Designers create experiences with certain positive outcomes in mind; outcomes like ease of use, usefulness, and desirability. But are these the only outcomes that a designer should focus on for great user experience? Read on to find out.
Designers aim to create experiences that the user will find usable, useful, and desirable. They go the extra mile to ensure that the user will find the experience delightful and engaging.
Delight is a highly context-dependent emotion. In many situations, delight, as an outcome of experience, may not be desirable or even required. For game designers, delight is a good emotion to introduce in the gameplay. But in enterprise applications, efficiency and effectiveness are the main objectives. In all fairness, at an airport check-in counter, the airline personnel operating the software needs speed and accuracy, not delight.
When it comes to eCommerce, the focus is on ‘conversion rates’, outcomes that impact the business’s bottom line, we focus on optimizing the layout of a key screen or deciding the placement of a call to action, inducing the user to take certain actions.
But a user, who is undecided about buying a product, will not decide simply based on the layout of the shopping cart screen, or the placement of the checkout button. They will buy when the offering matches their needs and aligns with their goals. Conversion rates and frequency of use are incidental outcomes of meeting the user’s needs and goals.
Understanding the Negative Impact of Technology
Some designers, in the race, to improve conversation rates and engagement, resort to the use of dark patterns. These are UI patterns that aim to induce the users to take certain actions without full knowledge of implications. This is a poor choice. Dark patterns like forced continuity or deliberate misdirection aim to deceive the user by obscuring key information.
Dark patterns might help to temporarily bump-up the conversion rates but impede the user’s trust. Also, it is not good for the business when users feel deceived and make calls to the support desk. A report by the Norwegian Consumer Council called Deceived by Design has compiled a list of how tech companies use dark patterns.
Some patterns may not seem harmful in the short term, but term cause harm in the long term. In social media apps, sometimes, patterns like infinite scroll and auto-play are used to keep the user engaged. These patterns may lead to addiction as they encourage indiscriminate use of the app. Getting the user addicted to your game, video or social media app, may be good for the business, but has harmful consequences for the user’s well-being.
Inconsiderate design decisions can impact the user’s well-being in multiple ways, causing:
- Loss of ability to focus without attention
- Mental health issues like loneliness and depression
- Relationship issues like loss of empathy, confusion, and misinterpretation
Centre for Humane Tech maintains a ledger of the negative impacts that technology can cause to individuals and society at large.
While social media and mobile technology have benefited our lives, they are causing harm in visible and invisible ways. Human-centered designers have a stake in ensuring that technology is used in ways that are considerate towards the well-being of its users. Their experiences need to go beyond ‘engagement’ and ‘delight’. Putting people before technology, designers should create experiences grounded on sound ethical values.
Credit: Aral Balkin
Designing for Human Values
Peter Morville’s honeycomb diagram contains the building blocks of user experience: Usable, Useful, Desirable, Findable, Credible, and valuable. Morville defines value as:
Our sites must deliver value to our sponsors. For non-profits, the user experience must advance the mission. With for-profits, it must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.
The association of value with “value to sponsors” and “contribution to the bottom line” seems to be limiting and dated. We need a more holistic definition of value, based on human values. Enabling a user’s well-being by being considerate of human values should be the central concern of human-centered design.
Given below are the 12 human values, based on Friedman and Kahn’s Human Values with Ethical Import:
That our designs should reflect human values, is specially urgent at a time when emerging technologies like AI and Blockchain are disrupting the existing value systems. Organizations with dubious values are leveraging Big Data in questionable ways that threaten privacy, security, and trust of users.
While emerging technology presents an opportunity for designers to create better experiences, it has also given rise to issues of ethics. Designers need to be conscious and take responsibility for the intended and unintended impact of their experience design.
Ethical Design Thinking
Design Thinking provides a framework for problem solving with an emphasis on empathy for the user. This framework can be extended with a focus on human values throughout the design process. An Ethical Design Thinking Framework has been attempted here. Taking inspiration from this we can derive a few basic principles.
- Understand the values that your users hold
- Develop a shared understanding of human values with your team
- Identify the human values that will overlap with your design goals
- Establish when your design goals are in conflict with your users and your own values
- Re-frame the design goals, when they are in conflict, to align with human values
Design Thinking is a collaborative process. The understanding of ethical values has to be shared by all members of the team.
Finally, our product goals should always reflect the ethical values of our users. We need to be intentional about identifying instances where the design goals are in conflict with the ethical values of our users and discard those goals.
By being aware of how our experience design impacts the users in both positive and negative ways, and ensuring that our designs are rooted in ethical human principles, we can go beyond designing for short term emotions and truly create delightful and engaging experiences.