“So you want to join the League of Evil Designers? Come in, sit down. Chair inconvenient? Okay. Let’s review your application.
2 years of work at an online casino? Not bad. Made it difficult for users to unsubscribe! What else … Activate microphone for targeted ads without user consent? Quite impressive. You are the right fit for us!
When can you start working? We need any help with mass collection of personal data. And you need to remove any visual signs of interactivity. Isn’t it great when people get confused and upset? By the way, we get together on Saturdays to watch their failures. “
Over the past few years, we have become disenchanted with services that were once called revolutionary.
Like the French peasants who watched Robespierre come to power, we realized that the movement that gave us so much freedom gave rise to terrible oppressors. Social media platforms have become battlegrounds in international wars. We realized we were trading intimate secrets for memes, cat GIFs, and polls. Advertising has relentlessly pursued us across the digital plains. The Internet has ceased to be innocent and turned into a dirty and confused reality.
For those who are engaged in creating new things for this wonderful world, it is time for introspection. Who are we and what is our role in this mess? And many of us answered:
“They must be all evil designers, but not me.”
It is convenient to think that there is some sinister secret organization making plans to seize world domination. It’s easy to shift the blame onto others.
The truth is hard to accept. The truth is, we are all part of the problem.
Each of us can easily make a decision that will ruin the lives of thousands of people.
Hanlon’s Razor says: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained as stupidity.”
This applies to design as well as any other industry. A designer’s job is to look at the same scenario from different angles, but this gets more and more difficult as the number of scenarios grows. Even the best of us make terrible decisions because we forget, don’t understand, or don’t realize the consequences. Especially when we are designing products on a massive scale, with a diverse set of users.
For example, a designer might not consider how a group’s privacy settings might inadvertently reveal a user’s sexual orientation. Can a European designer forget that the concept of “first and last name” differs from country to country and from culture to culture? A designer using the latest iPhone might insist on high quality images, inadvertently making Internet access inaccessible and difficult for users with expensive data plans?
In these “extreme cases” we run the greatest risk of damage. As Mike Monteiro said, hurting a few people is bad, but when 1% of your user base means 20 million people – will ignoring them have serious consequences for real people?
In addition, large user bases can contain conflicting realities, which forces the designer to make choices. For example, there is no neutral answer to the question “How should you draw a map of Israel?”
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Most of us believe in the companies we work for. We think it’s good that they exist and do good things for people. Therefore, when we are asked to make “more users become more involved in our product,” we do our best to make this happen. We look at the least engaged users and identify their problems. We set the metric we want to change by solving their problems so that we can test the effectiveness of our solutions. So far so good, right?
The problem is that the things that really matter to people – safety, happiness, community, and love – are nearly impossible to measure. So you’re assuming that the metric you choose (registration, engagement, retention) is a shorthand for those feelings. Your goal is a number, your problem becomes a number that needs to change, and your decisions change it. But sometimes we forget to ask if this number is correct, what it really means, and if it needs to be changed.
You want people to stay in touch with their friends, but should that mean they spend more time on their phones?
You want your algorithms to help people find content to interact with, but what if people are more likely to interact with content that makes them angry?
The larger the company becomes, the more specific these numbers become. For example, you will be asked to “help more Chrome users sign in.” And you will find a solution – automatic login when people confirm their details for another Google service. There is no doubt that you were guided by good intentions in solving the problem. The metrics probably looked great, but the numbers couldn’t show that users perceived this as an unforgivable violation of trust. ?
It’s easy to believe in a fairy tale that this is all the machinations of some evil, greedy CEO. Of course, there are people working on things that have clear ethical implications. ? But the idea that they are the root of all bad design decisions leads us to believe that we are clean. That as long as we are ethical people working for companies we believe in, we are not capable of “doing evil.” This is when we risk forgetting the edge case by relying too much on our metrics rather than wondering, is not it we are doing the right thing. Making a rash call for something that we consider insignificant, forgetting how many people interact with it. Yes, you should be worried. We all have to.
It turns out that staying away from the evil designer league is harder than joining the ranks. How can we keep aloof?
- Be aware of your ability to harm users. No matter how diligent or careful you are, there is a chance that you will screw things up. Don’t stop paying attention to the design when it’s finished and act when you see something is wrong.
- Reflect on the decisions made and ask the question “who is missing?” Have you thought about people with disabilities, elderly users, LGBT minorities, users from different countries, people with financial difficulties, deeply religious users, etc.? What are the worst consequences of your design decision for them? Test your decisions with a variety of people. PR people and lawyers are good at this kind of thing.
- Shaping the user’s emotions is just as important as other metrics. Protect their importance. Find a way to make sure you achieve your emotional goals.
- Maslow’s pyramid of needs will help you choose the right emotions to focus on. For example, if you are developing an app for ridersharing drivers, there is no point in focusing on grades if they can’t get enough rest or don’t feel safe.
- Always ask yourself: “Is not it it is right?”. Even if you believe in the company you work for. Never stop asking yourself this question. An accomplished goal can lose the original focus on users. Convince the boss you trust to have a reliable back-up. This is not a stick in the company’s wheels, but a reasonable test.
Seems like it will add work? It’s just an uncomfortable chair.