An interview with Cennydd Bowles

By Ed Vinicombe on May 4th, 2016

This article fascinated me and I wanted to elaborate on a few of those points. The examples you provided about Facebook, Google & Uber were quite shocking and I wondered what you thought would prompt such actions from businesses of this magnitude?

To paraphrase Mike Monteiro, most ethical lapses arise not from bad intent but a lack of intent. Homogenous workforces in thrall to exciting new ideas have a blind-spot for how those ideas might harm people who aren’t like them. The question simply isn’t asked. I see in the tech industry a worrying belief that we make things that are ethically and politically neutral, and it’s how they’re used that makes them good or bad. This is a dangerous falsehood.

The industry’s obsession with metrics, growth, and short-term stock gains doesn’t help either.

From the same piece, “Designers as such have a central role in safeguarding digital products so they not only empower but also protect users”. Is it the designers who are responsible for preserving digital products or the companies that employ them?

Both. Companies are made of people: I don’t think it’s helpful to separate the two things when we talk about behaviour. Designers are frequently the first to highlight potential harm because they usually ‘face outwards’, but ethical conduct is a responsibility of everyone in the organisation.

Sometimes, when I am shopping online I get tonnes of products shown to me that compliment something i’ve just bought from Amazon. Is this a good example of data being used ethically? I personally don’t find that intrusion into my data too forceful.

I’m hesitant to give yes/no assessments of whether behaviour X is ethical, because it’s a question for the companies, users, and communities involved. I’m a commentator rather than an arbiter.

The usual argument here is of aligned benefit: business wants to sell more stuff, customer would like new products, therefore everyone wins. In some cases (e.g. smoking cessation, weight loss, financial management) this alignment is usually pretty clear. When it comes to selling goods and services… well, things can get blurrier.

Ethical design can surpass the common assumption of paint brushes and gradients. Could you share and discuss some examples of ethical design that you’ve encountered that has helped shape other areas like architecture, communities or health and well-being?

This is something I’m focusing on in my research. in other words, ask me in a year. But I love this from Dieter Rams & Braun:

"Braun categorically rejects the idea of motivating people to buy its products by adding features that toy with the psychological sub-terrain of the consumer's consciousness. Braun refuses to swell sales by exploiting human frailties: neither its products nor its advertising use such seduction techniques."

My team and I are attending UX London this year - what can we expect from your talk!?
Politics, occasional mercy, and a bit of contempt toward the Californian Ideology. All in all it will be a great day if you're looking to start or improve your career in UX Design.

Thanks for your time Cennydd

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