Ethics in Digital Design

In Cennydd Bowles’ The Ethics of Digital Design, he argues that designers should have a central role in empowering and protecting users, as well as pushing for more diverse product teams.

I agree with the sentiment that our digital products need to empower and protect users much more than they currently do. Instead of growth at all costs, disruption for its own sake, and an interest in building for the similarly privileged, we should expand our digital products to include the variety of people who use them.

He asserts that this should come from designers:

It therefore falls to designers and their colleagues at these tech giants to ensure their products are beneficial to the world.


Designers as such have a central role in safeguarding digital products so they not only empower but also protect users.

He brings up things like dark patterns, the Facebook emotional contagion, Uber’s notable issues with disabled passengers. The implication is that designers aren’t participants in the creation of these interfaces, studies, and policies.

I worry this positions designers in a safe, uncritical position, and casts everyone else in opposition to empowering and protecting users. Designers are the good guys; everyone else works against them. This has the effect of disempowering members of team at the same time we’re trying to empower designers.

All of us working on digital products have the potential to disempower and endanger the user. We need everyone to be more empathetic toward users, not just the ones who are like ourselves. Greater diversity in product teams, and a more critical examination of why we’re building what we are can open up that possibility. But let’s make sure we’re not marginalizing people on our own teams through assumptions based on their role.