Ethical design

Before our job titles, we are all human beings. We share a planet and we’re part of society. Whatever work we put out there has impact to the people around.


Before our job titles, we are human beings. We share the planet and we’re part of the society. Whatever work we put out there impacts the people around us. We ask ethical questions whenever we’re about to take an action. And we have the capacity to make conscious choices, even though sometimes our decisions are driven by habits, biases or a desire to fit in. Design is a discipline of action. Creating products and services that solve real problems and help people live better lives is a superpower.  But can design be considered as good, even though it has a negative impact on humanity? For example, can we appreciate a well designed gun despite its harmful purpose? Sometimes it’s difficult to draw a line between good and bad design, when ethical and technical aspects are contradicting.

In the world of tech those lines are even more blurred. There’s no doubt that technology innovation has improved the world in many ways. At the same time, decision making often shifts away from product users, as cognitive vulnerabilities of human nature are exploited. Unethical design plays out in different shapes - data tracking, aggressive persuasion, dark patterns, manipulating people into buying more or turning them into social media addicts.

When creating digital products and services, we have a responsibility to build experiences that are better than that. Meeting this standard requires understanding the meanings people might create around a particular product. Let’s take a look at some of the practices that contribute in making better ethical decisions:

Asking questions

Ethics are a process of learning and constantly questioning the status quo. It’s about forming threshold for what is ethical, what is not, what falls in the shades between. Figuring out what questions to ask helps to untangle grey areas. When it comes to product design, few valuable questions could be:

  • Would I use this product?

  • Why does this product exist?

  • Is it helping someone?

  • In a conflict of interests, do the user’s interests win?

Unethical design doesn’t necessarily happen on purpose. Often it’s accumulation of many small slips. Therefore questioning and evaluating decisions along the way helps to avoid pitfalls.


Source: The School of Life 

Empathy is an ability to see the world through other people's eyes. It requires putting aside our own conflicting voices purposefully, so that we could get as close as possible to another person’s perspective. In design terms, it means learning about the needs of people so that design solutions would answer them. When we work on products that impact people, we also take on the responsibility of making their worlds our own. We determine what the experience is like for them and whether or not it helps them live better lives.


How does it feel to be blocked out of society? To be excluded or abandoned? It’s chilling to even think about it, as most of us had experienced some kind of exclusion throughout our lives. Accessibility refers to building products that can be used by everyone regardless of ability or context. In fact, accessible work benefits everyone and that must be a karma point. There’s no good design that isn’t accessible.

Final note

Products and services today reach people all around the globe. They can either help or hurt. But knowing what we stand for and why, makes a difference. If we can contribute at making change for better or worse, we choose better.