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Ethics in UX & Design

Designers often find themselves in the middle of arguments since business owners lean towards solutions that benefit the interests of the company rather than the user. 

With the tough competition in almost every sector, there is no way entrepreneurs will diminish the importance of conversions and revenue. Deceiving customers and forcing them to acquire things that may not bring value has become the norm these days. However, is it a way to achieve overall success and gain a reputation of a brand that cares about its customers?

To adopt dark UX patterns, or not to adopt dark UX patterns, that is the question designers face every day. It is here where moral comes to light and makes itself felt. Let us dive into this subject a bit deeper and find out what is ethics in user experience and design, what benefits it brings, and what principles you need to follow if you prefer the light side.

What is Ethics in User Experience and Design?

The intent to follow moral principles and reject all sorts of biases is called ethics. It implies sticking to moral principles that propagate the good and denounce the bad. 

It is a multilayered term that does not offer unambiguous solutions. It refers to standards of right and wrong, standards related to people’s rights, moral beliefs, and moral conduct. Therefore, it is hard to pin down its meaning. However, when it comes to ethics in user experience and design, as a rule, it means creating web interfaces and projects that do good for visitors and pursue their interests first.

Benefits of Practicing Ethics in User Experience and Design

Although business owners often take the phrase “All’s fair in love and war” literally, going for all sorts of tricks to get users into their direction; however, practicing ethics in user experience and design can be much more beneficial than deceiving users with dark patterns and black solutions. Let us consider some of them:

The ethical design may easily double your traffic. It does not require users to share sensitive information right away. Therefore, prospects who feel uncomfortable, disapprove, or even hate sharing personal data with online services may become your fans and even warm leads.

The ethical design leads to unbiased solutions that meet users’ needs and expectations.

The ethical design bridges the gap between nationalities, religions, societies, and cultures.

The ethical design creates comfortable yet effective interactions that bring value to the users.

The ethical design increases the company’s credibility and builds strong, healthy, and transparent relationships with the customers.

The ethical design leaves a long-lasting positive impression.

The ethical design establishes a strong reputation for the brand.

Need a good example of ethics in user experience and design that benefits both users and the company? Take a look at Designmodo. Each their product prioritizes user’s interests, giving a helping hand in all sorts of tasks. They never share personal information and respect the rights of their clients to leave without any particular reason. As a result, the company boasts a community of thousands of satisfied customers. 

Foundation Values by Priyanka Kumble

Principles for Creating Ethical User Experiences and Designs

As we have already pointed out, being flexible towards the users’ needs and prioritizing their interests prove beneficial for both parties. Therefore, it is essential to adopt well-established principles that help create ethical user experiences and designs. Let’s consider some of them:

Not require many from the start. People are susceptible and apprehensive about giving their personal information; therefore, make your first acquaintance with them unobtrusive, undemanding, and unconstrained.

Allow users to adjust their preferences and choose the level of data access permissions.

Keep your users update constantly. Whether the subscription plan expires soon or you have upgraded the product, notify your users about these changes. 

Do not be overly chatty and intrusive. Although notifying users about changes is essential, however, no one likes spam. Therefore, send only relevant information. 

Allow users to cancel their subscriptions whenever they want. Whether they are your loyal customers for a long time, or new prospects on a free trial, the way out should be well-marked, clean, and straightforward. Remember, no strings attached whatsoever.

Ask for permission. If you need to do something on behalf of the user, use their data outside the platform or application, or send simple, unobtrusive notifications, you need to get permission. 

Clarify and highlight negative information to eliminate all misunderstandings and disappointment.

Never make decisions on the user’s behalf.

Make default options safest and the most beneficial for the user.

Show that you care about your customers. Add features that benefit users even though they may compromise your business in some way. This builds loyalty and turns customer’s into brand’ evangelists.

Make a price crystal clear. Do not hide extra costs such as taxes, fees, and shipping and wait until the last step of a checkout process to dumbfound customers with them. Pricing should be transparent from the very beginning.

Do not hide important information in the documents like Privacy Policy. As a rule, people do not have time to read them. Therefore, this information may come as a bad surprise for them. Avoid surprises and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Be honest with your customers. 

Choose online design tools that advocate ethics from the outset, like Siter.

Last but not least, avoid these popular dark UX patterns: 

Disguised Ads displayed as navigation or button-style links to helpful material.

Giving something in exchange for credit card information.

Asking for email or social media permission to spam user’s friends or do stuff on their behalf.

Trick questions and reminders.

Make customers feel guilty or lame about their decisions.

Put customers under pressure by pulling off psychological tricks.

Roach Motel Trap in the opt-out process.

Sneak additional items in the shopping cart and checkout page.

Always remember by Jeremy D. Cherry

How to Resolve Ethical Conundrum?

If you have an ethical conundrum, follow this routine to get past the moral roadblocks, move forward together with your users, and find the right solution for your company:

First, listen to all arguments.

Second, choose the solutions that advocate the user’s interests first.

Third, move away from collisions of “rights” and consider solutions that embody the powerful orientation of “AND,” for example: Good for the unit AND good for the whole or Good for the long term AND good for the short term.

Fourth, find the “highest right.” It can be a solution that makes the most good for people or a standard you want everyone else to follow.

Finally, ask yourself whether the final solution is fair to every party involved and whether everyone is ready to commit to it.


Meeting ethical principles and standards can be difficult for business owners. However, in the long run, this is much more beneficial for them. 

Practicing moral ways in user experience and design generates additional traffic, keeps the audience engaged, establishes healthy, transparent, and long-standing relationships with customers, and builds a strong reputation. Although it does not bring immediate success, nevertheless it goes a long way: eventually taking your company to the next level and ensuring high revenue.

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