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Ethics: A human-centered design goal

Ethics: A human-centered design goal

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Ethics is fundamentally about doing the right thing for people, not about merely complying with laws. Yet incorporating ethics into our design practice can be challenging. Our tools, processes, education, and the cultures we work in too often have limited to no support. Even the discussion can make people uncomfortable. Consider changing the conversation and rethinking ethical design. Talk about carrots (value) and not sticks (legality). Develop methods and practices to make ethics a core human-centered design constraint. (This was presented at UXPA 2017 in Toronto, Canada.)

Ethics is fundamentally about doing the right thing for people, not about merely complying with laws. Yet incorporating ethics into our design practice can be challenging. Our tools, processes, education, and the cultures we work in too often have limited to no support. Even the discussion can make people uncomfortable. Consider changing the conversation and rethinking ethical design. Talk about carrots (value) and not sticks (legality). Develop methods and practices to make ethics a core human-centered design constraint. (This was presented at UXPA 2017 in Toronto, Canada.)

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Ethics: A human-centered design goal

  1. 1. Karen Bachmann @karenbachmann Ethics: A human-centered design goal UXPA 2017 Toronto #UXPA2017 #DesignEthics
  2. 2. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Ethics and related concepts ● Different ways to talk about ethics and share a positive message ● Building business and professional case for ethical outcomes as design goals ● Ideas for making ethics a core part of our design practices What we’ll be discussing 2
  3. 3. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 3 “AND ETHICS IS SUCH A NEGATIVE SUBJECT.” Many people believe that embracing ethics would limit their options, their opportunities, their very ability to succeed in business. John C. Maxwell, Ethics 101 (CEO considering ethics as a topic for a sales meeting)
  4. 4. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Empathy Ethics 4 Ethics has a PR problem. Empathy, though related, doesn’t.
  5. 5. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Empathy ● A “method of data gathering about… humans” ● The basis of ethics; makes “ethical life possible" Ethics ● A philosophy that governs actions informed by empathy among other inputs from the “ecology” ● Standard of expected behavior that guides the correct course of action 5
  6. 6. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Ethics 6 Morality Legality the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group; a guiding philosophy of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior; conforming to a standard of right behavior attachment to or observance of law Definitions from
  7. 7. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 A progression for doing good? 7 LawsNorms/CodesEthicsValues/morals
  8. 8. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Applied Ethics 8 Applied ethics is a field of ethics that deals with ethical questions specific to a professional, disciplinary, or practical field. Subsets of applied ethics include medical ethics, bioethics, business ethics, legal ethics, and others. Applied ethics is the philosophical examination, from a moral standpoint, of particular issues in private and public life which are matters of moral judgment. It is thus the attempts to use philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of everyday life. Definitions from and
  9. 9. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 9 Code of ethics WIKIPEDIA “PROFESSIONAL ETHICS” Most professionals have internally enforced codes of practice that members of the profession must follow to prevent exploitation of the client and to preserve the integrity of the profession.
  10. 10. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 10 Code of design ethics? RELATED CODES ● AIGA ● HFES ● ACM ● IEEE All focus on business conduct and some for research, not guidance for ethical design. Useful, but incomplete.
  11. 11. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, specifically section 8, “Research and Publication” ● The Little Book of Design Research Ethics (IDEO) ● But what about ongoing data collection and data science? …most of the activities we call “data science” fall outside of those regulations, and data science receives little in the way of prior ethics review. Clear guidance for user research? 11
  12. 12. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 12 So what?
  13. 13. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Ensure that the human need and benefit is considered fully in our work. ●Consider the full human context, including implications for technology over time and social ecosystem. ●Mitigate the thrill of the “new.” ● Counter the emphasis on technology over humanity and the primacy of "data" over people. ● Ensure that human stories accompany qualitative data or other tools that diminish the visibility of actual people. ● Ethics can provide a pragmatic path to supporting these goals and the conversations around them. Why should UX professionals care? 13
  14. 14. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 14 CONSIDER ETHICS WHEN DESIGNING NEW TECHNOLOGIES What is needed is strong, anticipatory guidance by those who intersect the technology, health and ethics worlds to determine how we develop and deploy technologies that deliver the greatest societal benefits. Christie and Yach, TechCrunch Reacting to Facebook’s dilemma with fake news
