Ethical Design

There is a growing movement in web development & design focusing around ethical design.

The trend of ethical design came about as a result of many developers becoming more and more concerned at the nature of design work that exploits its users. This has included Facebook users who’s personal information has been given away to third-parties, and design policies by social media apps which are built to exploit human behaviours. A movement is happening for developers and designs to focus more on providing positive user-focused work, rather than collecting data and exploiting those whom you target.

The concept of ethics, based on Webster dictionary, is “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation”. When we relate this to the work that we do on a daily base it requires special considerations. One being, that our projects developed and delivered meet or exceed the needs on multiple levels for our clients. Let me explain further…

At Bees on a Bike, we have heard many horror stories whereby new clients have had websites built by large companies. When attempting to freely use these systems afterwards they encounter errors, bugs, or are simply not able to update & modify their content freely. As a result, our clients are informed that they must pay these companies to make these updates and modifications. For us, this indicates a major crack in the foundation of ethics. To empower people with the tools you develop for them means that they are free to own, manipulate, and modify what you have built for them. Sure you might get called in to add some special new feature or tweak a few more advanced sections, but not to modify pages.

If we don’t build something that enables and empowers our clients what are we building? It’s essentially not usable nor ethical.

The premise of a working relation is much like that of a relationship with a new friend we meet. Over time, we build something that is contractual, respectful; and can attempt to ensure a sense of trust, thoughtfulness, and mutual-aid.

This should be the foundation of a framework of producing ethical projects.

What happens unfortunately in some business frameworks is a lack of investment in the final product. There is a shift towards “getting the project out the door” so that they can turn around and build another. When I first started out, I was contracted out to modify a pretty large tourist website in the Montreal region. The company hiring me had left this project to the last three weeks before it was due, and with all the features required made a close-to-impossible job for me to deliver. In fact, I never got paid for my work in the end. Not only was this not ethical on my own time or capacity, but it also begged to question why they took the job in the first place if they couldn’t be ethical and deliver a solid product without last minute high-stakes deadlines.

My experience is not that unique. There are a lot of businesses that handle their clients in this manner in a low-bid fast-turnaround delivery. But such attitudes begs the question about what kind of long term relationship are we building? One that prioritizes a non-ethical approach geared towards shovelling out websites for profit, and once they are done have little concern as to whether the project is still alive 3 or 6 months after it has been released.

We desperately need a different approach…

It’s more important that we continue an ongoing supportive and empowering relationship with the people we work with. Ethics and process of building a project together is just that : A mutual investment to create something sustainable, ethical, and durable. Therefore, our relationship is one of trust, thoughtfulness, and mutual-aid. It leaves people with a sense of independence, which does not exploit the people who are building our designs for.

In doing so, this leads towards other opportunities whereby we can further collaborate with our clients in expanding their projects; supporting them in areas that are less clear; and providing them with something that helps them reach the people they intend. It also means that we are able to be more creative, think out of the box, and provide solutions and designs that are truly tailored and fresh. At the end of the day, as designers and developers we have a lot of power and privilege. There is a vast array of client-based that may or may not understand all the inner workings of a website let alone feel comfortable to make changes within it. It’s essential to use our privileges to really boost all range of clients, rather than using it as a means to take advantage of them.

This also calls for clients to demand how invested web designers and developers are in ensuring they are empowered.

Together we can build projects that help progress society, communities, and people as opposed to exploiting it


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