There is quite a bit of attention on emotional design out there. Today we have conferences, books etc. But we also have a strange silence and emptyness when it comes to ethics in relation to design in general.
Is the current focus on emotional design partially an attempt to hide the fact that we are making weak, unnecessary, irrelevant, or harmful products? One example: those car companies that insist on selling gas guzzlers, or resist fully switching to the production of fuel-efficient hybrid cars.
Every other add on TV seems to be about a car. Cool ads – crappy products (usually). Unfortunately for automobile companies the ads are not the end product – the carbon-polluting car is the product. It’s hard to sell something that hurts people and their environments.
Designers are leaders and as leaders I believe it is our responsibility to advocate for the end users of our designs within the context of our business environments.
Designers are the translators between business and customers. We translate the messages business want to promote and we use user-centered design to translate what users want into products and services.
This also means that designers may perceive themselves as getting “caught in the middle” between business interests and what may be clearly a better, more ethical design, – they may see themselves as “having to choose sides”.
If you have ever felt like this I would like to remind you that the expressions above are “either/ or fallacies” and it doesn’t have to be an either/or equation.
The interests of business and the interests of the user are related, are sometimes inter-dependent and can be win-win symbiotic relationships.
Businesses don’t exist in a vacuum, they cannot survive for long if they antagonize the interest of people. Most people may disagree with me here, but I think we need to also realize that the paradigm is changing. (those who disagree look up “disruptive innovation” a type of innovation that is often focused on the short-comings of existent business-customer-user models).
The logic of “us vs. them” in business vs. user /customer to me seems a bit out of touch and outdated. It’s the old-garde of marketing. Users are not flat cardboard cut-out entitiess– they are three dimensional complex human beings who play multiple roles and cultural identities. An user is also an investor, a strockbroker, a designer, a retailer, a salesperson a business person, a reporter, a community leader, a mother, a father, a daughter, a product reviewer. In other words, we are all potential users, (or we may all know an user of your product) – learn to recognize the different roles we play. Learn to recognize that there may be only a couple of degrees of separation between your users and the rest of the community.
Our communities are not all guided by the single value of money. We value our health, sincerity, transparency, trust, reliability, honesty, social responsibility, humane goals. Businesses need to learn to recognize how this calls for design ethics.
When you take actions that hurt users you may be also antagonizing your investors, your politicians, your standards boards, your governments, your product reviewers, your bloggers, your media, your retailers – (indirectly you may also be hurting yourself and your family).
Most systems have a human factor a.k.a. emotion, attitude, pain, memory, embarrassment. This means that if your system has hurt, inconvenience, mistreated, made someone sick, abused, embarrassed, someone – that person will tell others- “buzz marketing” will spread quickly.
As designers, we are here to make our businesses aware of the voice of the customers. We are here to provide you with warnings about risk scenarios. We are here to remind businesses that anti-humane design is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We are here to remind them that hiding behind cool and seductive designs is not the answer. We are here to remind them that people are intelligent and are able to distinguish surface-gloss value from larger social multi-value.
Design is a great tool to insure sales. But it is more effective when it is combined with a great product that is “on the side” of the consumers – when you look at the big picture this is also the “side” of your friends, your investors and your communities. There is brand value there, there is loyalty value there.
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