  15. 15. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 15 Making ethics a design goal ● A business case ● A professional case
  16. 16. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 vs.
  17. 17. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 17 All too easy to find examples of unethical behavior 586/the-year-dark-patterns-won
  18. 18. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Need to think ethically in a larger scale, not just "treat your participants well" and "avoid dark patterns" ● Move away from focusing on the cost of being caught being unethical, illegal, non-compliant because it encourages only the minimum ● Avoid the fatigue of negativity by only telling the cautionary stories or focusing on shocking failures Focus on the “stick” is not enough
  19. 19. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Business and professional value ● Ability to measure success gained as a result of ethical practices, not penalties avoided ● A stance of opportunity and growth, not constraint and stagnation Consider the “carrot” ethical design offers
  20. 20. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Companies with good ethical policies earn: ● Marketing advantages over their competitors. Customers readily invest in the companies through shares and also want to establish long lasting business relations with the company. ● The performance of employees improves with good ethical policies present in a company. Morale is high and employees feel obligated to put in their all to continue to make it a success. ● Reputation management: a bad reputation is created by unethical behaviour which will eventually lead to a scandal. A scandal will result in falling stock prices, anxiety, and low morale among employees as well as government and public scrutiny and inquests. ● Legal and financial incentives: companies known for their high ethical standards and education of employees on ethical polices are provided with strong legal and financial incentives by regulatory bodies. Support: SixSigma Online 20
  21. 21. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● It reduces business liability. ● It helps employees make good decisions. ● It assures high-quality customer service. ● It prevents costly administrative errors and rework. ● It consistently grows the bottom line. Support: National Ethics Association 21
  22. 22. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 A better motivation for inspiring ethical behavior is the benefits it provides, both personally and financially. Besides feeling good about doing the right thing, principled business conduct can also be profitable. Ethical behavior is good business. Four key benefits: ● Easier accounting – real numbers and honest account is easier than maintaining falsified records ● Better branding – creates trust with employees, suppliers and customers ● Improved bottom line – retain customers, earn high ratings, and gain referrals ● Better health – Reduce stress and feel better about your business Support: Steve Parrish in Forbes 22
  23. 23. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 23 QUOTING JAMES BURKE If you invested $30,000 in a composite of the Dow Jones thirty years ago, it would be worth $134,000 today. If you had put that $30,000 into these [socially and ethically responsible] firms - $2,000 into each of the fifteen [in the study] – it would now be worth over $1 million. John C. Maxwell, Ethics 101 Chairman of Johnson and Johnson
  24. 24. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 24 DESIGNER’S RESPONSIBILITY If your company is just in it for the money, maybe you should look for a better company. It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. Alan Cooper Do the ethics of your employers align with yours?
  25. 25. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Technology is changing faster than ever, and that can lead to fear, uncertainty, doubt, anger, and unrest. ● Examples abound in the tech industry of unethical behavior, arrogance, and lack of empathy. Culture and leadership have reputation for being unethical. ● Technology is not neutral, but too often we jump into the new and the cool before considering the ramifications. ● Ethical decisions are often not starkly good or bad, but nuances of behavior and habits. Just walking away isn’t the answer. ● Why not lead through design? Ethics is needed in tech 25
  26. 26. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Understand your values and adopt an ethical stance that embodies them before you reach a crisis. ● “Be conscious and aware of what you’re endorsing with your time, not only for the welfare of others but for your own sense of self. The work you choose to take on defines you.” - Stephen P. Anderson ● Establish what it means to do good, not merely avoid doing harm. Consider context as well as tactics. Know your ethical boundaries 26
  27. 27. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Support and bolster your colleagues’ ethical practice ●Share case studies and techniques ●Adhere to and promote ethical design practices ●Amplify successes ● Protect the integrity of the profession by setting a standard of ethical design practices as the norm Promote professional boundaries 27
  28. 28. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 28 Tools for ethical design If it's not ethical, it cannot be beautiful. Yves Behar
  29. 29. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Design programs with ethics in the curriculum ● Code of ethical design ● Design and research “hygiene” ● Ethical design methodologies, heuristics, guidelines, practices Do we have the tools? 29
  30. 30. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Scenarios, role playing? 30 ● Trolley problem: Break failure while in motion ● Two choices, but both are deadly ● Unrealistic qualifiers WHO DIES? MIT Moral Machine Project:
