examples of ethical design:

  1. OVO Energy: This energy company has set an excellent ethical foundation by stating clear experience principles for brand design.
  2. Girls Who Code: A non-profit organization, Girls Who Code is committed to inclusivity and accessibility, promoting careers in tech for women and girls.
  3. 1% for the Planet: This organization helps businesses counteract their environmental impacts by donating to charities and non-profit organizations.

Final Thoughts

Designers carry a significant responsibility to contribute positively to the environment, humanity, and ourselves. By demonstrating commitment to ethical design, we can ensure that we are not just good designers, but also responsible ones who care about the world and its inhabitants. Remember, if good design connects people across cultures and backgrounds, ethical design works to combat discriminatory, abusive, and aggressive tendencies that mar our global society.

Armed with this comprehensive understanding of ethical design, its importance, and the means to achieve it, I hope you're excited to implement it in your work. Remember, the onus lies on us, the designers, to mold our world in a way that is truly beneficial - for humans, animals and the planet alike. A better world through design is not just a dream, it is a responsibility.

Video Transcription

Hello. Um, hi, I'm Sam. Sam Patmore and I'm here today to talk to you about ethical design. I was so pleased when women in tech pick need to do this talk as ethical design is a really important subject to me.But actually the more I thought about it, the more and how important the subject is. I thought maybe someone with a bit more influence uh should be talking about it, someone a bit bigger and more important than me. So hopefully I can do it, do it justice in these 20 minutes today, most of my career as design professional has been about getting people to buy stuff, whether that's phones, trainers or toothpaste or even painkillers. And I've used every channel out there like most of you, I'm sure that uh that our design professionals and every new technology available just to persuade people to buy into those brands and from those brands that I'm representing. But understanding what ethical design is, has really changed the way I think about design and its relationship to why the world is the way it is today. And I think most of us can agree that it's not really going great by anyone's measure the world at the moment is a bit of a mess as illustrated by this somewhat apocalyptic picture.

But as Mike Monteiro points out in his great book ruined by design, which I recommend you read. If you haven't, the world is actually working exactly as it's been designed to work how we designed it. Think about the combustion engine, it's destroying our planet's atmosphere contributing to the overall destruction of our ecosystem. But it's working exactly as we designed it to work guns that lead to so much death and misery working exactly how they were designed. And what makes it even worse is that we continue to tweak their designs so they get even better at kidding social media platforms. These are the products that really define our age and they were designed to change our lives, but not always for the better. It seems Facebook was designed to keep people connected with the best intentions perhaps. But how has that worked out for the good of humanity? Not really. Does anyone remember in 2012 when Facebook's privacy settings added two gay teens, college students to their conservative families.

They were added to the uh university's gay choir, Facebook group. Um, Facebook then posted a note to all their friends, including their very conservative families that they weren't out to informing them. They joined the Queer Chorus. So this obviously drastically changed their lives and those privacy settings they were working. Exactly. As they were designed to the Facebook real names policy. It's they say it's to make the site safer for users. But insisting people use their birth names on their accounts has caused real problems for people that use different names for really good reasons such as being transgender or victims of domestic violence. This now means they're unable to hide from their abusers. And this is designed for a reason.

It's designed to support the service that Facebook sell to their advertisers, which is namely giving them access to the real you even Google is designed to confirm our biases uh which is shown to great effect in this clip from the excellent social dilemma, which is on Netflix.

I'm sure many of you have seen it. Yeah,

when you go to Google and type in climate change is you're going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things that Google knows about your interests,

that's not by accident. That's a design technique.

There's some scary manipulative stuff. There is a, a design technique that's that tells people only what they want to hear. And this clip really clearly highlights how we as designers bear ultimate responsibility for what we bring into the world and what we choose not to

the co inventor of the Facebook like button. I was the president of Pinterest Google, Twitter,

Instagram. There were meaningful changes happening around the world because of these platforms. I think we were naive about the flip side of that coin,

we get rewarded by parts, likes thumbs up and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth.

A whole generation is more anxious, more depressed. I

always felt like fundamentally, it was the force for good. I don't know if I feel that way anymore.

A case of design in haste and regret at your leisure. I think something that highlights our responsibility as designers really well and the awful unintended and really wide reaching consequences of bad design is the fake news epidemic. In my opinion, this clip highlights how Facebook and youtube ads were used to effectively brainwash an entire nation. In order to change the results of an election,

we have less control over who we are and what we really believe.

