The ‘ethics’ you did not know existed in design

Just the other day I was googling in a hurry and came across a blog post that I thought would give me all the information I needed.

But when I clicked on the page and tried to read the post, the entire screen went dark and a huge “Subscribe to Our Email” CTA popped up – completely disrupting my experience.

I looked around for a “No thanks” button or an “X” but could hardly find any. Just before I hit the back arrow, I noticed a very faint, tiny “X” that was almost the same color as the CTA background. It was evident that the designers of this website wanted to entice visitors to sign up for an email list before reading its contents.

Not only did this CTA nearly fail because I bounced off the site, it also let me judge the brand’s morale.

While some business people may not believe that a code of ethics is important to design, it does.

In this post, I’ll explain what design ethics is, what guidelines ethical designers could use, and some tips for avoiding questionable design ethics.

What is design ethics?

The use of design ethics, often referred to as ethical design, includes the creation of graphics, web pages, web sites, and visual aspects of technological products that are not misleading, valuable, and helpful to customers. This also includes considering aspects such as user experience, inclusion, audience vulnerabilities and accessibility when creating, reviewing or adjusting designs.

Why is ethics important in design?

One of the best places to highlight your brand’s mission as well as its ethical values ​​is in your marketing and designs. After all, these are the areas of your business that potential customers see the most.

While ethics, inclusivity, and accessibility aren’t always a priority for some busy marketers or designers, it’s incredibly important to review publicly available projects from an ethical standpoint.

Today more than ever, consumers pay attention to the moral standards of brands. Research shows that 62% of consumers are drawn to brands that have strong, authentic ethical values.

When companies are deemed ethical, consumers trust them, feel that the brand cares about their experience, and identify with the company. Conversely, when brands use tactics that feel unethical, consumers lose trust in the brand, which can lead to less brand loyalty or purchases.

Ultimately, every aspect of your brand’s design contributes to the message you are conveying. If you want to create content that demonstrates your company’s values, you should regularly review your brand’s design ethics.

Ethics in graphic design

When creating marketing content like landing pages, web experiences, or other visual elements, ethical graphic designers consider a handful of guidelines. Here are just a few:

1. Designs shouldn’t be misleading.

You should aim for your designs to involve people and encourage them to convert. Your designs should not mislead, pressure, or force the audience to do or think anything.

In the intro I noticed a website I was visiting that wanted to pressure me to sign up for email before I could even read its contents. This is just one of many devious dark pattern design techniques.

While it’s not uncommon or unethical to create brightly colored or ornate designs that divert attention from an “X” or an opt-out button, dark pattern designs arise when designers make obvious and conscious efforts to entice visitors to to do something, e.g. B. Giving out some personal information.

For example, a dark pattern technique is to make the “X” nearly invisible and to darken the content behind a pop-up ad so visitors think they need to convert or subscribe to an email list to see content. You may also find similar techniques in spam emails where the unsubscribe link is hidden or made illegible so that it cannot be easily found.

While it is understandable that you want to put as many people on a promotional email list as possible, getting visitors to subscribe is not the answer.

Why? If the contact does not want to be signed up for the email, they can complain about the sneaky design, mark the email as spam, and immediately unsubscribe. Unless they’re so annoyed that they unsubscribe, they may not be able to bother with the email because they weren’t expecting it or weren’t interested in promotional content at all. This, in turn, could adversely affect email performance and future deliverability.

Ultimately, visitor consent is unlikely to result in great engagement or brand loyalty. So, if you need to use a similar tactic or an auto-ticked box in your design, make sure the text is big enough for visitors to see and uncheck the box if they’re not interested in your offer.

2. Designs shouldn’t affect the user experience.

We’ve all been to a website with an ad or full page CTA blocking the content we wanted. Sometimes this gets so annoying that we leave websites entirely.

If we ricochet off a website with too many popups or design flaws, the website not only loses visitors and credibility, but also SEO strength.

Designers should ensure they are creating experiences that encourage an audience to do something rather than forcing them to offer or advertise. They should ask themselves: “How can I create valuable online experiences that help visitors instead of shamelessly selling them products?”

At HubSpot, we encourage companies to nurture leads rather than using unethical or desperate marketing tactics to get them to sign up for something. Our natural approach to lead mining can be seen right here on our blog.

Each HubSpot blog post has unobtrusive CTAs at the bottom of the page, as well as an insertable CTA that appears when the reader has passed a certain point in the post. This is what the end of a post looks like:

How HubSpot designs slide ins and CTAs

Not only do these CTAs fit neatly into our blog design (and don’t cover up the content), they also relate to the content we post. This way, the reader gets a taste of our expertise in our blog content. Then you can decide to delve deeper into our offers.

With such unobtrusive CTAs, we’re primarily sending offers to contacts who want them most, likely downloading more free resources, and becoming qualified leads later.

3. Messages, disclaimers, and guidelines are clear and legible.

The following design is another example of a dark pattern design, the “Your subscription is auto-renewing. You can cancel anytime” disclaimer is so small you may not notice it.

Example of unethical design

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Because of this, visitors may provide credit card information without knowing they will be charged without being asked at the end of their free trial. If someone’s card is surprisingly charged for a service they didn’t want because they didn’t see this message, they can ultimately get annoyed with the brand, unsubscribe, and possibly complain about the small text.

However, if your text is legible and understandable, you may only get customers who understand the free trial guidelines, take your service seriously, and don’t complain if they forget to top up their subscription before canceling their credit card.

