DU034 – Designing ethically

Season 0 - Getting Untangled
Season 0 - Getting Untangled
DU034 - Designing ethically

What should designers keep in mind when they are releasing things into the world?

Is what you’re letting lose going to benefit humanity? Is it going to screw them over?

Why is just designing for 80% of users a bad idea?

All this and more from a freezing cold rooftop at Google HQ.


The Design Untangled Podcast

Episode: DU034 – Designing Ethically

Host: Chris Mears and Carla Lindarte

Duration: 17:57 minutes

February 19, 2019

(00:16)    Chris:  Hello and welcome to Design Untangled with me Chris Mears and Carla Lindarte. How are you doing?

(00:21)    Carla:  I am good. How are you?

(00:22)    Chris:  Good so where are we?

(00:25)    Carla:  We are in a freezing place. It is really cold in here, but we are at Google right, now in the King’s Club.

(00:31)    Chris:  Oh, you work here? You work at Google?

(00:34)    Carla:  Yes,

(00:34)    Chris:  Oh I did not know that. So we sat on the roof, so it is freezing.

(00:39)    Carla:  And windy, so sorry about the noise, if it gets windy.

(00:43)    Chris:  So today we are going to talk about design effects, and what it means to design ethically, and why you should potentially think about what sort of designs you are releasing into the world, as well. So the reason I thought this would be interesting to talk about is, because recently, the regulator in the UK has given hotel sites a bit of a beat down, in terms of, when you are browsing a hotel and it said 14 people were looking at this room and stuff like that, in order to make you buy it. What they have been doing is basically, although people were looking at the hotel, it is for different dates than you are looking at. And when they are saying discounts, it is compared to different types of rooms. So they are comparing the discount to a luxury room. So not like for like. They have been a bit cheeky.

(01:38)    Carla:  Oh, that is actually good is it not? Because I have, myself, as a user been con. Con is that what you say in English? Conned, before a number of times. Actually, recently, I have made a booking through a website to rent a car in Spain. And it was giving me a price, which is something that sometimes websites do, they give you a price in the checkout process and you make sure you have your insurance included, et cetera, et cetera. Then once you go into the place, when you pick up the car, they said, yeah, insurance is included, but on the website and not on the actually car dealer or the car rental company. So it means that you have to pay extra insurance. And oh yes, but you also have to pay for petrol and you have to pay for this. So obviously these website is hiding a lot of information that you should know. So it is good that they are doing that.

(02:34)    Chris:  Yes, it is the trend against dark patterns and stuff like that. So when you see those kind of design treatments, they are designed to elicit a behavior from the user. And I guess there is a question there whether, are you doing that in an ethical way, so you are not misleading people? There is an argument obviously from the business side you want to encourage people to convert, basically, but it is at what cost essentially, are you converting? Because you are giving a false impression of the deal they are getting basically, or how scarce, I suppose it is as well. I think there is a bit of a revolution almost in the design world trying to get rid of these sort of practices a little bit.

(03:23)    Carla:  I think it has slowly changed as well, because I remember in the days when I was working for e-commerce platforms and designing the checkout process, there was a lot of hidden terms and conditions and things that have been checked in, pre-checked in. So you agree to receive marketing material and stuff like that. And I think slowly that trend changed. Then I remember being in conversations with the client, and the client really forcing the design team or UX team to make sure that they did it the wrong way. And then you are having conversations and you actually need to allow the user to opt in. And I think there is a lot of things happening with the GDPR and privacy, and all that stuff, that is really changing the mentality of businesses right now. And it is something that we talk to clients about at Google as well, when they are talking about data, is that businesses should be focusing on perhaps less customer data, but cleaner and better. Which means, creating that relationship with the customer, being up front, being honest. And even if you did not have like millions of people in your database and your first party data, you still have claim and people who really want to hear from you. So it is not so much about the reach, lots of reach right now, but it is the quality of that data.

(04:49)    Chris:  Yeah. And I think there is that shift of the consumer’s sentiment as well. So people are probably getting angrier about being misled, I would say, and more willing to take their business elsewhere if they feel that is the case. So yes, I think it is kind of a mixture of that, and GDPR, and hopefully businesses wanting to actually be more ethical in general, because sadly that is what sells, I suppose at the moment, being ethical is a selling point. Whether that is a good thing or not, I do not know.

(05:21)    Carla:  Let us pretend to be ethical.

