Ethics and the User Experience – Ethics and the Individual

On a rating scale of 1-10 how ethical do you think you are? 1 is completely unethical, and 10 is 100% ethical. This is an important question because research shows that most of believe we act ethically all the time but in reality most of us let our standards slip at some point or another. In fact we quite regularly act unethically but believe that we are acting ethically. This allows us to assume we have a higher ethical standard than those around us; even though this is not true.



Author/Copyright holder: Leigh Blackall. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0


The ethics of the individual matter when it comes to user experience design. This is because our own perceptions of our ethics can affect the work they do.

What We Believe

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It’s not hard to understand why we perceive ourselves as “impeccably ethical”. We’re social creatures and ethics are standard that is admired by our peers. We seek external validation for things and tend to promote ourselves in the best possible light and our brains are excellent at justifying this – even when we fail to live up to our self-image. That’s what it is to be human.

This can result in the following issues:

  • We can see ourselves as ethical even when there is strong evidence that we are not behaving ethically
  • We can ignore our own prejudices (that word “but” is a key indicator of this). For example, “I’m not racist but….” (Yes, you are – whatever comes after that “but” is going to prove it).
  • We can see ourselves through rose-coloured glasses and believe that we can do no wrong.
  • We fail to see when our own position brings a conflict of interest on a particular ethical issue
  • We can fail to see that we discriminate in favour of people that we find personally appealing or who are very similar to ourselves.
  • These biases then have a knock on effect in user research and user experience design and we need to be aware of these issues (so that we can work on them becoming non-issues):
  • We can end up believing that as a user representative we speak for our users even when we haven’t asked the user what they think or feel about an issue.
  • We can end up believing that our expertise in a single field of work translates to all fields of work thus we push recommendations we believe to be valid even if the recommendation is based on a lack of information
  • We can end up being selective with data that supports our opinions and biases
  • We can end up being selective with data giving priority to data generated by users we liked more or related to more
  • We can even end up falling for the idea that everything we do is “selfless” and designed to benefit our users more than ourselves

None of these attributes make you a bad person. In fact, we all do some of this stuff, it’s what makes us human. However, when we understand that our behaviours may cause ethical conflicts – it becomes easier to observe those behaviours and to tackle them.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Dark Patterns. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved. Img



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