The Ethics of Digital Design

Cennydd has written a short piece for the Design Council about ethics within the realm of digital technology:

Disruption is Silicon Valley’s current watchword. Startups are optimised for shaking up vulnerable industries rather than assessing the resulting social, legal and ethical impact. Progress itself is the yardstick; whether that progress is in a worthwhile direction is sometimes secondary.

Beyond advocating that designers should have a central role in empowering and protecting users, Cenyydd suggests that we should also push for increased diversity within our product teams as well:

As ambassadors for global userbases, designers know well the range of mentalities and approaches people bring to technology. Homogenous teams are too easily swept up in camaraderie, seeing only exciting gains for people like them, yet blind to potential harm for people not like them. The broad perspective of diverse teams offers better insight on tough choices: early warning of ethical issues that may disadvantage particular groups.

I couldn’t agree more. Go read, it’s a good one.

The Billionaire’s Typewriter

Matthew Butterick’s scrutiny of Medium reveals it to be “a form of hu­man frack­ing”:

In “Death to Type­writ­ers,” Medium in­sists that the type­writer is its “sworn enemy.” In cer­tain ty­po­graphic de­tails, maybe so. But as a de­vice that im­poses ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign, Medium still has a lot in com­mon with the typewriter.

In fact, its ethics are ac­tu­ally worse than the tra­di­tional type­writer. Why? Be­cause Medium’s ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign has noth­ing to do with lim­i­ta­tions of the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy (in this case, the web)… it’s a de­lib­er­ate choice that lets Medium ex­tract value from the tal­ent and la­bor of others.

Convenience always has a cost.

Cennydd Bowles on the Ethical Designer

Possibly the most important design talk you’ll hear this year:

For decades, the spaces we live in have been built by consensus. Planners, architects, councils, consultation; and always the watchful eye of the regulators and elected officials. But the world’s favourite digital spaces are largely in the hands of people like you and me. We have to oversee ourselves – and it’s not going very well.

Are we focusing on the right problems? Or just aggrandising the mundane? How do we know what the right problems are? How can we guide ourselves to appreciate the cultural and personal impact of the decisions we make?

It’s time for our industry to become ethically aware, if we’re to have a chance of doing the right thing.

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