We are designing products today for the users of tomorrow without knowing who they really are.

Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

Many of you, like myself, entered into Product and UX Design because we want to do humanity right in the digital frontier. We are a naturally empathetic bunch who care about the needs of others and also love solving big problems. But when the very science of what makes humans tick is used to make us click, how can we possibly forecast whether there will be ill effects from it?

Facebook serves as a reminder

The story of Facebook is one that often sits in the back of ethically-minded UX designers’ minds as a warning. In 2004, Mark Zuckerburg started ‘TheFacebook’ with the intention of creating a platform to connect students at a university. What he created at that time was successful at accomplishing that. However, fast forward to 2023; in addition to the positive connection of social groups, it has also facilitated a pandemic of rampant false news, depression, addiction, and anxiety (among other things). I might disagree with many of his policies, but in his defense, there is no way he could have seen all of this coming back then.

Unlike with engineering, where graduating students take an oath of integrity and are given a stainless steel ring as a reminder of the direct impact their work has on the people in society, new UX designers take no code of conduct oath, nor are they trained in ethics per se. We certainly are not teaching methodologies of forecasting the cause and effect of designs on future societies. Yet, similar to engineers, we’re building societal structures that will stand the test of time; they’re just digital ones.

Instead, new UX and digital product designers are loaded up with research techniques and human psychology principles, given design processes to adhere to, a set of simple “best and worst practices,” and set free to roam their way into corporate development and design teams worldwide. We’ve been naive.

The industry isn’t thinking about it like this, though.

Only a handful take it more seriously, knowing we’re more than researchers and pixel-pushers who can help users have a more enjoyable experience and get…