Ethics in Design
“If we can only discuss ethics when it’s revenue-neutral, we don’t have ethics.”
This bold statement is from a slide in Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s presentation at UX Week 2018. UX Week is the world’s premier UX conference, and most of the presentations I saw at this year’s event had strong ethical centers. (Mine included.)
After a long slumber, ethics has come back to the fore as a central concern for designers. This is due in no small part to the realization that as software eats the world, the way software is designed has a big impact on how well (or not) our societies function.
Design reifies the immaterial; it makes power structures concrete. When talking about physical environments, we can literally see these structures around us. In information environments, we have the added challenge that they appear to remain immaterial — because bits, not atoms — but they're reified nonetheless.
That’s OK as long as we understand what we’re doing and what consequences we can expect. But the fact that we’ve moved important parts of our civic discourse to venues that are monetized by selling our attention suggests that we don’t. It’s time we change that.