  31. 31. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 31 ● In design, more than dark patterns! In research, more than session decorum. ● Similar to HBR issues articles that explored real, nuanced situations. ● No absolute right or wrong or even catastrophic failure – but a cost to be weighed. CASE STUDIES MIT Moral Machine Project: Scenarios, role playing?
  32. 32. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● New thinking: Cradle-to-cradle or closed loop design thinking ● Biomimicry, nature as inspiration ● Focus on human and ecosystem benefit and betterment ● Focus on design over time and evolving scenarios Rethinking how we design 32 Reference:
  33. 33. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 33 ● Product definition ● Product vision ● Who and When ● Benefits and Harms ● Trade-offs Ethical Design Protocol Detailed article:
  34. 34. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Ethical Design Protocol 34
  35. 35. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Applying the protocol: Exercise app ● Definition: A native mobile app that ● Tracks physical activity using platform tools ● Reminds users to exercise at specified intervals based on health ● Suggests new exercises periodically ● Connects to social media to create accountability with connections ● Vision: To help increase health and foster healthy habits in a sedentary population 35
  36. 36. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Applying the protocol: Exercise app ● Who? ● Directly affected ● Indirectly affected ● What is one benefit gained by someone in each group? ● Initially ● After using the product over time ● What is one harm those same people might experience? ● Initially ● After using the product over time ● Can the harm be mitigated? Does it require a trade-off against a benefit? 36
  37. 37. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 37 Instead of a designer code of ethics… consider a users’ bill of rights!
  38. 38. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Example: Computer User’s Manifesto BY DR. CLAIRE-MARIE KARAT AS SHARED BY THEO MANDEL ● The user is always right. If there is a problem with the use of the system, the system is the problem, not the user. ● The user has the right to easily install software and hardware systems. ● The user has the right to a system that performs exactly as promised. ● The user has the right to easy-to-use instructions for understanding and utilizing a system to achieve desired goals. ● The user has the right to be in control of the system and to be able to get the system to respond to a request for attention. ● The user has the right to a system that provides clear, understandable, and accurate information regarding the task it is performing and the progress toward completion. ● The user has the right to be clearly informed about all system requirements for successfully using software or hardware. ● The user has the right to know the limits of the system’s capabilities. ● The user has the right to communicate with the technology provider and receive a thoughtful and helpful response when raising concerns. ● The user should be the master of software and hardware technology, not vice-versa. Products should be natural and intuitive to
  39. 39. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 Design principle User has a right … Digestibility Not to work too hard to accomplish their goals Digestibility To have their goals and their time respected Clarity To understand exactly what they are getting Clarity To be respected Trust To be informed and in control Familiarity To be oriented from the moment they start using a product Familiarity To have their prior experience and knowledge respected Delight To have an enjoyable experience Delight To have an effortless (or appropriate effort) experience Delight To have the UI disappear into the context of their work Adapt design principles into user rights 39 From a blog post by InVision:
  40. 40. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 40 Other ideas or examples?
  41. 41. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 ● Understand where ethics fits in our work and with other influences on design practice ● Able to establish business and professional cases for ethical design ● Gained some tools and techniques to incorporate ethical decision- making in you design practice ● Increased awareness about the value of and role for ethics in the profession Takeaways 41
  42. 42. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 42 The BIG takeaway! DRAWING FOR ATTENDEES
  43. 43. Karen Bachmann @karenbachmann Ethics: A human-centered design goal UXPA 2017 Toronto #UXPA2017 #DesignEthics Presentation will be posted on Slideshare and available at
  44. 44. @design4context Ethical Design UXPA 2017 In the past year, I’ve read a tremendous amount of articles on ethics, design, and related topics. I am happy to share my full reading list, but here are some that I found especially insightful for this specific talk. ● Mark B. Baer, Esq. “The Connection Between Empathy Toward Others and Ethics,” Psychology Today ● Cennydd Bowles, “Ethics in the AI Age,” presented at IxDA 2017 ● Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, “The Year Dark Patterns Won,” Co.Design ● Gillian Christie and Derek Yach, Consider ethics when designing new technologies ● Samantha Dempsey and Ciara Taylor, Designer’s Oath ● Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Empathy and Sympathy in Ethics” ● John C Maxwell, Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs to know ● #uxchat on Twitter “Embedding Ethics into Design,” hosted by What Users Do ● Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Eric Meyer, Design for Real Life ● Thomas Wendt, "Empathy as Faux Ethics” Selected Readings and References 44

