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Tracing My Journey Towards Responsible Design

ShapeCreated with Sketch.

5 years ago, I started out as a web designer. I earned a living working with Photoshop and communicating using terminology like Mastheads, Image Thumbnails, Breadcrumbs, and Carousels. Life was simple.

Fast forward to the present, I have inadvertently crept into the UX industry. Along the way, I have learned processes, methodologies, and tools that UX designers used. Terminologies like double diamond, affinity clustering, and “how might we” statements are familiar concepts to me. But as this article from https://trends.uxdesign.cc/ highlights, designers are at risk of becoming too obsessed with methods, and neglecting the need to empathise and design responsibly for the good of our users.

Frankly speaking, my understanding of responsible or ethical design is rather superficial. It was only on a recent project that I started to reflect and reassess my attitude and approach towards my work. Even though our processes and methods were thorough, I found myself encumbered with a product redesign that failed its users dramatically. I was working on a major release of a newly revamped mobile application and the public response was filled with nothing but hostility.

Excerpts from actual user feedback:

User-unfriendly. Full of trick to make you loose your money. No respect for the user.

Because of that, I lost $10 from my balance. Please explain why you deduct money for no reason. Is this how you make money by hiding all charges details from your users?

What Went Wrong?

It was only by going through feedback and connecting with users that I learned about their pains and frustrations, and this revealed an alarming consensus: Users felt deceived by the product. Many experienced loss of money and in short, the design caused them more harm than good.

Why Did Users Feel Deceived?

We forced the design update on users

This made it difficult for them to access features they used on a regular basis. By pressuring them to conform to the redesign, we caused a mental model discordance which resulted in major backlash. Ouch.

We hid essential information which were instrumental in decision making

Even though the intention of the design was good, the manifestation of this misinformation eventually helped drive short-term business revenue. Unfortunately, this was achieved at the expense of users’ trust and well-being.

Start By Changing The Way I Worked

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.

We are operating in an economy rooted in trust and reputation (ask yourself, would you rather book a hotel with less than 3 reviews or one with more than 10?). As a designer, I needed to understand the importance of building and maintaining this relationship if I wanted to create experiences that would leave a positive impact on people and the world.

So how can I change the way I work?

Quit being lazy and stop parking information in the fine print or terms and conditions

Remember the last time a request from the client came for new content/clauses to be added just when you thought your design was pixel perfect? Guilty as charged — I have been fond of prioritising the integrity of my design and parking these information in the footer as an afterthought. The irony is that this ends up affecting the integrity of the user experience and reflects badly on the designer.

Never neglect the users’ context of use

I was accustomed to using use cases and edge cases to anticipate design issues that I frequently overlooked the context of use. To save time on design, I had crafted solutions with the assumption that users have access to the same things I do. And this is dangerous. In the case of my project, assuming users had access to wifi/mobile data caused considerable amounts of unexpected monetary loss.

Never procrastinate issues, constantly evaluate decisions

When facing tight timelines, it is easy to leave issues until after product launch to fix. While I have to learn to prioritise, it is also equally important to constantly evaluate the impact of my design by using worst-case scenarios and asking myself:

Will this improve the experience for my users? Am I making it worse for others? Will it upset me if this happened to me?

When a product is launched, features tend to stay untouched for a longer period than anticipated and improvements or iterations may get pushed back. Would I want users to experience more negative repercussions for a longer time than intended?

With the prevalence of design and technology in our everyday lives, the potential harm they can cause is extensive. The existence of dishonest and deceptive designs are a poignant example of how little designers and businesses care about users. As a designer who still hopes to make a little impact on our world, I choose to care and this reason is good enough for me to start now.