Ethics for Designers and Developers at The First Berlin Ethical Tech Meetup

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Ethics for Designers and Developers at The First Berlin Ethical Tech Meetup

Trade your developer hat for your philosopher's cap and take a look at the ethics of weaponized tech design and engineering.

· Agile Zone ·
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Continuing the tech industry’s recent introspective look, I recently became involved co-organizing a new meetup in Berlin focused on ethical and humane tech. The crowd came from a diverse range of backgrounds and skill sets, which was an encouraging sign for future positive collaboration which is essential for genuinely ethical application design.

There were two speakers for the night, Cade Diehm from the long-standing Tactical Tech Collective, and Yann Leretaille from the Good Technology Collective (I am also a member) and 1am.

Cade Diehm – Weaponized Design

Whether the result of conscious or unconscious planning, weaponized design refers to others using poorly planned features for negative effect. From stalkers using unchecked location access to hijacking algorithms to achieve a particular aim, this is "weaponized design." The key difference is in "hacking" is that in this case, the design is working as intended, and the user is typically blind to it happening. Weaponized design is not the same as dark UX patterns, which is very much intentionally misdirecting a user for business decisions. Cade puts the root of the problem to the origins and subsequent history of software and hardware design and has roots in Apple’s original design teams, and Steve Krug’s seminal book, Don't Make Me Think. Modern design focuses too much on good data results and "looking good" with little thought given to psychology and the actual impact it has on us. This oversimplification and abstraction creates more "usable" interfaces but results in many trade-offs as they don’t reflect the intricacies of real people and their problems and behavior. Cade blames much of this design in the somewhat naive, blinkered or apathetic attitudes of design teams and their bosses, especially those in certain companies and countries. As a positive conclusion, Cade made 3 proposals:

  1. Design for politics not personas, as user stories and personas decontextualizes their life, attitudes, and lifestyle. Cade suggested bringing more people together during the design process to try and highlight these potential interactions.
  2. Design for the worst case scenario, shifts the overly positive outlook of many designers and Cade suggests working more with teams who have the opposite outlook. The comparison he drew was that designers work on keeping more people in, and security teams on keeping people out. Imagine if they collaborated more to meet in the middle.
  3. Codify conduct and outcomes, in addition to the positive growth of codes of conduct, Cade suggests we create codes of outcomes that set out not just our business aims but self-regulate the implications of our designs.

Yann Leretaille – Ethics and Engineering

The Good Technology Collective aims to connect the varying disparate groups who discuss the topic of ethics and/or technology but rarely talk together. The Collective began (as did others around the world) as a reaction to the rapid rise in data generation and the algorithms that use them. There are positive outcomes of technology, but still, too many unintended ones as engineers and their bosses think of what cool things they can create, and not whether they should, leaving these decisions up to legal teams, when it’s typically too late. Yann proposed adding ethical considerations at all stages and with all stakeholders in a development process and making these company-wide guidelines that hopefully eventually become industry-wide. Before creating new products, think if about it’s purpose, does it add value, or is it technology for the sake of it? Check for this purpose at every stage of the design, development and maintenance process. Yann also proposed asking questions such as if the product makes sense, does it distract users, what features does it need, and are there better solutions to the same problem. A product should empower a user and help them accomplish tasks and not force them down a particular path.

All in all, a positive night, but still one of those topics where many now know that "they should do something," but we are still figuring out what form that takes to make it meaningful.

agile, best practises, design, engineering, ethics, good technology, ux

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