If you want to control the population of your country, there has never been a tool as effective as Facebook.

We built these things and we have a responsibility to change it. The intention could be. How do we make the world better if technology creates mass chaos, loneliness, more polarization, more election hacking, more inability to focus on the real issues or toast. This is checkmate

on humanity so very sobering there. But what can we do about it? Answer the call to a higher purpose. Sounds a bit lofty and maybe a bit unrealistic. But if we as designers don't take responsibility to help create a better world and not a worse one. As we've just seen who will our design decisions as an intent must take into account ethical considerations. Because as we've seen our designs that we put out into the world have ethical consequences, thoughtless and unethical design decisions really can have a hugely negative impact on us and society.

So what practical steps can we take to achieve ethical design? I'll go into some specifics here. Um because there are some tangible actions that we can take and some key things to consider. I'm sure many of you are aware of the nasty dark coercive design patterns that can still be found everywhere. Coined Arsehole design by a REDDIT group, a subreddit. These are tricks that are used to manipulate users and block them from doing what they actually intend to do and get them to do something that act that benefits the company and not them benefits the brand. I'll just unpack a couple here. Misdirection attempts to direct people's attention to a specific place on a page and distract them from a less profitable action such as obscuring the button to skip expensive and unwanted add-ons. As seen here. Ethical design, of course means users should be able to complete their goals easily without distraction and trickery. Confirm shaming guilts people into opting into something by shaming them into compliance. The decline option is made you feel like the bad option, the worst option or the wrong choice as a more generic principle.

It's important to remember that everything we design has a human at the end of it and cosign means designing with those people embracing the customer and being intentional about helping them. Because what we design becomes part of people's lives, including our audience in its creation will help ensure that it properly serves their needs. Ethical design is truly accessible design and we should never dismiss any user groups as edge cases, understanding bias, there will always be bias in our decision making. We're human after all. And fairness is defined as a decision made, free of self interest, prejudice or favoritism.

So of course, all design decisions can can and do carry biases. They can be cultural or geopolitical and often based on irrelevant or arbitrary factors such as race, age, gender or ethnicity. And we know this because there are examples of racial and gender bias everywhere, asking questions that challenge by us is a really important activity to keep our design decisions ethical, we can create an ethical culture within our companies, within our teams by rewarding ethical behavior, not only revenue driving behavior, we should be encouraging transparency and consistency around our ethical principles to ensure that we desi what we design represents those values as well as the experience of the whole team.

We know that teams of mixed experience, race and ability work best and that a lack of diversity creates an echo chamber that results in bad design. Many of you know, that will know the problem is facial recognition software is faced, failing to identify black and brown faces but not white. So everyone should be empowered to ask the ethical questions every stage of the design process to some of you, this might be starting to feel a bit like hard work and it probably will do to your leadership and maybe your clients who are paying for your time. So to make sure they're really supportive of ethical issues, you can reframe them around brand perception. So I think everybody knows, most people know that people now want to buy from ethical companies. Not to mention the legal implications of unethical design. We should be pushing back against excessive data gathering dark patterns as we saw before and poor accessibility, we should set the expectations from the start setting out with the right intentions. And remember, ethical design is good for business. There are some compelling stats here from the ethical leadership and business report that really back that up, back up.

What some of us already know that the vast majority of consumers want to buy from ethical companies, you can avoid ethical risks by slowing down and asking those important questions and thinking about the bigger picture the longer term and remembering that even the best intentions can lead to harmful outcomes from mismanaged data to fake news.

As we saw previously, remember that Facebook mantra move fast and break things. Well, things got broken and I really believe we can do better. Here are some of the risks identified by ethical O si don't have time to go into detail around each one of them today, but you can look them up on their website and paying attention to all over. Some of these risks will help you mitigate unintended negative consequences. As we've learned, any design can be misused or abused either through pure accident or malice or just plain stupidity. So if we think about the different ways people will use our designs, we can identify any risky scenarios or damaging interactions up front. If you can anticipate any risky or unethical outcomes, then you can better safeguard against them through good design. Lastly, ethical design is clean efficient and it's reusable. You're gonna hear a lot of great stuff about sustainable design at the conference this this week or will have heard.

