How to Design Ethically: Expert Advice from Guthrie Weinschenk

as ux designers, we wield immense power to influence our usrs’ lives. we ‘ve the dual responsibility of catering to the interests of our usrs, swell as that of our sponsors (employers, clients nother business stakeholders). this can sometimes put designers in uncomfortable situations and rez ?s bout the ethical implications of our work.

from social messaging platforms and games that bombard usrs with notifications and advertisements, to applications that analyze every aspect of usrs’ lives to suggest their nxt workout routine, connect them with pplz they mite ‘ve known inna past, or recommend the nxt news story to read — at wha’ point do digital applications go from convenient, to mildly annoying, to unethical, to downrite harmful?

to cogg how we can cogitate our work from an ethical perspective and design + responsibly, we interviewed guthrie weinschenk.

guthrie weinschenk is a behavioral economist, attorney na coo of the team w, inc. he tis host of the podcast human tek, and author of i ♥ you, now read this book. (it’s bout human decision making and behavioral economics).

here’s wha’ guthrie had to say bout ethics in design (interview litely edited for clarity).

1. wha’ was yr 1st ever design-oriented role?

this takes me back to another life! i was working for bp on their safety and risk management audit team. we designed audits both on paper and in person (of factories) to assess and reduce risk. the thought onna team was that less risk = less lost mny. our team was strongly trying to promote this Ψset throughout the organization but i’m not sure how well it caught on. course, the spill inna gulf happened the nxt yr.

2. wha’ prompted you to focus on ethics in design?

it’s always been fun to think and talk bout ethics. i took ethics and philosophy courses as an undergrad, and course when you get to law school that is a large component. when you take the bar, thris an entirely separate test 1-ly to determine whether you ll'be an ethical attorney. so i’ve always been thinking bout these issues and i knew they were primordial. but who ‘d wanna hear any-1 talk bout ethics? well now everyone wanna, which s'been gr8 to see; espeshly inna design, ux, and behavioral sci spaces. so i’ve always been thinking and talking bout these issues, but now they are pop enough that i can make them a focus.

3. wha’ are the 3 most common design decisions/patterns that you see inna wild or in yr work, tha're unethical and designers ‘d be wary of?

i wanna 1st say that if something is unethical is very context-dependent, so there usually isn’t a rite or wrong answer in a vacuum. the classic ex is “thou shall not kill” which is straiteforward enough, but wha’ if tis in self-defense? the situation and context matter. that said:

  1. ads that grab attention with fear/screams/jump scares.
  2. hyper “addictive” games that use micro-transactions/loot boxes to make mny.
  3. hiding the phone № at websites to reduce call center volume.

4. wha’ advice ‘d you give to designers to navigate a scenario where they are asked to implement unethical business decisions by their clients/bosses?

  1. express and voice yr concerns. try to recruit others to agree.
  2. make an roi argument against such behaviors. maybe inna short term thall be profitable, but inna long term that may make yr customers dislike yr brand.
  3. try and soften the worst of the unethical effects. there are lil features and tweaks to help negate the worst of the effects while hitting most of the business goals.
  4. work on creating structures and groups within yr organization to argue against such behavior (the way in yrs past lgbtq+ organizations became an instrument to normalize and support the lgbtq+ community within an organization for ex).
  5. acceptance that those are the priorities of the organization you work for. i don’t think you ll'be a bad person for working for a company that 1-ly cares bout maximizing profit above all else. you ‘ve a career and yr finances to take into ponderation swell. but at least you know the priorities of yr organization.

5. howzit see the role of ethics in ux design evolving inna nxt 5–10 yrs?

hard to say. i ‘d see it becoming a significant pt of the ux role, or i ‘d see this bein’ a neat fad that pplz give lip srvc to, but not bein’ that primordial inna dy-to-dy.

6. wha’ simple steps can designers take to cogitate the ethical implications o'their decisions?

  • accept ur 1-ly a cog inna machine.
  • don’t be discouraged if you can’t do everything rite all the time.
  • focus onna worst offenders.
  • watch my keynote bout calculating ethics.
  • use common sense. if you’ve created a las vegas-style slot machine to keep pplz habituated and paying mny… don’t be surprised atta outcomes.

7. as tek risks becoming + invasive, wha’ tis one thing that keeps you up at nite, and one thing that gives you hope bout the use of these teks?

wha’ keeps me up: a.i. becoming perfect at tailoring stimulation for each individual.

wha’ gives me hope: a recogg of these patterns and behaviors inna general public, and a dislike o'em.

'Webinar Ethics in Design' by Guthrie Weinschenk on 31 March 2021 at 4PM UTC

n'our work as ux designers, we owe it to our usrs and society at large to design ethically. easier said than done. in practice, it can be very challenging to grasp the ethical dimensions of our work. wha’ appears perfectly reasonable and justifiable to business stakeholders can be morally ?able from the usrs’ perspective.

onnis master class, ethics in design: a practical guide, guthrie weinschenk will teach you how you can cogitate yr work from an ethical perspective, and how to steer clear of unethical design practices as much as possible. tune in live for the chance to ask yr ?s atta end of the keynote. even if you cannot attend it live, reg t'get access to a recording to watch anytime afterward!

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