The Digital Ethics Compass is a noteworthy attempt to encapsulate some of the key considerations that will help address some common oversight when it comes to the design of digital products and services.

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By putting the human in the centre as its focus, it aims to respect both the external and internal facing humans when designing a digital product or service.

In addition, the three pillars that comprise of this framework:

  • Behavioural Design
  • Data
  • Automation

address the key issues around potential use of 'dark patterns', privacy of information and proper use of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

My question is, do the three pillars provide a solid and comprehensive framework for considering all ethical issues in design (which I think in principle it does), or is it missing something critical that should also be considered and therefore incorporated?

1 Answer 1


There have been some pretty compelling arguments for environmental and social impacts to be considered at the very least, especially given the rise of social networks which for all its positive impact can have pretty clear negative externalities for both its users and society at large.

Martin Tomitsch did a presentation on non-human personas at UX Australia in 2021 on this topic.

Jussi Pasanen also wrote an essay challenging human centred design's innate anthopocentricism, which echoes some of the points Alan Cooper has made recently about being a "Good Ancestor" in our design practice.

Even if you set aside non-human impacts, there can be meaningful negative impacts on non-users that can be often ignored by UX (and by business more generally). Martin Gittins has a pretty interesting essay touching on this point, for example:

Airbnb set out to disrupt the hotel industry, and it was certainly ripe for a shake-up. But an unintended consequence is how Airbnb has impacted the long-term rental market in popular destinations, such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris. A property landlord in a popular city can now choose to continue to receive a steady, lower-income rental for a long-term letting, or ride the rollercoaster of high-income short-term rental through Airbnb and its copycats. Many landlords have seen that they can massively increase their income through the short-term market, driven by the low-friction marketplace that Airbnb offers to connect travellers with accommodation.

In popular destinations, the subsequent squeeze of the long-term rental market drives prices up and forces people out. Who is being driven out, and where do they go? Airbnb’s user-centred approach has neglected people affected by this seismic shift in the property market.

It's not clear to me if incorporating these kinds of externalities would represent a fourth segment of the chart or would challenge the central point itself (and thus the whole chart). The chart you posted does touch on some of these points (e.g. "Avoid creating inequality" and "Are your algorithms prejudiced?"), but doesn't seem to consider it a core ethical responsibility.

On the topic of inequality, I also think it's problematic not to specifically call out accessibility as a core ethical responsibility of design. It's far too easy for the work designers do to effectively disable people because of choices that stem from an unwillingness to consider different levels of mobility, vision, hearing, language, connectivity, etc.

  • 2
    +1 for accessibility. It is touched on throughout parts of the wheel, but should be more explicitly called out.
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 21:58
  • 1
    +1 A very insightful answer as usual :) I am hoping that more designer will think about and ask questions regarding ethical issues in design.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 3:51

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