Ethics of the Modern Software Designer

Over the past 10 years, communications and digital technology have rapidly evolved and totally transformed in terms of function, usability, and design. Consider this: In 2008, T-Mobile introduced the first Android phone, the HTC Dream (Also known as the G1). Do you remember what the HTC Dream looked like?

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This was considered the latest and most advanced cellular phone. Now, in 2018, just 10 years later, the latest phone is the Samsung Galaxy S9 with incredibly advanced capabilities including functioning underwater.

Clearly, from physical structure to display capabilities, all the features of cell phones have drastically changed. This advanced evolution is evident in the development of all aspects of digital technology, but it is especially evident in the development of Applications and their software components.

Application: A program or piece of software designed and written to fulfill a particular purpose of the user.

Application Software: Computer software designed to perform a group of coordinated functions, tasks, or activities for the benefit of the user.

The best example of this is the development of the social media platform, Twitter.

In 2006, Twitter was born! What people most often remember about Twitter was the Fail Whale.

This is what it looked like the following year:

Image Courtesy of Web Design Museum
Image Courtesy of Web Design Museum

By 2018, its structure and display have totally changed, clearly for the better. But, consider the function of Twitter. In 2007, Twitter was used as a silly medium for sharing random, light-hearted thoughts within the humdrum of everyday life.

In 2018, its function and (increasingly important) role has shifted onto an entirely different track.

Twitter has become a medium for global political leaders, official news agencies, and regular people–like you and me—to communicate with billions of strangers on the internet.

Considering Twitter’s humble beginnings, could its creators ever have predicted that their application would become a serious global communications platform?

Of course not. The application suddenly grew arms and legs. Its original content drastically stretched and shaped to suit users’ needs. Both its incredibly wide reach and entangled role in our lives grew beyond what anyone could have predicted.

In 2018, software applications are deeply engraved in our lives. Smartphones have our fingerprints, our faces, locations, daily conversations, banking history, etc.

As technology advances, it becomes easier for us to justify handing over our confidential information or excusing privacy breaches for the sake of personal convenience.

Sounds like some sort of dystopian fiction novel, right? Unfortunately, it’s the reality of today. The advanced evolvement of our technology has a dark side to it.

Designers must seriously consider the consequences of their design, and whether or not it contributes to the systematic manipulation of users.

Ethics in Web Design

If you’re a designer, ask yourself this:

Does my work fall in alignment with the current ethics in web design?

Consider the following:

  • Do you depend on deceptive marketing techniques to sell to clients?
  • Do you collect and sell users’ data? (Doing this without explicit consent is actually illegal.)
  • Is your software intentionally addicting?
  • Is the purpose of your software helpful or harmful?

If you do these and are not happy with the answers, you may want to consider making a career change. Whether we realize it or not, as designers, we have a significant impact on this world and the people in it.

Consumer protection has become our responsibility, so if you’re a designer in 2018, take an ethics course and hit the books!

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