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How to Persuade without Manipulation (Book Review)

Ethical Design HandbookA review of

The Ethical Design Handbook

by Trine Falbe, Martin Michael Frederiksen, Kim Andersen 

Book Website

Publisher: Smashing Media AG

348 pages, 6 chapters

About this book

A good reference for Methods/How-To and UX Theory

Primary audience: Designers and technical roles who have some experience with the topic

Writing style: Matter of fact

Text density: Mostly text

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The past few years have seen the proliferation of many harmful design patterns that manipulate and exploit users. The Ethical Design Handbook is an antidote that offers an easy-to-follow framework to incorporate ethical practices in your design projects. There is an emerging interest in the relationship between ethics and technology, and often trying to navigate this field is overwhelming. This book offers many practical tools that you can adopt right now, as well as many resources for learning more. Anyone who is working with tech—UX professionals, marketing departments, big data architects, software designers—should read this guide to get a concrete primer on what it means to be an ethical designer in the era of high tech.

The Ethical Design Handbook combines the experience of three accomplished professionals who practice in UX, digital development, design, and business. There are many concrete examples of past projects and case studies that demonstrate the validity of the book’s main points. Author Trine Falbe and her colleagues go to great lengths to predict possible objections and provide counter arguments to them. One thing this book does not do is delve into didactic or philosophical arguments about ethics. It also does not present utopian scenarios. Instead, it is deeply rooted in the reality of business, which is what makes it so useful.

The book is well organized, balanced, and each chapter concludes with a short guest essay on a pertinent topic.

In the introduction, the authors explain the need for ethical design and why it is crucial to incorporate it into a business as early as possible. They also introduce key concepts that will be used throughout the book, such as ethical design strategies, harmful patterns, and a working definition of ethics.

Chapter 1 describes some of the critical consequences of unethical design for both customers and businesses. It also introduces some existing ethical frameworks that can be incorporated into the way a business is run.

Chapter 2 shows how positive changes that lead to an “ethical transformation” can be introduced in projects, teams, and entire companies. It also presents some ways to challenge opposition so that ethics can have a more prominent place in the organization.

Chapter 3 invites the reader to really include users in the design process, and to consider the long-term consequences of design decisions. It also offers some frameworks to help you design for the most vulnerable populations. The chapter title, “Respect-Driven Design,” really encapsulates the core message of the book.

Chapter 4 focuses on business. It shows how ethical design benefits the organization and how it can offer a profitable business model. It also teaches how to use traditional business metrics to measure a design’s impact.

Chapter 5 is all about practical guidelines for designing notoriously tricky cookie notices, privacy terms, and data collection in the right way. It includes many practical examples to imitate and apply.

Chapter 6 concludes the book by offering tips and blueprints so you can start adopting ethical design in your projects today.

The Ethical Design Handbook is a great primer on how to incorporate ethical design in your own project and organization. I have read a lot of books and articles on the topic, and I feel that this book is the best one, hands down, because it expertly mixes abstract concepts with well-developed and realistic examples. Large font type, an ample margin, comfortable leading, and a beautiful typeface make it quite easy to read.

While ethical design is somewhat new as a field, it will become increasingly prevalent in the future as consumers demand more transparency from companies that they do business with. Use the advice in this handbook to get started now and give your company a competitive advantage.

Tiziana d’Agostino is a UX Psychologist and Interaction Design consultant, with more than 20 years design experience. She has a master’s degree in Media Psychology, and she is a faculty member at two colleges in San Diego, CA. She has been focusing on ethical and inclusive design for the past few years.  Twitter: @tidag17.