What’s bad design? As I user, my perception of bad design is when my expectations of a product or service don’t match the desired outcomes from using it.
Why that happens? Let’s take an example of creators developing a product or service using the Lean Product Process, where the creators iterate the build-test-learn loop to improve the match between the customer needs and the product or service.
It sounds simple, but it’s complicated. In practice
- Good people are not a warranty of ethical and inclusive solutions: In my 15+ years of experience delivering tech services and products, I’ve never met a colleague aiming to create misogynistic, ableist, or racist products; on the contrary, all dream of making products of “universal” appeal. However, even the best-intentioned creators come with their implicit unconscious biases about users, their preferences, their needs, and their behaviors.
- It’s not feasible to talk to all possible users: Creators construct personas – fictional representations of the ideal customers of the product or service – based on the information and feedback collected from prospective customers. The wider the gap between those personas and the user, the higher the chances the products or services don’t match the customer expectations.
Tech products and services are not submitted to the same regulations that their manufactured counterparts. Compare the studies and certifications to become a registered nutritionist in the UK with the non-existent regulation for health and fitness apps.
- Enshrining personas and user experiences as the ultimate source of truth inhibits the equitable impact assessment of the products and services on “other” groups: those considered edge cases or outside the userbase. Check the first thing Google knows to be true: “Focus on the user and all else will follow”.
I believe that
- We should strive for universal design: Products and services should endeavor to deliver the same experience regardless of the user’s personal characteristics and level of ability.
- Products and services creators have a duty to ensure that their ethical intentions result in ethical outcomes.
- We should expect creators to assess the potential negative impact of products and services beyond users, considering unintended users and non-users as well.
How do we tick the boxes above within the budget and time constraints imposed on startups and SMEs? How to avoid the ethical and inclusive design is deferred until the product or service is mature, at which time it won’t be relevant anymore?
The Ethics and Inclusion Framework
The Ethics and Inclusion Framework is a tool for product or service (PoS) creators to help identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for the actual and potential adverse impact of the solution they develop. This is done by facilitating the examination of their PoS through the following perspectives
- Population diversity
- Intended user: those for whom the product or service is intended
- Unintended user: those that may use the product or service accidentally, illegally, or in spite of being purposely excluded from the intended user base.
- Non-user: those indirectly impacted by the outcomes (users’ family, careers, friends, work colleagues, society).
- Potential negative outcomes
It is important to note that uncovering those neglected and/or negatively impacted groups can highlight opportunities to foster innovation and unique value propositions.
In practical terms, a three-step workflow is proposed to slow down and broaden the decision-making process of the product or service (PoS) creators:
Step 1: Creation of three lists of personas to be used as a reference for evaluating ethics and inclusion of the PoS you are creating: (a) Intended users, (b) unintended users, and (c) non-users. More details below in the section “How to assess the personal information, accessibility, and technology criteria?“.
Step 2: Select if you want to focus on the degree of inclusion of your product or service or on ethical considerations.
Step 3: Degree of Inclusion. Select one criterion among a checklist of personal information, accessibility, and technology categories to be reviewed through the perspective of the PoS creators, intended users, unintended users, and non-users that may be indirectly impacted by the outcomes.
Step 3: Ethical Considerations. Assessment of potential negative outcomes for the intended users, unintended users, and non-users.
You can access the Ethics and Inclusion Framework below
Go directly to the survey form by clicking on the button
CALL TO ACTION: How do you ensure you create ethical and inclusive products and services?
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The Capability Loss Simulation tools and the Exclusion Calculator in the Inclusive Design Toolkit by the University of Cambridge.
AI Fairness 360 Open Source Toolkit by IBM claims to “help you examine, report, and mitigate discrimination and bias in machine learning models throughout the AI application lifecycle.”
The Data Ethics Canvas by the Open Data Institute is “a tool for anyone who collects, shares or uses data. It helps identify and manage ethical issues – at the start of a project that uses data, and throughout.“
The Ethics App from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University is a “practical tool for thinking through tough choices.”
Thanks for fruitful discussions, suggestions, and encouragement to Nir Eyal, Laura Lyons, María Luisa Toro-Hernández, Yago Gestoso, and the Inclusive Design Toolkit team from the University of Cambridge.
The section on access to technology in the Ethics and Inclusion Framework was inspired by Dr. Aygul Zagidullina (Google Developer Expert (GDE) for Assistant) talk “Leaving No One Behind: Building Apps for The Next Billion Users” at the Ada’s List Conference 2018 (London, October 18th, 2018).
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The Ethics and Inclusion Framework© was featured in Issue 5 (Autumn 2019) of the Inclusive Design Toolkit news bulletin from the Cambridge Engineering Design Centre.
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