4. Use an appropriate presentation and welcome inclusion whenever possible.

Ethical designers always ask: “Does this design exactly represent the groups of people being discussed?”

Between 2011 and 2015, Access Icon relied on an integrative design ethic when the international symbol of access – often seen in barrier-free parking lots or wheelchair-accessible bathrooms – was redesigned to better represent people with disabilities.

While the original icon shows a simple stick figure sitting in a static wheelchair, the new icon shows a person’s arms moving with their body leaning forward, as if they were actively moving or accelerating in the wheelchair.

revised wheelchair symbol

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The new design came about after a street campaign in Boston in 2011, in which members of Access Icon placed a moving body over the static body on accessibility signs.

Wheelchair symbol redesigned

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While Access Icon did not intend to replace or criticize the original icon created in the 1950s, the organization wanted the new version to be, in the broadest sense, an opportunity to ask questions about disability and the built environment. Who has access – physically yes, but also to education, to meaningful citizenship, to political rights? “

Between 2012 and 2015, state governments, cities, large corporations and local businesses around the world adopted the symbol.

In refining this design, the group wanted to accurately portray people with disabilities as mobile, energetic, and empowered people, rather than static, less mobile characters. Ultimately, they realized that the original design misrepresented people with disabilities and created a new design that solved it.

Ethics in the design of technology

Design ethics doesn’t just stop with images or website UX. Technical products, software, and other tools also require ethical designers to create smooth, enjoyable, and trustworthy experiences for customers. While technical or product designers ponder the ethical guidelines above, there are a few additional standards that they could follow:

1. Designs should be accessible.

In the past few years, accessibility has been a major issue in the world of technology and product design. Although you may not realize it, people with different accessibility needs might use your product. And when your product becomes more accessible, more people can use and buy it.

A recent example of an accessible technology design was Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller.

After Microsoft learned that children with physical disabilities, such as For example, if you had missing limbs, had problems playing Xbox video games with the console’s controllers, Microsoft developed an adaptive touchpad controller that allows people with various types of disabilities to play games with their friends.

Microsoft Gaming Design

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Aside from two circular touchpads that replace small controller buttons, the Xbox Adaptive Controller has large programmable buttons and can be connected to external switches, buttons, brackets or joysticks to make gaming more accessible to users.

The process of designing the controller was highlighted in a Super Bowl ad titled “We All Win,” which you can see below:

On a smaller scale, accessible technological design can also include adding tools and icons for accessibility to your software interface or website.

For example, some brands may offer an accessibility icon at the bottom of their website that you can click to adjust settings for a smoother experience if you have a disability. To make their website or UX accessible to people in other countries, websites like HubSpot provide an icon and menu that you can use to switch between languages:

HubSpot's blog homepage design is accessible to international users who speak languages ​​other than English. In this menu you can change the language.

2. Designs should promote safety and security.

In 2020, many people are thinking about data security as many are buying smart devices and software for workspaces and their homes. With many devices listening to our voices, logging our lifestyle habits, and even recording health data, some fear that this information could later be sold, stolen, or used unethically.

Due to data problems, many technology companies place an emphasis on security in their overall product design.

For example, when smart home devices with virtual assistants initially hit store shelves, consumers panicked when they learned that some devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, were secretly recording them.

So that consumers with Echo devices feel more secure in their own four walls, Amazon has provided each device with a clearly visible mute button. When the button is pressed, the light ring of the echo and the button glow orange to visibly indicate to people that the device has deactivated recording.

Echo light design

Image source

This button may make Echo owners feel safe at home, but it can also help relieve potential customers’ nerves they see in product shots or Echo ads before they buy.

3. View or respond to unexpected ethical dilemmas.

Whenever you are helping design a new technology, be sure to consider any potential ethical dilemmas that it could create and create a design that either solves for it or alleviates your audience’s concerns.

In 2018, Netflix was forced to address a design strategy on its platform when a recommendation algorithm was moved across the web.

The algorithm in question, which Netflix dubbed “Artwork Personalization”, aimed to show users viewing thumbnails based on the design features of thumbnails that they had previously clicked on. While it sounded like an interesting personalization experiment, consumers were quick to argue that this personalization was racially targeted at users.

In particular, some users found that mostly content recommendations were viewed with white people in thumbnails, while some BIPOC users saw mostly thumbnails with people in color. While Netflix denied the algorithm targeted users by race, the news went viral.

In this scenario, if Netflix designers and developers had examined their design tweaks or checked them from an ethical point of view, they could potentially tweak the algorithm before launch.

How to Promote Design Ethics

If this post inspired you to come up with a new ethical standard for your designs, then you can take the next steps.

Review your previous designs

Even if your designs have succeeded in the past, it’s still good to re-examine them to make sure they continue to promote design ethics. For example, you can review the design of your website or product to ensure that it is accessible, easy to understand, and comprehensive for all potential web visitors.

Review your current projects.

Whether you’re working on a product, website, graphic, or software-related design, a design ethics review can get you off to a successful start with less risk of public complaints or concerns.

Swivel if necessary

Sometimes a design tactic that you once adopted is now considered out of date. For example, a design symbol that was previously culturally acceptable or valuable could now be viewed as a misrepresentation or an offense. If you find things like this changing, it is wise to adjust or modernize your design tactics.

Would you like to learn more about design and ethics? You can find more information on dark pattern design in this post or in this post on ethics in modern marketing.

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