Editor's Notes

  • Ethics is fundamentally about doing the right thing for people, not about complying with laws. Yet incorporating ethics into our design practice can be challenging. Even the discussion can make people uncomfortable. Join this session to learn how to talk carrots (value) and not sticks (legality) to make ethics a core human-centered design constraint.
  • Ethics has a PR problem.
  • Empathy doesn’t suffer from the PR problem that ethics faces. However, empathy alone, particularly with only those who use our products, is not enough to ensure our designs benefit people and do the greatest good and least harm.
  • Our profession is shifting toward a more holistic perspective of user experience. Empathy as a design goal gained prominence. It represents an important shift from focus on only users’ rational, task-oriented needs to pursuing a well-rounded perspective of the whole human with important emotional needs as well. Ethics, a closely related concept, offers a similar human design constraint. Philosophers Hume, Rousseau, and Adams consider empathy to be the basis of ethics (Solomon, 2006). Where empathy can be subjective and vague, though, ethics offers a set of principles aimed at doing good.

    Thomas Wendt reinforced the limitations of empathy to inform design in “Empathy as Faux Ethics” (
    "Worse than its banality, empathy has quickly become a catch-all concept for good design and ethical action. Having empathy is not a key to design success, it just means you are not a sociopath. Real design skill is about realizing that empathy is a small part of a much larger system of influences, causes, and effects on the situation at hand."
    "The individual designer’s ethical stance should not be a sales pitch to clients; it should pervade their entire perspective and shape the decisions they make, with the understanding that all design decisions have political impacts. This takes an ecological approach, not an empathetic one.”

    Other references for relationship between empathy and ethics: - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Beyond these dictionary definitions, many authors add that a key distinction between ethics and morality is that ethics is social in essence while morality is individualized.

    Legality is another concept often conflated with ethics as well. However, when the only argument for ethical action is threat of legal repercussions, the discussion is only the “stick” focused on discipline. Where the law does not prescribe, this approach makes it hard to make the case for ethical design practices.

    Maxwell, p 15: Kevin Rollins on Solzhenitsyn and other lessons, “I’ve lived my life in a society where there was no rule of law. And that’s a terrible existence. But a society where the rule of law is the only standard of ethical behavior is equally bad…. If the United States only aspires to a legal standard of moral excellence, we will have missed the point. Man can do better…. We believe you have to aspire to something higher than what’s legal.”

  • My reading suggested this kind of relationship. Still, laws aren’t exactly about doing good. Laws are often more about doing no harm. They are not a philosophy to follow, but constraints to comply with to avoid getting in trouble. The earlier stages, including ethics, are more about doing the most good possible in a situation.
  • Definitions from:
  • References:

    This also includes an interesting distinction between codes of ethics and codes of conduct ( While this section is flagged for citation needed, it offers a useful distinction for how we construct and use these codes:

    Many companies use the phrases ethical code and code of conduct interchangeably but it may be useful to make a distinction. A code of ethics will start by setting out the values that underpin the code and will describe a company's obligation to its stakeholders. The code is publicly available and addressed to anyone with an interest in the company's activities and the way it does business. It will include details of how the company plans to implement its values and vision, as well as guidance to staff on ethical standards and how to achieve them. However, a code of conduct is generally addressed to and intended for employees alone. It usually sets out restrictions on behavior, and will be far more compliance or rules focused than value or principle focused.
  • The UXPA code was listed as the second answer to a question on StackExchange about a code of conduct for UX practitioners. ( While the UXPA code ( offers a strong stance for conducting the business of design ethically and also establishes guidance for research activities, it does not explicitly address any practical guidance for design activities. Another issue is that it does not have universal recognition.

