Design Ethics – perhaps the biggest buzzword tearing its way through the Design community. For good reason, as it underpins how we [should] think about products and services we build or provide to users. The snag: because this area of Design is so new, there is no established governing body to set the rules and tone on what this looks like in a practical manner of speaking. So, who’s responsibility is it to advance and enforce?
Enter: Ari Agency’s 7th Annual UX Mixer, which brought together a range of companies and leaders in their respective fields in both Design Ethics and UX. Expertly moderated by Ari Aronson himself, we heard from Pamela Hilborn of Scotiabank, Bryan Elicierto of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Chris Hayes of Ritual, and our very own Marilyn Whittingham, Head of Experience Design here at Architech. While the processes and challenges varied from business to business, all four panelists agreed that because we don’t have a version of the hippocratic oath for Designers, we’re navigating this space on our own. A wild west of ethical enforcement, if you will. This is a task made more daunting when we consider that, according to Forrester, 85% of people expect brands to blend physical and digital touchpoints in order to meet them in their moment of need with the right product or service. But how can we do this if we don’t build inclusive products?
An approach that works for the startup representative of the panel, Chris of Ritual, is to rely on the emotional intelligence (EQ) of the team. A cross-functional team naturally brings diversity of thought to the table, which minimizes the risk of making assumptions on what may seem like an edge case to one individual, but in reality, is the norm for others. Diverse teams limit the blind spots in designing a product; however, it’s also important to look to the broader team of Product Owners, Project Managers, Engineers, Solution Architects, and Client Partners, as they’re often on the front lines with customers or clients and have access to the client perspective. A thorough Design process can seem counter-intuitive to the fast pace momentum expected of startups, but when it means getting it right and not alienating your customer base, it’s important to get it right the first time.
For our own Design team at Architech, UX research is woven into everything we do – it’s in our DNA. Despite the many research methodologies and frameworks out there, our team has refined a process that includes a list of activities including UX audits, competitive analysis, heuristics evaluations, and usability testing (which sometimes means with our employees), among several others. For Marilyn, a personal favourite is Design Thinking workshops, where she leverages interviews, stakeholder mapping, and prioritization matrices to get to the crux of client needs. Without that qualitative data component, the panel warned us that numbers can be gravely misleading. While UX frameworks and methodologies aren’t quite enough on their own, education needs to be built into the process in order to effectively demonstrate the real value and benefits.
In a discussion around Design Ethics, it was only a matter of time before a question came up about AI, data, and its threat to undermine the practice of ethical decision-making. Bryan pointed to a sort of ‘ethical creed’ created by a Design team, not terribly unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, which places human rights on the base of the pyramid, with human effort in the center, and human experience at the pinnacle. The panelists ultimately raised a question to the broader audience about the behavior of the tech industry versus academia – in an industry that moves, iterates, and produces so quickly, is it wise to leave the creation and enforcement to Design practitioners or does Design Ethics governance belong under the thoughtful, pragmatic eye of academia to hold us all accountable.
Pamela warned us that internal Design teams can sometimes be tempted to focus exclusively on current business problems, but they should also allot some time to work with the future in mind. Despite the challenge of thinking about what’s coming in 5 years, “Design teams need to think about what could be versus what is right now”. As we continue to leverage data, we may see roles change, centring around how things should work, ultimately producing change agents in the Design field.
While Design Ethics remains a hot topic of discussion there is no question that governance, whether self-imposed or a framework courtesy of an overseeing body, is required. As a tech company within the North American landscape, ethical and empathetic design are at the core of Architech’s customer-centricity model, and ultimately our products and services. Whether it’s in the rigorous application of accessibility standards, the efficiencies born out of the artful practice of DesignOps, or the thorough UX research practices we apply, customers have come to expect Architech will #DoTheRightThing. Yet another one of our core values, ever-present, especially when we talk Design Ethics.