A series of articles about ethics and moral philosophy (for designers) that aim to go beyond dark patterns.


Learn More About Ethics

Hi, Kevin here.

The recent gain in interest of designers for ethics is an interesting by-product of the global realization of the various harms and unintended consequences (externalities) caused by the excesses of certain intrusive technics.

Although, this is not a recent topic. Designers across the world have interests in ethics for many years and tons of books have been written on this very subject over decades. It is worth noting, however, that designers’ sensibility, interest, and care for this subject vary a lot depending on many factors: localization, culture, society, industry, (etc) or simply contextual triggers.

Another angle to this is the increased availability of big data systems and the infiltration of artificial intelligence (AI) into software-enabled systems. Many concerns related to ethics regarding software engineering revolve around the ethics of AI and mostly focus on the fair and unbiased use of data. Corollary to this is obviously the subject of (data) privacy.

This convergence of interests towards ethical considerations in tech (ethics, morals, values, etc.) from both business professionals, academics, and society consequently brings lots of attention in the places where decisions seem to be made on a day-to-day, product or service level basis: design, engineering, and “front-line” management. For better and worse.

While today’s “ethics” in design seems closely (and inevitably) linked to dark patterns, it is only the tip of the iceberg. It brings an interesting but narrow focus on actual practices and technics used in user interfaces (UI ) to trick users to perform something that, in the short term, benefits the business while deserving the users (UX).

I will, however, try to separate the two subjects that are not exclusively related. To be clear, I will not talk much about dark patterns. Not because it is not interesting, but because of these few reasons:

  1. There have been already extensive writings and discussions about dark patterns over recent years. Some great books are available that cover the subject very well and in great detail.
  2. The intentionality and specificity of “dark patterns” cannot be overstated (see here, here). While I’m sure some companies willing to “growth hack” their business at any cost may be attracted to such practices, there are also tons of other situations that lead to negative outcomes, yet not covered by dark patterns and which are still part of ethics.
  3. Ethics (and values) are about how we make decisions and how they lead to positive or negative outcomes by their standards. Ethics are about how we define what is “good” and “bad”, what is “desirable/preferable” or not, and how we act upon these definitions. Dark patterns are, therefore, a subset of such considerations.

For that, I will focus on what philosophers discuss for centuries: moral philosophy. Through a series of articles, I will cover the basic themes of the various movements and ideologies in moral philosophy. This will help understand some principles behind some positions of today’s discussion and what are some of their limitations.

Design deontology? Ethical principles? Utilitarianism? Design virtues? What are they and what are the differences?

Available Articles

I will update this list regularly.

Ethics For Designers: What’s Cultural Relativism?
When your moral principles are what your society approves of.medium.com

Ethics For Designers: Important Ethical & Moral Notions
Understanding the differences between metaethics, normative ethics, deontology, and consequentialism.medium.com

Design & Critical Thinking - Issue #1
Building the foundations for a more ethics-literate design community. Hi, Kevin here. Recently, I committed to writing…link.medium.com

Design & Critical Thinking — Issue #2
Uncertainty & changes are good opportunities for ethical thinking.medium.com

The Ethics Of Design Sprint
An endeavor you are passively subscribing to.medium.com

On the same subject 👇👇

[Brainshot] Design doesn't happen in a vacuum. Do we act accordingly?
Hi everyone, Kevin here. This week I was synthesizing some work done during a session about Business Value definition…link.medium.com

[Brainshot] The Issue With Common Sense
And why it’s a bad tool in most contexts.medium.com

An Answer To Designers Moral Imperative To Focus On Known Knowns
Hi Fabricio Teixeira, let me, for the sake of a (hopefully) interesting debate, kindly challenge your point of view.medium.com

About The Series

I will publish here and on Design & Critical Thinking the articles regularly over the coming days, weeks (months?). This is a broad topic with a lot to cover, so expect some length extensive articles as well as shorter ones on more specific principles or concepts. So stay tuned!

I am not a moral philosopher. As such, I write here as a humble learner, largely inspired by referential books and writings. Through my readings and researches on the subject of morals and ethics, I discovered views I was unaware of and others not unfamiliar with but rarely as well articulated. I sincerely hope you will too.

That being said, and for full transparency, I tend towards the consequentialist stand of ethics which, to my own understanding, better acknowledge the complexity of the world.

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Design & Critical Thinking Newsletter - Design & Critical Thinking Newsletter. Sharpen-up your human & critical…www.getrevue.co