    UXPA is not alone in how it constructed its code. A sampling from related organizations show similar in focus:
  • Reference:

    “Due to historical quirks in how “human-subjects” and “research” are defined by those regulations, most of the activities we call “data science” fall outside of those regulations, and data science receives little in the way of prior ethics review.”
  • UX professionals often talk about being advocates for our users. That role requires that we maximize the good for them. A focus on ethics in our work keeps the focus on people as much as creating personas or storytelling.
  • The key is that we need to plan an ethical strategy, not simply react to issues. The example of fake news is telling: It caught many off-guard even in the technology space. People did not foresee how their technologies could be so misued to manipulate and deceive.


    Some additional background references on fake news stories and the reason for concern:
    Summary: Understanding how Americans consume and evaluate their news sources is an important piece of this discussion. Here are 10 facts you should know, from a new survey conducted by ReportLinker.
    58% of Americans trust their news sources
    32% of Americans have FB as their main source of news; 18% of Americans consult 1 source and 50% of those use FB as that source
    December 20, 2016 in the wake of all the fake news revelations and record low distrust of MSM overall
    In news distribution, Facebook’s share is big indeed. 66% of Facebook’s 1.71 billion US users receive news from the platform, according to Pew Research. Since Facebook reaches 67% of US adults, 44% of the US population gets news from Facebook.
  • Ethics regrettably are more often viewed in terms of their negative implications – a set of things do or not only to avoid consequences rather than doing right for our fellow humans. What if we changed the conversation to emphasize “carrots” over “sticks”? Ethics is about doing the right thing for people, not about complying with laws that codify ethics at a societal level. Ethics offer greater value. Research has shown that companies with a strong ethical stance actually perform better over time than less ethically driven peers (Maxwell, 2005).

    By asserting that doing good is a core design goal and has benefits, we can change the conversation to be about rewards and benefits rather than compliance and punishment. Accessibility offers lessons for shifting the discourse. In the past, the emphasis have been on compliance and avoiding lawsuits. Increasingly, the literature is sharing a message of how accessible design benefits the bottom line by benefiting all users, a significant market.
  • Companies are increasingly using psychology, user research, and UX design tools for their exclusive benefit, even to the detriment of users (addictive games, for example). We may not realize that the work we do, once the data is collected and made available to colleagues in other areas, contributes to other programs that are not guided by the ethical principles we may personally adhere to.
    Many in the design field have called us to focus our work for the good of people more than the good of the bottom line. However, calls to ethical design is often about turning down or quitting unethical work. That may be appropriate when the work is clearly designed to cause harm, but often the lines between what is doing good and what doesn’t are not so sharply defined. Few businesses really want to harm their users – they don’t think of their work that way. And yet, Co.Design reported in “The Year Dark Patterns Won”:

    "But more than that, [2016] was a year defined by the intentional misleading of people by design, from products to democracy itself.
    This year, it felt like nearly every app and product had embraced some form of dark pattern. Users tweeted about seeing them on Skype, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Office Depot, even America's Test Kitchen, and yes, LinkedIn—truly a dark pattern early adopter. Even a UI feature that most of us see every day—the omnipresent "loading" or "processing" bar—was revealed as a completely fake way to pacify users."

    That last one is telling as I’ve heard the approach cast as a way to reassure the users that something is going on even if the actual progress cannot be quantified accurately. So, certainly we should educate ourselves about dark patterns and how to combat/substitute them, but we can do better. What about ensuring that the patterns we do use are really “light patterns” that intend the most good? That is the more subtle and therefore harder task to ensure our work is ethical.