So I'm not gonna go into more detail here. Suffice to say that people on balance are not good for the planet and by integrating the needs of earth's ecosystems and animal life with our ethical design thinking, we can ensure that what we design is good for both people and the planet as well as those basic guidelines. There are a few resources out there to help us achieve our ethical design goals and I'm gonna run through just a few here. You recognize the Hippocratic Oath as the vow that doctors take in the ethical sense. This is a prompt in the form of an oath or manifesto to convey the, the real gravitas in in our decision, design decision making. It acts as a a vision statement or ambition uh around which we can align our teams to shape the ethical trajectory of our product design. Consideration cards that help us to figure out if a problem statement we're designing against is actually ethically worthy of being sold.

Before we ask whether it's possible to build something we need to ask why we want to build it at all. Consideration cards help us to be honest about the limitations of our design and tailor to the problem that we're trying to solve. And most importantly that we're solving the genuine problem. It's a case of a before can and both the Hippocratic guys and these consideration cards can be found on the design ethically website uh with other tools. Moral agent is a great little ideation game to help design teams challenge themselves and make more ethical design uh decisions. It uses bluff and creativity to help create the most ethical designs possible. And this can be found on the ethics for designers website. A great tool to inspire ethical conversations is developed by the artifact group is the tarot cards of tech. These encourage us to think about the outcomes of what we design from the unintended consequences to opportunities to make real positive change. Artifacts say the cards are our way of helping you gaze into the future to determine how to make your product the best it can be. They're a really lovely resource and they too can be downloaded free from the artifact website. I started this presentation with a look at some of the consequences of unethical design. It's not all bad. There are products out there that have a strong ethical focus that have been designed with their impact in mind and real consideration for any unintended consequences.

I'll just share a few examples here. Here's an example of starting out with good intentions. We're looking at the experience principles developed by the agency Frog for OVO Energy. And what this does is it sets a, a really good uh ethical foundation for moving forward with all experience designed for the brand. Many of you here will know about girls who code the nonprofit that provides educational resources for women and girls who want to pursue careers in tech. The organization is committed to inclusivity and it's highly, its website is highly accessible which really proves its dedication, the fashion industry.

Many of us know it's a massive planet polluter, the second largest in fact and many retail apps out there drive this environmental pollution by supporting those unethical fashion companies. But there are also plenty of ethical shopping apps designed to help people make more informed choices when they're buying clothes. Yeah, good on you. One of my favorites rates brands on how sustainable they are. So people can choose to only support ethical companies there are more than 3000 brands on the app so far and you can also suggest new ones for them to rate. It offers tips on how to be more sustainable as well as sustainable fashion edits, which is great. You're no doubt familiar with the other apps out there that encourage people to recycle their clothes such as vintage and depop. We also know that food waste is a big problem and on average, the UK throws away over 9.5 million tons of food each year. And there are quite a few apps out there designed to reduce food waste and support more ethical food shopping really helping to eliminate the damage. Food production has on the environment as well as on the animals involved in the industry. And here's just one that I really like.

Ethical barcode provides ratings to help consumers better identify uh how damaging the products are that they're buying to the environment and population and animals. The user scans the barcode of bra grocery items to discover more about the product. So they can really understand where their money is going.

Some other ethical food waste cutting apps are olio too good to go and food cloud, it's not all about apps. Uh Government digital services or G DS are designed with a truly ethical focus. They're ethical because they ask them for the minimum of data and they give users a really easy way to speak with a human being as well as making sure the purpose of the services they provide is clear before the user starts using it. So how long it will take, how much it will cost? They only use algorithms they know work properly as well and they test them regularly and the U I is consistent and importantly, it's inclusive so that everyone who needs to use it can use it as easily as possible. It looks out for places where users might be excluded uh in with intent and it treats users and their information with care and respect. Mm Lastly, here's something that I really love with over 3000 members and hundreds of millions of dollars given. So far, 1% for the planet is designed to help businesses counteract their environmental impact by donating to charities and nonprofits. Something positive to finish up with a really inspiring product. It's truly designed to make the world a better place.

So some final thoughts to leave you with today, we all of us want to be good designers. So if and if good design connects people across cultures, ethnicities, ages, then ethical design will help to make sure we hold back. What is the dis this real discriminatory, abusive and aggressive values that are so damaging our society today? This short talk, I hope shows you the importance of upholding ethical design and that there are tools and and methods out there to help us achieve it. Ultimately, I hope what I've left you with today is that the real certain knowledge that as designers, we have big responsibility to the environment, to humanity and to ourselves. Uh Thank you for listening.