Ethics in research and design: key takeaways from Bath Digital Festival
We had the opportunity to attend Bath Digital Festival last week, and take part in a couple of events with a heavy focus on ethics in user research and design. The Tech For Good Live team hosted a discussion panel on 25th October and, on the next day, we got to listen to some amazing talks at the All Dayer for Web Makers organised by Oliver Lindberg (founder of Pixel Pioneers).
The Tech For Good Live panel (which will be turned into a podcast available here) was an interesting opportunity to witness an insightful and thought-provoking conversation about the responsibility that designers and developers have when creating products for the end users.
According to Jessica Lascar, a Product Designer at Monzo who recently developed a functionality to help people addicted to gambling, “it’s easier to define unethical design than ethical design. (…) When one in four people in the UK suffer from mental health problems – that is 25% of our users – we shouldn’t ignore the problem.” However, she agrees that there has been a welcomed “change in some companies, in Silicon Valley. People [designers] are saying no when they don’t agree with something.”
Jonny Rae-Evans, Head of Product Innovation at Big Lottery Fund and member of the Tech For Good Live team, added that “human beings care because people are angry now, divided and split. Tech gives people a voice to protest and organise. But do companies who are championing tech care about ethics? I would like to think that companies would be more ethical because they think it’s the right thing to do, but I believe it’s mostly because they care about what people think.”
The panel closed with some key tips for designers who question themselves when it comes to how ethical their products or services are:
Culture is key and you need to pick your battles. If you work for an awful company, you should leave.
If your company’s culture encourages you to challenge your boss or other teams and you feel like you are being listened to, you should have the confidence to speak out.
You’re not doing your best if you’re not educating your client – making a lot of money, but negatively influencing a group of users is not the ethical way to do things.
Try this test: imagine if you would have to sit down with a user and explain why something you designed works the way it works. How comfortable would you be explaining it?
From an ethics panel to an ‘All Dayer’
The day after the panel discussion, we headed to Bath again to attend the All Dayer for Web Makers. The day started with a talk by Jonny Rae-Evans on ‘Designing for good, and the subtle art of not killing anyone’, with a focus on ethics and the importance of words: “it’s so dehumanising to use the term ‘user’ to refer to people, it affects the way we design and the things we make”. Jonny’s words were in perfect sync with this blog recently published by our Business Development Director, Jess Lewes, titled ‘User recruitment: What is a user anyway?’.
The talk explored the association between “designing for good” and “designing for the vulnerable”: “when we design for people, we design for all people and we need to consider that the product we’re developing could cause harm when it’s not built in a thoughtful way.”
“A problem in the industry is the lack of support for researchers who work with vulnerable people. The weight of designing for people’s mums, dads and children is heavy and we don’t always know the outcome. I don’t always get to meet the people I design for, go up to them and explain myself, why I designed something the way I did.”
After Jonny’s talk, it was time to listen to Melinda Klayman, UX Researcher at Google, who talked about ‘Understanding your next billion users’, a group comprised of emergent markets, emerging social groups and emerging adults.
Melinda has been developing her research in India, an incredibly diverse country and the second largest market for internet users with over 400 million people online, with a special focus on Indian women and the specific challenges they face when accessing the internet.
“To understand and help both people in emerging markets and emerging adults across the world, the answer is to build empathy.” According to Melinda, there are three steps you can take to do this:
Desk research: it answers some questions, but also raises some doubts. It helps to refine hypothesis.
Reach out: do remote studies and surveys remotely if you don’t have the option or budget to talk to the users face-to-face. If you have the budget, talk to a user recruitment agency.
Immersions: there is nothing better than talking to people face-to-face. The best way to build empathy is to sit in somebody’s home and see how they live and what kind of challenges they face. However, it’s essential have the support of your stakeholders.
The rest of the day included talks by Matt Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney, and Software Engineer at Future Learn and STEM ambassador Tara Ojo, among other speakers. The day closed with a talk by Simona Cotin, Senior Developer Advocate at Microsoft, who talked about ‘Machine learning and the quest for building a better world’ and highlighted the presence of bias in artificial intelligence and how much work we still have ahead of us to make research and design truly ethical and inclusive.
We attended @bathdigital 2018 & took part in a couple of events about #ethics in #UserResearch and #design: a discussion panel with @techforgoodlive team and an All Dayer for Web Makers organised by @oliverlindberg. Our write-up of the day now on the blog: https://t.co/rDeQhsgHtT pic.twitter.com/OV98HHYIgA
— People for Research (@people4research) October 31, 2018
If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Maria Santos is the Digital Marketing Manager at People for Research. You can find her on the People for Research’s Facebook or Twitter accounts, regularly engaging with potential participants, market research experts and the UX community.
About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.
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