  • While we might still need to acknowledge the cost of being caught being unethical, illegal, non-compliant, operating legally should be viewed as the minimum we can do rather than the core message.
  • While simply not getting caught doing illegal activities may result in short term gains, the message of the proven value of ethical practices over time is far more powerful.

    Again, consider the shift in the message around accessibility. The market represented by users with special needs is estimated at USD9 trillion globally (Donovan, 2014). That’s an attractive “carrot” with much more appeal than the “stick” of compliance. And the benefits aren’t hypothetical. Consider the brand loyalty generated with blind users (and friends and family) when Apple embraced accessibility as a core design principle – they are dominant in this market segment.
  • – business association founded in 2001
  • The Profit Potential In Running An Ethical Business, Steve Parrish
  • Quote is based on a study of socially and ethically responsible companies by the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C.
  • Quote from Ranch Stories, slides 92 and 97:

    It’s fair to expect that we should question our employers’ ethics. Other authors have asserted that we should quit unethical employers more absolutely than even this quote. However, they each make a lot of assumptions. Assessing that your company’s ethics may not align with yours is not always easy or clear cut. Sometimes, the issue is less that the desire to do good is not aligned. It may be that the implications of certain choices are not fully understood and there is no standard to measure those choices against. I full agree, then, that it is our responsibility to have the understanding, the ability to communicate that understanding effectively, and implement ethical design.
  • Related references:

    The Coming Tech Backlash, Ross Mayfield
    “Tech still has time. Lean your products towards augmentation and job creation. Solidify your principles for what is humanely right against fear-mongering and scapegoating. Foster education, and not just what worked for you, but what junior colleges can do to help people transition. Tech company policy needs to go beyond the regulations that risk a single company wants to manage, and reflect it’s inherently progressive value set. Admit disruption is a bad word, and at least cause-relate your marketing and mission.”

    Does it Delight? Does it Pay? Does it Parse? Ethics for Digital Makers, Lisa Welchman
    "This will be a hard shift. Our digital maker culture often demands that we make, and make, and make, never turning back to see the messes we might have created. Some of those messes are catching up to us and it’s important to pay attention and realize that knowledge and potential solutions are available to us. We can and must have the conversation and modulate our product development practices to ensure an ethically sound online experience for all of us. How can we teach machines to distinguish right from wrong when we’re not really clear on those answers ourselves?"

  • Towards an Ethics of Persuasion, Stephen P. Anderson

    Unfortunately, our society doesn’t adhere to a universally agreed-upon set of ethics. We do have social and cultural norms, but within those norms ethics can vary greatly.
    Be conscious and aware of what you’re endorsing with your time, not only for the welfare of others but for your own sense of self. The work you choose to take on defines you.
    The ethical line we draw between trying not to influence, influencing, and manipulation seems to depend more on the person’s response than on the tactic used.

  • We cannot change the conversation around the ethics of design without supporting each other. We need to develop and share tools that help us in our work. We needs to talk about our experiences, positive and negative.

    We also need more overarching support like a Hippocratic Oath or a code with the strength of APA’s code of conduct. The later is a recognized standard for practice that helps protect members from being asked to engage in unethical behavior. While many businesses might balk at something as structured as an ethical review board (ERB), how could even a lightweight approach to something like this improve our work and the perception of our work?

    This is something professional organizations attempt with their codes of ethics and that some of our peers are attempting as well ( We need to find a way to unify the effort so that we establish a consistent expectation of ethical behavior as well as a forum to educate and communicate with each other and our clients.
  • This presentation offers a silver bullet for ethical design. I don’t have all the answers – no one does yet – but I do want to share what answers I’ve collected and considered. My goal here is to provide a framework for thinking ethically in a larger scale and not just "treat your participants well" and "avoid dark patterns." We know that already.
  • Related references:

    “Scholars who care deeply about ethical research, publication practices, and circulation need to be familiar with the kinds of unethical abuses that sometimes tarnish scholarship and scholarly publishing.  These include different types of outright fraud, including the long tail of researcher fraud once published, scholar identity theft, citation rings, varieties of deceptive publishing schemes including phony and pseudo-scholarly journals, and the phenomenon of journal retractions.

