The League of Evil Designers
“So, you want to join the league of evil designers? Come in, sit down. Is the chair uncomfortable? Good. Let’s go through your application. Ah, 2 years in online casinos? Not bad. Nice touch with the ol’ button switcharoo for users trying to cancel a subscription service! And what else… Non-consensual microphone activation for targeted ads? Very impressive. You’ll fit right in! When can you start? We need all the help we can get with mass collecting personal data. Well, that, and removing all visual indications that something is interactive. Isn’t it the best when people get all confused and frustrated? Oh by the way, we get together on Saturdays to watch them fail.” Over the last few years, we’ve become disillusioned with services we once touted as revolutionary. Like French peasants watching Robespierre’s rise to power, we realised that the movement that gave us so much freedom also spawned terrible oppressors. Social media platforms became battlegrounds for international warfare. We realised we were trading intimate secrets for cat GIFs, memes, and ‘what-food-are-you’ quizzes. Unrelenting ads stalked us across digital plains. The internet fell from innocence into a dirty and complex reality. For those of us who work with creating things for this brave new world, it’s been a time of introspection. Who are we, and what was our role in this mess? And many of us answered: “Must be all those evil designers, not me.“ It’s convenient to imagine that there is some great evil conspiracy out there, orchestrating sinister plans for world domination. Shifting blame is easy. The truth is hard. The truth is that we’re all part of the problem. Every single one of us could easily make a decision that ruins thousands of people’s lives. Hanlon’s razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” This applies to design as much as any other subject. A designer’s job is to consider many sides of the same scenario, but this becomes more difficult as the number of scenarios grow. Even the best of us make terrible decisions because we forget, don’t understand, or aren’t aware of the consequences. This is especially true when we’re designing for products at a massive scale, with a diverse set of users. For instance, a straight designer may not consider how group privacy settings could involuntarily out a user’s sexual orientation 🔗. A European designer might forget that the concept of “first and last name” is different depending on countries and cultures 🔗. A designer on the latest iPhone may insist on high quality images, unintentionally making surfing the web unaffordable and difficult for those with expensive data plans. 🔗. These “edge cases” are where we risk doing the most damage. While affecting just a few people is bad enough, as Mike Monteiro put it, when 1% of your user base means 20 million humans — missing to address them or actively ignoring them has significant and severe consequences for real people 🔗. Additionally, large user bases can have contradictory realities, which forces you as a designer to make a choice. For example, there isn’t a neutral answer to the question “How should the map of Israel be drawn?”. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Most of us believe in the companies we work at. We believe that it’s a good thing they exist, and they do good things for people. So when we are asked to work towards a goal like “more users should be more engaged on our product”, we do our best to make sure that happens. We look at the least…
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