The topic started as an amalgam of a number of questions within the design space, which can be vaguely summarised as ?what are we doing?? Raising it at?UXSG?in May 2016 in Singapore had two main reasons:
- Start a discussion about this topic that has troubled me for a number of years and
- Make attendees step back and reflect about the impact of their professional work.
Through the discussion, the fundamental questions crystallised into long-standing fundamental questions:
- To what extend are we responsible for our creations? And are we UX practitioners actually creating meaningful change or simply irrelevant efficiency?
- How much privacy are we willing to give up for convenience? How do we see our role in the battle for consumer rights?
Responsibility for Creations
Taking the French proposal for outlawing work emails outside of work hours for companies larger than a few employees, the discussion moved to the question of whether our UX work actually demotes humans to become a small cogwheel through our efforts to stream line processes around our users. In other words, if our work to fuse tools and systems seamlessly around us results humans to become absorbed into the system.
A number of present people agreed that our UX work making products easier accessible, efficient and more seamless is a net benefit because they create flexibility for people. Providing flexibility and choice for humans makes the life of constrained people (e.g. people with children) better by providing decision power. This also requires educated users with self-control and self-awareness.
In my opinion, however, This last point is something questionable looking at our collective social media addiction. The scale may also be tilted against common users with specialists (e.g. gamification, psychology, marketing?) often being incentivised to make users return and use a product more.
The overall conclusion of this?all too short?excursion in this field was that as creators we are not responsible for our creations, while we should try to limit the risks of abuse. In my view this conclusion needs to be considered further not only because it essentially just denies all responsibility.
Convenience vs. Privacy
The discussion meandering on into the topic of privacy and how as UX professionals we want to rely on analytics to make informed decisions, how we spy on people as top provide certain value. It became rather clear that even participants are not necessarily actively aware of their private trade-off of privacy vs. convenience. One attendee expressing clear unease with the fact that Google Maps simply knew her home address without her ever supplying this information.
The group was also not very certain that today’s digital population is aware of how much and what quality data is know about them. In fact, it often seems that there is not even an alternative option to giving private data away and when there is, it seems to sometimes just to be a placebo without serious benefit.
From the UX-perspective the group stated that we need to see that users understand that their private data is a currency and what benefits they receive by paying with said currency. We need to provide clear benefits for people handing over their private data. If that choice is clear and realistic and the data is used for good, we creators would not have to have a guilty conscience.
We concluded the session with a quick show of hands on two questions. Firstly, how many have resigned to the fact that their private data is not really private? 17 out of 19 have resigned to this, but when asking how many are happy with this situation, only 9 (of the 19) said to be happy with this situation.
To me it seems like this area needs much more thought from us practitioners. We are clearly not happy with the status quo, but feel powerless and often complicit as there is no alternative. Personally I think it requires every one of us creators to take more responsibility to work towards sustainable solutions that put humans first, in the large picture, not just in the context of the bubble of our product. The?Ethical Design Manifesto?is a good starting point for any designer interested to explore this space further.