I am a human factors and systems engineer and anthropologist who focuses on human computer interaction (HCI). I teach UX, contract with large companies as a UX specialist, and will be beginning my PhD in HCI within the next 6 months. Ethics in UX / HCI is a problem. Why? Because there are no ethical standards. Our discipline is still new, but it is time we grew up and became respectable.
I am actively working on this problem. I am working with reps from a few organizations mentioned in this discussion to update the ethical guidelines, and I know a number of the folks who have either responded or are referenced in this discussion. I have written an article on the topic, which will be published in ACM's Interactions blog http://interactions.acm.org/blog within the next few weeks. The article can also be found here http://www.ashleykarr.com/1/post/2014/04/ethical-design.html.
The following are a few excerpts:
"Something as fundamental to the human experience as ethics ought to be a fundamental part of human-centered design."
"Ethics are almost entirely absent from UX. I have six HCI, UX, and design textbooks and one seminal Air Force report on user interface design within arm’s reach at this very moment. That is a total of seven well-respected texts in our field. Only two of them even mention ethics. Of these two, one textbook has a paragraph on ethics regarding recruiting participants for research. The other has one-and-a-half pages on ethical interaction design, but it fails to even define ethics."
"Why Ethics are Important in Our Field
There are three reasons why it is imperative that as makers of interactive computing technology we must embed ethics into our culture, methods, and metrics:
- First, what we create and put into the world has actual effects on actual people. Interactive designs do things. We need to make sure that our efforts are going into making things that do good things.
- Second, computing technology has the ability to amplify human abilities and spread exponentially in record time.
- Third, the ability to design and develop computing technology is to today’s world what literacy was two thousand years ago. We are (tech)literate in a world of people who cannot read. We are the leaders and creators of the sociotechnical system in which we now live. We are powerful - more powerful than we even realize. With great power comes great responsibility.
Allies in the Field
Very few professionals within our field are actively incorporating ethics into their work. I have managed to find three, and I highlight their main objectives and messages here.
- Florian Egger addresses deceptive technologies. He states there is a fine line between user experience and user manipulation, and insights into user behavior and psychology can be used for ethical or unethical purposes. If designers understand certain “dirty tricks” that their unethical counterparts devise, users can be warned of these practices before falling victim. He also states that persuasion can be used for the good of the user.
- Sarah Deighan is conducting research on ethical issues occurring within UX, including how UX professionals view these issues. She is attempting to make ethical resources available for UX professionals.
- Rainer Kuhlen wrote The Information Ethics Matrics: Values and rights in electronic environments. He explores new attitudes toward knowledge and information (sharing and open-access) and defines communication rights as human rights. He states that communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need, and the foundation of all social organization. Everyone, everywhere should have the same opportunity to communicate, and no one should be excluded from the benefits of access to information.
Define Ethical Design
In order to foster the adoption of ethics into our design and development processes, I am creating a conceptual framework called Ethical Design. It allows designers and design teams to create products, services, and systems that do no harm and improve human situations. Ethical design extends to all people and other living things that are in any way involved in the product, service, and or system lifecycle. Borrowing from, About Face, by Cooper, Reimann, and Cronin, I explain the meaning of doing no harm and improving the human situation below.
Do No Harm
- Interpersonal Harm :: loss of dignity, insult, humiliation
- Psychological Harm :: confusion, discomfort, frustration, coercion, boredom
- Environmental Harm :: pollution, elimination of biodiviersity
- Social and Societal Harm :: exploitation, creation or perpetuation of injustice
Improve the Human Situation
- Increase understanding :: individual, social, cultural
- Increase Efficiency / Effectiveness :: individuals and groups
- Improve Communication :: between individuals and groups
- Reduce Sociocultural Tension :: between individuals and groups
- Improve Equity :: financial, social, legal
- Balance cultural diversity with social cohesion"
"In order to make sure I achieve what I have listed in the paragraph above, I am beginning with these three short-term objectives for Ethical Design:
- Add ethics as a standard usability requirement and heuristic guideline.
- Include a course on ethics and ethical design in every CS / HCI / UX / HF / IxD program.
- Include in all CS / HCI / UX / HF / IxD textbooks a chapter on ethics ethical design."
If anyone is truly interested, please get in touch with me. Creating ethical guidelines for our profession is a work in progress, and I am part of that progress. Also, please read John Knight's article mentioned above. It is one of the best pieces I know of on the topic, and it is too long to post here. (I must say that the comment above about summarizing the article rather than posting a link is rather rude. The article is brilliant, will answer this question, and the literature review is to die for!)