(05:21)    Chris:  Exactly, pay our slave workers really well. So yes, so kind of a combination of those factors I think is leading designers to think a bit more carefully. And that is one side of the coin. But there is also, what things should you actually be working on in the first place that make the world a better place. I know on the Slack we have certainly seen that being as kind of a key motivation for a lot of new people joining the design arena and it is quite strong drivers. So I think companies have to do a lot more around offering ethical products and services that do actually deliver value to people.

(06:04)    Carla:  Yes. Now, that is really hard. It is hard to find those kind of like projects and products and services. There are companies that are actually really doing that, but I think it is the same majority of the projects that are not necessarily different to just making people who have a lot of money even richer. So again, it is a balance is it not? But yes, I definitely think that is a drive for everyone. I think all of us want, as designers, we all think about changing the world at some point. And hopefully, I think with the kind of the spread of startups, they are actually building stuff that is solving human needs. I think that is really changing the market I guess, but still a way to go.

(06:58)    Chris:  Yeah, definitely still a way to go. And you cannot always afford to be picky about what company you work for, I suppose, especially in early in your career. So when you are in those situations where perhaps the company is not necessarily focused on ethics, or delivering stuff for the greater good, and they are just about making money, I think you can still try and direct them in a bit more of an ethical route in terms of understanding what their user actually needs, because, most people go to a company because they need something. It might not be world changing tasks they need to accomplish, but you can still deliver that in a way that helps them and at least does not leave them worse off after the interaction.

(07:44)    Carla:  You can also like [inaudible 07:46] early with your job, but you can find things outside your work that you could do to make you feel that you have created an impact somewhere else or to someone else. And even, this podcast is a way of, I mean, we are not obviously changing the world, but we have received little messages from people, thanking you and thanking us for what we say, et cetera. If you find something that you are passionate about, that is easy to fit into your schedule, at least you are doing something that is not necessarily making great people be richer.

(08:23)    Chris:  Probably worth shouting at one of our partners which is, UX for Change, at this point. So they basically try and harness designers and their talents to help charities solves issues, so it is all that kind of stuff that you can get involved with, if you are not, moving the world in your actual career, you can still do stuff to find that fulfillment elsewhere.

(08:46)    Carla:  That is true. I mean, even here at Google, just going to talk about my personal experience. Obviously, I work for the part of Google that sells advertising, which it does not necessarily sound world changing. But I am trying to find, at Google what they do is a 20% projects, that you can actually spend 20% of your time doing something else and it is not necessarily related to your job. And I have been talking to a team of people here, they created a product called Google Go. Which is an app that is basically targeted to people in developing countries where they do not have very good access to the internet, to be able to find the best of Google, between maps and search, et cetera in a very light way. So they actually have access to information in places that are very remote. So I am trying to get myself into something like that, at least it gives me some kind of different purpose to what I am doing day to day. And I mean there are companies like this that allow you to do that if you cannot do it within your own company. Just try to find a project somewhere else. There is a lot of pro bono work happening and you can always step into those people, get more experience in doing something related to your career and also doing something for society.

(10:06)    Chris:  Yes. And I think reaching those digitally excluded audiences particularly is something that you can try and help with even on your kind of existing projects or whatever. And that is a big area I suppose is detriment for people. We are off creating all these cool digital products and there is still massive proportions of the population that just cannot access them, for infrastructure reasons, or just digital skills or whatever. So looking at ways you can bring that experience to those users and make it accessible to them is one of the way you can help, I suppose.

(10:42)    Carla:  Especially as a user researcher, in my experience and what I have observed so far in the market in London is that there is still a lot of biases on we test our products and experiences with people who are very similar to us. Even when we try to find different demographics, different age ranges, are they still very digitally savvy-ish. Or at least have more access to things. Obviously it all depends on the project you’= are on and the resources. But the ideal target audience should be a bit beyond that. You should try and research the areas where you really think people are not necessarily going to be familiar with these experiences. Because then, the feedback you get is really different, and then you reduce your biases as well.

(11:36)    Chris:  And this is where I challenge the whole notion of the lean design it for 80%. You need to think really hard about, by not designing it for those other 20%, are you being ethical by doing that? Are you excluding people that actually do need this potentially more than the other 80%? So there is always going to be trade offs there. It is almost like you have to think about what you are not doing, rather than what you are doing to a certain extent.

