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Ethical Design

Ethical Design

Now and then, we get to hear new technology causing an ethical dilemma. There are several ways for user experiences to cross an ethical line – from fake news to social media dependence to misusing users’ private data to coercing user behaviour; all these wades into the grey area of morality.

But is it an ethical design?

Oxford Dictionary defines ethics as moral principles that control or influence a person’s behaviour. Therefore, ethical design is the design that is made with the intent to do good. Well, Ethical design can be best defined through design ethics. Encyclopedia says design ethics concerns moral behaviour and responsible choices in the practice of design. It guides how designers work with clients, colleagues, and the end-users of products, how they conduct the design process, how they determine the features of products, and how they assess the ethical significance or moral worth of the products that result from the activity of designing. Any UX designer should understand and engage with ethics within each different design project. Mastering ethical design through moral sensitivity, moral creativity and moral advocacy can help them grow into a competent designer.

Mastering ethical Design

In simpler terms, ethical design is about morality – towards an individual, community, and the entire world. Ethical design is how we create, how we practice our work or even how we collaborate. Or at least that’s what I understand from Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag, the founders of Ind.ie; They came up with the concept of Ethical Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, which follows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where each level rests on the layers below it. This is all due to the growing moral anxiety in the current regime that governs our shopping, banking, or online dating. It is often criticized for being inadequate in addressing the users’ needs, at times being exploitative.

UX designers, being on the frontlines of the design process, are always morally concerned. Championing the needs of the users is the endgame of any UX designer. That goal includes the ethical expectations of the users as well. Yet, in a hurry to create a product with a catchy and delightful experience to attract users and satisfy the client, ethical concerns are often lost in the shuffle. This is why it’s so essential for UX designers should consider ethical design or at least a basic understanding of things.

Ethical design principles

I tried to find a list of ethical design considerations online. However, I could not any definitive answer. So I shifted my focus to ethical design principles. Ethical design principles revolve around effort, experience and respect for human rights – inspired by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Let’s go over some basic principles that fulfil these needs mentioned in Ethical Hierarchy of Needs with a few good ethical design examples:



Usability has become an essential requirement. Any product’s design should help the user accomplish what they want pleasantly. Jakob Nielsen defined five critical components of usability: learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors and satisfaction. An example of where good ethical design UX can be Practo, where they inform their users about their doctor’s appointment before the appointment. Such intricacy in design can significantly impact the UX.


Accessibility should be consolidated during the development process. Products that are designed should always follow the principles of universal design. According to the world report on vision by WHO, at least 2.2 billion people in this world are visually impaired. And we all know that all websites are not always optimized for the vision impaired. With assistive technology like a screen reader, the vision-impaired part of the populace can use the internet. An ethical design that is accessible to everyone benefits everyone!



Privacy has always been a hot topic, with brands like Google and Facebook have come under scrutiny for utilizing private data for their gains. For example, Snapchat is a secure messenger app that protects its user’s privacy. During sign up, one requires either their username or email to start using the app. One can talk to people in ghost mode so they can keep their location private. And we all know that messages and images ent peer-to-peer gets deleted in 24 hours.

Due to targeted advertising and data-driven organizations, many users adhere to their right to privacy. The best ethical design practice is to collect information that has the users’ best interest in mind.



One of the best practices for ethical design UX is to provide transparency allowing users to make educated choices. One of the good ethical design examples can be Amazon, where one can get free shipping if they join Amazon Prime. However, at the end of the free trial, Amazon charges the annual membership’s total cost automatically unless the user opt-out of it.

User involvement

A UX designer is designing for the product’s user. The product, and in turn, the design, becomes a part of their life that becomes gives them a delightful experience. Human-centred design, a concept developed by Don Norman, calls for human-centric engagement early and continuously during the method, ultimately helping in usability. An effective way of analyzing user involvement is holding small groups of user testing in small groups, improve the design and experiment again and again!



UX Designers must understand the products should be there when the user needs them. Good ethical design examples can be Netflix and Youtube, where the in-app players with their auto-play function. Another ethical design example is Facebook, a platform that uses social-validation to make its users crave likes, inspiring them to post again.



Talking about sustainability, one thing that comes to mind is climate change, which is a global issue impacting our work on the world’s ecosystem and resources. An example that embraces sustainability is a circular design using a closed-loop design approach where resources are repurposed persistently. The purpose is to design products that are continuously cycled, resulting in reduced waste.

Ethical design technology

There are many ways in which design and the tech industry are moving forward:

  • Catchy visuals can attract attention to boost awareness about any concept. It is visible how much time people spend on various apps. A visual dashboard creates interest and curiosity and becomes a little more aware of digital well-being and online habits, which can also influence positive lifestyle habits.
  • Advancements in AI allow the users to interact with assistants like Cortana or Siri feels identical to talking to another human. Machine Learning can study an individual’s behaviour to craft a customized experience relevant to them.

Without a doubt that technology has become more widespread, embracing an ethical design approach can bring an exciting challenge to future UX designers.


We are moving towards an ethical future. However, change has to be integrated into the core of the business model. Going through incremental change, one step at a time is the way to move forward. Ethical design is the UX designer’s obligation to design products ingrained in people’s lives. A UX designer might intend well. Yet, the mindset comes under the pressure of daily constraints. Therefore, systematically taking a step back to consider the work’s future impact is not a bad idea.

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