I have seen these terms used in the context of discussions about the responsibilities and obligations of designers to their own ethical and moral standards. I wonder if these terms are commonly used in the UX design circles, and whether there is a difference in how these terms are perceived in the community.

Specifically, is ethical design inclusive of socially responsible design practices, or are they different considerations when it comes to product/service design in the digital space?

  • I don't see how this is a UX question. Why would the UX community perceive these terms any differently than anyone else (which, btw, would be without much specificity, as the terms are pretty broad and open to interpretation)?
    – DA01
    Sep 29, 2015 at 8:48
  • @DA01 I haven't really given this much thought until recently, and I think it is possible that the UX community may perceive these terms differently simply because we also have to put ourselves in the users' shoes, so what is 'ethical' and 'socially responsible' from the designer's perspective might be different from the user's point of view. In which case, it would be interesting to find out what is the dominant mindset.
    – Michael Lai
    May 26, 2017 at 7:43

3 Answers 3


The first sentence of the Wikipedia article on Social Responsibility:

Social responsibility is an ethical framework

To answer your questions:

is ethical design inclusive of socially responsible design practices

If one's practice includes concepts of 'ethical design' then I'd assume 'social responsible' design would be considered part of that ethical mantra. So, yes, in that sense it'd be inclusive of all aspects of ethical design.

are they different considerations when it comes to product/service design in the digital space

I don't see how something being digital would change any sort of ethical standards regarding the design process.

  • 1
    I would add that the relation isn't symmetrical; not all ethical frameworks are about social responsibility. Sep 29, 2015 at 19:53

The lines between ethics can be subjective, depending on the designers definition of ethics or the company or client's priority. However here's a list of so called unethical designs or patterned known as dark patterns


"A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills."

As I designer I wouldnt want any of my websites or apps to fall into this list

  • When you say that you wouldn't want any of your websites or apps to fall into this list, would you be referring to something that you are doing unintentionally, or something that you are being asked to do by a client? How would your response or action be different in each scenario (i.e. if someone pointed out a dark pattern that you used unintentionally versus a pattern that a client specifically asked for).
    – Michael Lai
    Sep 29, 2015 at 12:42

'Ethical' and 'Socially responsible' design are unfortunately not often used terms in design. Though they should be in my humble opinion.

But getting back to your question. Acting socially responsible is acting with other people in mind and therefore involves acting ethically. Ethics has to do with do with basically doing the right thing in terms of not harming other (in this case your end-users).

If you like to discuss this in more detail, use the #UXethics hashtag (which I and a few others monitor) on twitter.

  • Sure they are terms used in design. Granted, they're primary business centric terms, but if I'm designing a product and have to choose between a sustainable material vs. a non-sustainable material, the question of social responsibility may certainly come up at the design table.
    – DA01
    Sep 29, 2015 at 8:50
  • I think the Ethical Design Manifesto (ind.ie/ethical-design) covers both of these terms in its core philosophy and the people behind it have been trying to make an effort to bring this to the attention of designers.
    – Michael Lai
    May 26, 2017 at 1:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.