The Practical Guide For Ethical Design

The Practical Guide For Ethical Design

This article explains how unethical design happens, and how to do ethical design through a set of best practices.

Ethical Design

Ethical design is made with the intent to do good, and unethical design is its black hat counterpart. is a social enterprise striving for justice in the digital age. “Ethical Hierarchy of Needs” that describe the core of ethical design very well.

As with any pyramid-shaped structure, the layers in the Ethical Hierarchy of Needs rest on the layer below it. If any layer is broken, the layers resting on top of it will collapse.

Unethical Design 

Data-driven design can be used to do good. But more often than not it is used with monetary intent also known as surveillance capitalism. Surveillance capitalism is unethical by nature because at its core, it takes advantage of rich data to profile people and understand their behavior with the sole purpose of making money.
Nevertheless, data tracking is not the only way that unethical design plays out. Dark patterns fall under unethical design too, as they are black hat design patterns specifically designed to trick us into doing something we don’t necessarily want to do.

Harry Brignull, one of the originators and driving forces behind Dark Patterns, states that dark patterns work because they take advantage of the human brain’s weaknesses and the way we are hard-wired.

Change Happens Through Change Of Meaning

Change towards a more ethical design approach is not claimed to happen overnight. Rather, it is possible to make changes incrementally and foster long-term, organizational change through what Don Norman and Roberto Verganti call Meaning-driven Innovation. Meaning-driven innovation is a result of people starting to articulate new thoughts that create new dynamics, which ultimately lead to radically new meanings.

Transition To A Human-Centered Design Approach

The biggest problem with basing decisions on what you think and feel, or what is easiest from a technical perspective, is that it doesn’t involve the people you are serving.

To help establish empathy towards the people you serve, there are a couple of very impactful things designers and developers — and the rest of the organization — can do.

  1. Involve all team members in watching videos from user testing sessions.
  2. Ask for actual, living portraits of the people you serve.
  3. Insist on continuous testing.
  4. Always ask “why?”

Ethical Design Best Practices

Alongside establishing a human-centered design tradition in the organization, it is also important to make use of the best practices of ethical design. Just as dark patterns fall under unethical design, we have White Hat design patterns that can be utilized to ensure ethical design, some of which you can learn about in the following.

  1. Use data to improve the human experience
  2. Advertising without tracking
  3. Always, Always Prioritize usability
  4. Don’t ask for more than you need
  5. Be transparent


The movement towards a more ethical future has begun. Change doesn’t happen radically short term unless it’s built into the core of the business model. By working human-centered, by asking why, and by using best practices for ethical design. That’s our obligation as the ones who build products so deeply ingrained in people’s lives. What we do changes and shapes lives for better or for worse. 

Via: smashingmagazine