Design ethics aren’t someone else’s problem – UX Collective

On taking responsibility for our design decisions

This is a modified version of Ferdinand Stöhr’s photo of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

I just watched a great video by The Nerdwriter about dark patterns.

It’s well articulated, and a must watch dark pattern 101 for every person using the digital products, and especially for us designing them.

The video is down below, so check it out. But first, a quick note.

The call out

A few seconds of the video are worth calling out. And should remind us of the ethical implications of our entire industry.

5:00 into the video he says this in reference to designers and dark patterns—

“… it’s not the fault of the designers. They’re just doing what they’re tasked to do

knowing full well if they don’t

others will.”

The tiny story

Many years ago I went on a fellowship to Berlin, Krakow, and—most notably—to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Our group explored the challenges and nuances of professional ethics through the lens of the Holocaust.

For professionals in medicine, law, journalism, and religion, we learned about, discussed, and reflected on ethical responsibility. And what can happen when it all goes wrong.

It was as devastating as it was important.

The point

The quote above highlights the single most important thing that stuck in my brain from this trip.

It was how everyday people involved in the atrocities of the Holocaust justified their actions.

Not hardcore Nazis. Not even by people in support of Hitler’s regime. But folks like you and me, just doing their jobs.

Physicians that euthanized children. Guards who sent millions more to gas chambers. People who’s day job was manufacturing Zyklon B.

They had to earn a living. Had mouths to feed. Had hopes and dreams for the future. These were the powerless ones who told themselves,

“I need this job. If I don’t do this, someone else will.”

We remember them not as the architects of the Holocaust. But as enablers of genocide.

The takeaway

If design is just pixel pushing and arbitrary aesthetic decisions, then we’re off the hook. We can blame our bosses and the people running the business. We just did what we were told.

If we didn’t, someone else would.

But if design really has the power to impact human lives—as we hear and say—then what we do on a daily basis is not without consequence. Not without powerful global ramifications.

Knowing that our choices matter, how should we feel about designer responsibility when it comes to dark patterns, and ethical design?

This isn’t the 1940s. Designers have the platforms and authority to speak up and be heard.

Designers taking part in this dark side of design may not be the ones calling the shots, and it’s probably true that if they refuse, someone else will do it. But that doesn’t change the fact that us being involved means we’re complicit in the whatever happens as a result.

To deny that means we’re even more lost than we thought.

Author: Craig Phillips

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