Asking When: Ethics in the Product Development Process Part 4

Lisanne Binhammer

Senior Product Designer

If You’re… Creating the overall user experience (UX) of your product or Doing user interface (UI) work (Including but not limited to creating a visual design system)

Welcome to part four of this mini series on ethics in the delivery portion of the product development process! Previously, I spoke about designing your solution architecture, and then about doing back-end implementation. Admittedly, these sections were more challenging to write as a  product designer. I spoke with  Technical Project Managers, Software Engineers and more. When it came to creating the overall UX of a product, I started to realize that when it comes to delivery projects, ethical UX s is less of a checklist and more of a state of mind. Less helpful? Sure. But this is just the nature of building. 

Nonetheless, being an ethical product designer in the delivery portion of the product development process is not unlike in the discovery phase; you can still use the same mindsets. You want to think inclusively, and accessibly about your users. For example, how might an individual who is less technically literate download or a video on your platform product? How might someone with cognitive impairments understand the information architecture of your site? Or, what if your user has a five-generation old smart device – which, let’s face it, happens in our era of planned obsolescence? You also what to think about what your experience encourages, or discourages, creates or interrupts in the lives of our users. And then more broadly, what does it imply culturally, economically, or environmentally?

The golden rule of persuasion formulated by Berdichevsky & Neuenschwander

Design work is outcome-driven, and designers should be driving towards intentionally ethical work. If they aren’t, and the outcome is unethical, they are responsible and at fault. Take the MacOS impact on paper waste example. Perhaps it was an unintentional move not to scale down content sizing during printing, but the outcome (printing pages with single lines of text) is harmful to the environment; it’s unethical. Being an ethically-minded UX designer then doesn’t mean thinking about your product in utter isolation to the rest of the world – the experiences we define have a cascading effect. 

  • To start, this is crucial: if you aren’t familiar with Dark Patterns yet, this library is a must-read
  • When you are moving into the notification experience in your design system, Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines provide some good rules around making sure your notifications are saying the right thing about your product. Do you really need to spam your users with every Like or Clap or what have you? Information overload is real, everyone.
  • Review  UX Frameworks for GDPR to order to empower and inform your users about their data (in onboarding, in your privacy policy, and beyond)
  • Being aware of the Laws of UX can help you identify the behaviours you are encouraging and discouraging

Next up – User Interface design. There’s a lot to be said around designing an ethical UI, particularly as it relates to accessibility. Over the years – as was mentioned earlier – more and more tools have become readily accessible, and a landslide of articles have been written about the topic. At the end of the day, designing something like a visual design system that is ethical means considering your product in a more holistic way. While this site has about the most useful design systems checklist, it only scratches the surface of what designers can do to make sure their system is an ethical one. To start, thinking about your users interacting with the design system you create in a way that doesn’t treat people like edge cases will help you reframe as you create your design language down to microscopic components. Another key part in being ethical during your UI process is actually working with developers (who, me?). A sole practitioner shouldn’t be trying to define an ethical interface or an accessible interface alone. Often, designers might use a plug-in like Stark to check their colour palette’s contrast, wipe their brow and figure they are done for the day.

Designers need to start sitting down with developers to understand how their work will be consumed by people of differing abilities. 

  • When making typographic choices, you should be making sure that you are encouraging readability across screen sizes
    • On that note, don’t use a label that will disappear 
  • If you’re considering colour, there are lots of tools that you can use to make sure your palette meets WCAG’s contrast requirements. But contrast isn’t often on it’s own enough, particularly for those who are colourblind. Injecting patterns a la Trello can help people to differentiate data that is colour-coded. 
  • Work with a content strategist to ensure that your designs will withstand localization testing
  • Make sure you take the time to annotate your designs’ focus/tab order flow
    • In fact, annotate everything. Developers essentially turn design into elements with semantic meaning, and they aren’t mindreading. Open up a dialogue about things sooner rather than later.
Colour-blind friendly mode with Trello promotes inclusion

As product designers, whether we be UX or UI-focused (or maybe you’re an incredible unicorn who is a rockstar at both) considering the mindsets – and tools, actually – in this article will help you design more ethically. And I know, I get it – sometimes it can feel like you’re yelling into a void. Clients can easily dismiss the cries of “Being accessible now will save you time later on! You’ll reach a wider audience! There is a business case to be made for why we should be ethical!”, and instead focus on getting an MVP out of the door (an aside: perhaps we should be reaching for an MLP). But, having the right techniques and perspectives at the ready can help to counteract and combat a client’s dismissal, and the resources above are a great place to start.

Stay tuned for the final part in this mini series: Doing Front-End Implementation!

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