    But scholars need to know, too, that they can do a lot to ensure the integrity of research and publication through their own “hygiene” practices.  It goes without saying that rigorous research and review, as appropriate to discipline and field, is the starting point.  But in publishing that research, it’s then important to make sure you know who you’re publishing with.”
  • Too often, ethics is considered in stark and unrealistic terms. The MIT Moral Machine Project ( is an example focused on the autonomous vehicle space. While understanding how to act appropriately in emergencies is important, these kinds of scenarios are extremely limited. And when considering a full scope of design challenges, they do not really help us handle the nuanced, often unclear situations we have to navigate now and in the future.
  • I’m personally sick of Kobyashi Maru scenarios ( Captain Kirk was right to cheat a stupid scenario that allowed for only negative outcomes!

    What we need instead are the case studies that are richer and more complicated than simple binary scenarios. Our work is more complicated than that.
  • Ways to rethink our work from the very start are slowly emerging. A number of them were covered in the 2017 Sustainable UX online conference ( Many conversations are starting with the design of physical objects. We need to consider how these ideas apply to software and online experiences.

    Additional reference:
    Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
    William McDonough and Michael Braungart, 2002
  • Excerpts from my article “Ethical Design Protocol: Exploring the Full Effects of Our Design Work” and additional comments:

    Product definition
    Define the product that you are creating. Know what you are and what are not making. The definition can come from other documents such as marketing requirements documents produced at the start of a project or from product concepts that evolve as more user stories are defined. The goal is to ground your scope, not restrict innovation or natural product evolution. Including a product definition in the protocol ensures that as other design choices are investigated that the product itself is also evaluated in the process.
    Product vision
    Define the vision for the product. What are the outcomes desired? Why are we making this? If the vision hasn't been defined elsewhere, particularly, defining it here ensures that the most aspirational, not merely functional, considerations are explicit and well-understood.

    In “Creative Clarity in the Midst of Ambiguity” the opening keynote of UXPA 2017, Jon Kolko shared that sketches frame the problem, socialize why we are doing what we are doing, result in a value proposition. This speaks directly to why capturing that vision, the Why, matters

    Who – Direct, indirect, extended
    The question of who is not limited to people, either. Who, in this sense, may include the environment, social institutions, or a profession.

    Benefits and Harms
    A holistic perspective is valuable because each Who will be evaluated for any potential benefit and harm over the life of the product. Those identified in the Who list will experience differing levels of benefits and harm across time and as their relationship to the product changes.

    Tradeoffs Assess how addressing a harm affects related benefits. Life is rarely so clean as to allow for “pure” good. More often, we have to aim for greatest good. Review the list of benefits and harm by the parties affected. Are these benefits and harms related, and how?

    Direct inspirations for this protocol:
    Caroline Jarrett’s question protocol, The Question Protocol: How to Make Sure Every Form Field Is Necessary
    Mike Monteiro, Ethics can't be a side hustle
    Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Eric Meyer, Design for Real Life
    Allison Parrish, Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic
  • This matrix offers a simple, basic structure that can be expanded and modified for the specific needs of projects and contexts. Adapt to fit the context and culture where you work.
  • Reference:
  • In many ways, a set of design principles could be recast from focusing on designers and our work to focusing on our users and their rights, a user's bill of rights. This is an example set of interpretations based on the UX Principles shared in an InVision blog post (

    This has the potential to change the discussion from what is good design? to what is design for good?.

  • I received my first copy of Design for Real Life from Caroline Jarrett, who believed this critical book should be read by every designer. After I read it, I couldn’t agree more. When considering how and why to make ethics are core part of our work, this book offers case studies to consider and ways to reframe our thinking. I gave away a copy of the book to one lucky attendee and hope that she finds it as inspirational as I did.
  • Contact me @karenbachmann or on LinkedIn if you would like to have the exhaustive list of what I read, watched, or was inspired by.