Ethics in Design

Justin Jurek
Customer Experience Design

With the renewed focus on the dark side of social media (Exhibit 1, Rihanna v Snapchat; Exhibit 2, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook), it’s a good time to talk about ethics in design.

In our position as an experience design and strategy firm, Magnani is in the business of designing strategies and applications that help our clients transform their businesses. These solutions often manifest as digital experiences that serve as a conduit of interaction between our clients and their customers. As such, we sit in a unique position to be both an advocate and influencer for best practices as it relates to ethics in design.

Why is this important? At the end of the day, all products, programs and strategies eventually impact real people and their lives. This seems obvious, but in the heat of a project, it’s easy to forget that when the spreadsheets and timelines have been archived, when our products have moved from prototype to production, there are actual, real, living human beings interacting with our work product.

This thought was renewed in my mind by the news of the day, but also by a great article written by Trine Falbe at Smashing Magazine. In it, Ms. Falbe provides a thorough list of ethical and unethical behavior in web design as well as a solid list of resources to explore the ideas and concepts behind human-centered design.

But can we take this idea a step further? It’s not enough to identify the behaviors, we must create a corporate culture in each of our businesses that values and understands the human realities our behaviors impact. As strategists, designers and developers we must ensure that the work we produce follows five key guides.


Know and understand your end-users. What are their motivations? What are their restraints? Have you considered people that don’t look like you? People without your resources? That don’t share your senses?


Is your design forthright? Is there any critical information hidden? Are you exploiting a bias in human behavior that may be unethical? Are you sending people down the paths they expect? Do your customers trust you?


Should you be releasing this project into the world? Does it improve a business? Does it smooth a path? Why should your project exist?


Are you collecting someone’s data? Why? Do you need to? And if you are, are you storing that data as safely as you would store your own?


You’ve thought about all the best case scenarios, but have you entertained the worst? How might a system you’re developing be used for nefarious purposes? Can it be designed in a way to negate those behaviors.

Ethics in design are a large, unruly, and emotional topic. But by taking some time to consider people throughout our process, we can do our part to make plans, products and services that are more inclusive, more essential and more secure.

Three articles to reference:

The Verge – Rihanna condemns Snapchat for ad making light of domestic violence
Via Smashing Magazine – Ethical Design: The Practical Getting Started Guide
Via Slate – Facebook Was Letting Users Down Years Before Cambridge Analytica


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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