UX & Ethics

Who hasn’t been through this typical internet scenario when going to your shopping cart in an online store to check out and find items you didn't add? Or, saw some hidden expenses that weren't written anywhere else on the website? Have you ever had to add your credit card information to start a trial of some application? What about getting automatically signed up to a newsletter of a company you don't even remember?

Facebook, for instance, had many examples like these when we all started doubting the ethical practices of the company. They have become good at their “engagement game,” using unethical practices to make people interact with the platform more. One of the most well-known examples is the in-app feature that allows people to take selfies with various filters, without being aware that their faces end up in an image recognition software. Their messaging service WhatsApp had some privacy issues too.

All these are examples of dark patterns. Dark patterns are methods used on websites or applications to fool visitors into doing something they didn't want to do. For instance, they might share their data and upgrade their account. Aside from that, tech corporations construct their products in such a manner that customers grow addicted to them quickly. Businesses that use dark patterns in their practices only have profit in mind when designing a product. Luckily, these practices have been recognized by EU and US authorities, who have started addressing them.

User experience design is a broad phrase with numerous facets. UX designers basically come up with all the touchpoints a user has with a particular digital product. To do this, they need to make decisions about how the user journey will be when it comes to a particular product. Some choices may constrain the users to make them do things they would not always desire.

In order not to have dark patterns, we need ethics in UX. Designers develop layouts that reflect our societal beliefs, morals, and culture. Therefore, the design of each object embodies a belief structure, revealing the designer's ethical ideologies.

Why do we need UX ethics?

When creating a digital product, we are basically guiding the user when they think and behave. Then, the process progresses through steps where the user's actions are dictated by the flow utilizing learning processes until the system profits from predicted behavioral patterns. We give them only several directions, each going towards the end goal we set for our product—signup, subscription, purchase, and similar.

That's why we get to a challenge: How to direct the user? How to guide their decisions?

These are concerns that should be tackled from a professional position if we are the ones who organize the procedures and make essential choices. No one wants to be known as the designer of an app that makes its customers feel uneasy when they use it.

This is very important, especially today when users have become pickier than ever. Many platforms encourage them to review and rate products, making everyone's opinion public. You'd undoubtedly like to avoid a public relations disaster or a product failure caused by a lack of foresight, especially when it's reasonably simple to avoid by creating ethical design.

The concept of ethics in UX design

The topic of ethical design applies to all products, and failures to address this demand may be seen in a wide range of use cases and situations. Although some digital products are intentionally biased and immoral, most designers explicitly take an ethical position and oppose such tendencies.

The term "ethics" refers to a set of behavioral rules that govern what we should and should not do in diverse circumstances. Ethics dictates our responsibility to promote the right and oppose the wrong based on value judgments. As a result, ethical design creates deliberate design decisions that are beneficial to others and do not hurt them, either purposefully or accidentally.

Ethical design should be all about creating outstanding products that respect moral ideals. To achieve ethics in UX, you must match your work with the demands of your regional and international societies, politics, economy, and people's wellbeing.

How to be ethical in UX?

Here are some things to consider when thinking about ethics in your UX design.

  • Transparency. Always. Many websites and apps count on people signing up for a free trial and then forgetting about it. This prompts them to pay for a subscription, even though they might have wanted to cancel. You should always tell your users when they will be charged because financials are a very sensitive topic. Provide them the option to terminate their subscription after a free trial period if it is no longer useful. The best solution is not to ask for credit card information at all when they are signing up for a free trial. Moreover, transparency also applies to displaying prices. Too many e-commerce transactions offer one price, but if taxation, additional charges, and delivery are included, the final cost becomes much higher.
  • Usability. This relates to how quickly and effectively a user can do a task with the help of a function, design solution, or service. It is our ethical requirement to create user interfaces that are simple to use and avoid serious repercussions.
  • Privacy. We often come across someone's personal information on the internet, which probably shouldn't be public. Big businesses and organizations have access to a lot of personal information. Pursuing ethics in UX makes it our responsibility to make effective use of this data. The capacity to modify and enhance the customer experience is one of the benefits of using this data. Nonetheless, we should know where to draw the line and how much access to consumers' information is genuinely required. Always ask permission when you intend to use your user's data.
  • Time. Apps commonly display a little moving progress bar or other indication that illustrates the time of loading for a certain page or an app. Although it might seem unimportant, this provides users with information about background work and is an ethical thing to do. Not informing users about a delay is unethical.

Wrapping up

In addition to these considerations, there are many more, like being reasonable with the number of persuasion tactics you use or whether your product is influencing the environment and natural resources. Yes, unethical design can bring a lot of profits, but users can easily notice when you're fooling them. Moreover, they can find brands that respect them more than you and go to them in the blink of an eye.

Remember that regardless of how big your company gets, you want to build a product that actually helps and respects people and their emotions.

This article is a part of our World Usability Day series, where we talk about some of the most critical UX topics—trust, ethics, and integrity.

Human. Technology. Together.

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