(12:09)    Carla:  That is really important. And try to put it in as part of your research plans, to make sure you try to include as much as you can, because sometimes it is just not possible. Because you have to travel, because you do not have access to that particular audience, that population, but I think is always important to try and think like that.

(12:28)    Chris:  And it even comes down to the level of the language you are using in your products. Does any of that potentially exclude or is detrimental to a particular segment of people? Maybe English is a second language or if you are biasing the gender, ethnicity, that sort of stuff in the language that you use, maybe even without realizing it.

(12:51)    Carla:  That is so true. I obviously have English as my second language and sometimes I look at websites and apps that they use, expressions I have never heard before. And I need to ask people what does that actually mean? I have quite good English, but there is some people who do not, and then you have to really think about that. Because you can make it very local, to your environment and if you want this product to really be impacting other people, you should think about that. Yes, that is a very good point. It is a very interesting topic I have to say, to how much we can actually have that impact. It all depends on your self. You only go as far as you can actually go. Just try to always have that point of view in your mind when you think of a new product, or new venture, or a new job as well. Because it is a motivation and I think it is really fulfilling, if you know that you are doing something for the good of the world.

(14:01)    Chris:  Have you heard of Icky Guy before?

(14:03)    Carla:  No.

(14:04)    Chris:  So it is like some Japanese philosophy thing, basically, it is about what your purpose in life should be. So, if you Google it, while I talk, so I can remember the diagram. So I-K-I-G-A-I.

(14:19)    Carla:  I-K-I-G-A-I. Oh yeah.

(14:23)    Chris:  This is good listening right now. So yes, it is like the intersection of what you can be paid for, what the world needs, what you are good at, and then what you love – so your passion. So I think being ethical probably would help you at least get a bit towards the center of that venn diagram, a little bit there. Because what the world needs definitely is, people not fucking over other people. I would say.

(14:55)    Carla:  That is really good, actually. Also related to this, I have been reading or listening actually, because it is an audiobook. But I am listening to Find Your Why from Simon Sinek. Actually, he did not write it, I think it is people he obtained the right to write the book. But it gives you a lot of like practical exercises to find your why, your purpose. I mean it is all a bit fluffy, but it is actually a very tangible framework that, basically, in summary, you need to find someone, a partner, like someone who can, is willing to help you find your why, if you still have not found it yet. And then you talk through the way, you basically focus on your hows. So how you like working and how you like doing things, to find your why, which would be the purpose. And then what you like and what you dislike. And this person needs to listen to you and start capturing the themes, so, similar to research. And you capture these themes and then at the end you write in statement. This person writes this statement for you. And then you then go and test that statement with your friends and family. And it is actually really useful because it allows you to make decisions, as well, like what you are going to be doing next in your career, or in your life as well. What is important for you? So I really recommend the book and it is really tangible and it gives you like tangible steps to go through. That is good.

(16:20)    Chris:  It is kind of the opposite of the Icky Guy, but I read saying that was rubbish. So that is what I was hoping to get out of it, is those tangible things to figure it out. But it was basically like Japanese people live a really long time because they eat lots of fish. I was like, okay.

(16:36)    Carla:  Well, Simon Sinek’s book, it is actually good. There is another book, I have not read it yet, but I have been recommended the book, it is called, Pivot, I think it is called. Pivot, and it was written by a Googler. I know a Googler who recommended it to me. Apparently, is also really good, is also a framework to find your next step in your career, what you want to do next. So yeah, recommend that even though I have not read it yet.

(17:06)    Chris:  Wow. That recommendation carries a lot of weight.

(17:08)    Carla:  I am going to read that one next. After Find My Way, which I am about to finish.

(17:13)    Chris:  That was almost like a dark pattern on the review site, was it not? Carla Landarte recommends this book, and then the asterisks, she has never read it. Okay. Well, I do not have anything else, because once again, we have chosen a freezing cold location to record. We should probably stop doing that.

(17:33)    Carla:  It is a nice view though.

(17:34)    Chris:  it is a nice view.

(17:34)    Carla:  You should take a picture and put it on this episode.

(17:35)    Chris:  Yes. All right. So that is it.

(17:38)    Carla & Chris:    See you next time, bye.

Narrator:  Search and subscribe to Design Untangled using your favourite podcast app and leave us a review. Follow us on the web at designuntangled.co.uk or on Twitter @designuntangled. Become a better designer with online mentoring at uxmentor.me.