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Design Ethics You Need to Respect

Design is so much more than the colors and fonts you choose to use on the page. Great, thoughtful, ethical design can make a person feel assured and at ease. It can make a person hungry. It can make a person more likely to trust the information they are reading. That’s a lot of power in the hands of your design team. And not to quote a superhero comic book, but with great power comes great responsibility.   

Design can also make readers skip over important information before purchasing, feel fear or discomfort, or feel taken advantage of. This kind of design can not only ruin that single experience, but it can also damage the reputation of that company and even the industry going forward.   

Think of a used car salesman. What comes to mind? Probably a sleazy guy, big and gaudy sales signs, and broken, overpriced cars. That’s an example of how an entire industry can be impacted by questionable tactics.  

We are web designers, graphic designers, and marketers that care about our customers’ experience from realization to post-purchase and beyond. So, we have a responsibility to design a user experience that promotes clarity, honesty, and inclusion.   

What does Ethical design look like?  

  • From a human rights perspective, you need to offer a digital experience that is accurate, secure, and unoffensive.  
  • From a UX perspective, offer a digital experience that is clear, direct, and easy to follow.  
  • From an ‘above and beyond’ perspective, create a digital experience that is delightful, engaging, and creative!  

Creating an Ethical Design  

Don’t create misleading UX or design  

Whether it’s on your website or with your ads on third-party sites, misleading UX design is always a bad idea.   

Misleading UX or design can be bait-and-switch content (promising one thing but offering another when someone bites) or many other suspicious tactics.   

Have you ever clicked on an incentive like a downloadable PDF or enticing CTA for an ad, and then feeling underwhelmed with the offering? You probably won’t click on that company’s content again.  

But misleading design can be a bit more subtle than that. It can be playing up the before/after images to boost the appearance of productivity of a product. You can be misleading people by using a little unread notification icon on your third-party ads. These are small, but when (yes, when) your customers catch on, it may leave a bad taste in their mouth.  

Download our checklist of 30+ ways to promote content here.

Leverage inclusive design, content, and functionality  

Creating inclusive design and functionality for every person that sees your digital content.   

A UX design that doesn’t bar people with different abilities has grown from historically a nice extra to an imperative aspect of design. There are too many great examples, tech, and models to work off of today to justify a half-baked digital inclusion strategy.  

Creating an inclusive design can include:  

  • Ensure website content is easily readable and navigated using a keyboard  
  • Have helpful and descriptive alt text for images  
  • Use sufficient color contrast for online text  
  • Using descriptive hyperlinks for easy and accessible navigation  
  • Providing captions and subtitles for video content  

Designing inclusive content also means using terminology, images, stock photos, and messaging that welcomes (and doesn’t offend) people of all walks of life. Including gender-neutral terms, depicting diverse people, and never using isolating messaging is a great place to start.   

Don’t create UX that hurts the user experience  

A great place to start when auditing your UX experience is to think about the design around the action you would like your customers to take. For example, a travel company may want a customer to purchase extra insurance.   

A good UX around this would be to ask a persuasive question, like:  

“Would you like to ensure your trip is fully refundable for any reason up to departure, for only $5?”  

With a clear “Check yes or no.”

A bad UX around this may be that the “yes” is automatically checked, and difficult to find how to opt-out. Or the opting-out has multiple “Are you SURE?” and “Are your SURE-SURE?” hoops to jump through.  

While yes, this may trick some people into taking the insurance, no one will appreciate how it was planned.  

It can also mean not creating pop-ups that pop up multiple times, making or housing third-party ads that take over the whole screen, or over-targeting ads. Anything that can easily frustrate your audience can create a bad reputation that is not easy to undo.

Important parameters, disclaimers, and policies are clear  

Not only can hiding disclaimers and policies fall into a legal dilemma, but it’s also not worth the trickery it creates.  

You don’t want to sell to someone who isn’t right for your product or services. That leads to negative reviews, requests for refunds, not to mention endless (and time-consuming) customer service communication with frustrated customers.   

Making sure your parameters, policies, and disclaimers are clear and obvious helps weed out the potential customers who aren’t right for your offering and helps you only cater to those who can and will appreciate what you do.  

For example, if you don’t make it clear that you don’t allow children in a certain establishment, customers that come with toddlers in tow are in for a nasty surprise. Any way you can help your customer understand what your offerings entail, good and bad, will help you cultivate the happiest customers.   

Prioritize user comfort and trust  

A happy customer is more important than your short-term bottom line.   

From start to finish, design a UX experience that invokes the feelings you want to connect your brand. That may range from a sense of calm, excitement, or purpose, but the main connection of all brand goals creating trust and confidence.   

That means skipping over hacks, tricks, and get-rich-quick schemes to focus on offering the most valuable and pertinent information at every stage of the purchase process.  


Creating an ethical design, and accessible strategy shouldn’t be rocket science, but it should be a conscious aspect of your processes. Ready to update your online and offline presence? Chat with our team! 

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