Need NDA first? E-mail us at

    The Three Categories of UX Design Ethics

    2 September 2020

    post image

    User experience designers are always building ways for users to interact with products. They are having to make decisions based on users’ actions and some of which are limiting the users’ steps or adding things that the users would not necessarily choose. To do so, user experience designers often ‘hacks’ into the users’ thought patterns. It can be a challenging act to serve the ‘interest of the system’ without crossing the line. 

    The issues of ethics have always been related to the technologies we use, and the types and nature of these issues continue to change with technological advancement. Here we will discuss the classification of the issues that the UX design process possesses nowadays. This framework will allow designers to address ethics-related issues during the design process. 

    1. Existential Values

    Existential values sit at the top of the hierarchy of design ethics. For instance, you need to check who you are working for. Would you work for a company whose product may harm the population of the world? A designer must ask himself what his values are before deciding to work for a company. They can either set their values to work for organizations doing social welfare, or they can not bother about the outcome of their work and care only about the money rather than ethics. 

    A Question of Intent

    Ethics in the design must be related to the intent of the designer. The intention of a designer influences the design and the subsequent outcome or the consequences. The intention can be good, bad, or misdirected. A designer has to keep the whole scenario in mind while thinking about the ethical issue. As sometimes, other teams may influence the design, misdirecting the values and requirements of the original design. So, the intent is a controversial topic in design. It can be shaped or diverted by other individuals along the way. 

    2. Misdirected Intent

    Balancing the business needs with the users’ needs should be the primary intent for a good design. Ethical issues occur in business when an organization decides to compromise the intent of creating a better user experience and chooses to pursue goals other than serving the users. A designer must keep in mind the organization’s needs, regulations, and the ecosystem while at the same time not to create such designs that may exploit a user, cause harm, or result in a difficult product to use. 

    Dark Patterns

    These patterns are used to trick users into purchasing or providing information. These patterns are mostly financially driven to add additional charges into a user’s shopping cart or to trick them into unwittingly sharing private information, which is clearly unethical. 

    Selling What Is Not Needed

    Ancillary products and services are often offered to the customers as a supplement to the item they are purchasing. Although at times, they can be proven to be beneficial, most of the time they lead to the purchase of completely unnecessary and unrelated products. 

    Distractions to Drive Commerce

    Advertisements are unnecessary which are clearly designed with business as a primary intent, not the user experience. pop-ups, auto-play videos, and advertisements a user must navigate around are distractions that can cause harm to a user’s attention from a more important situation. 


    Companies hiding information to make comparison difficult is a major ethical issue. Some companies go as far as updating platforms with changed privacy terms where users are unaware that their information is made public. These issues may be beneficial for the business but harmful for the users.


    Using metrics incorrectly or unethically to create an addictive effect on the users and drive commerce. This behavior is an ethical issue where ill or misdirected intent exists.

    3. Benevolent Intent

    This is the ideal state of ethical stand a designer should take, where they strive for the intent to put the user’s needs first. The designers will place the users’ needs above everything else, while still approaching the product development as practically as possible.

    Building an ethical framework for UX designers needs a thorough understanding of the different types of ethical issues that a designer can face. The framework will work as a guide for the design team to develop the organization while still maintaining the code of ethics.