All Blog Posts

Tech for Good talks: How can designers adopt a more ethical approach to UX design?

We firmly believe that technology has the power to do SO MUCH good. But there are so many complexities and nuances in modern society, how can designers adopt a more ethical approach to UX design?


Ethical Design

You would be hard pressed to completely avoid digital experiences. Whether that be mobile apps, websites or other platforms, with design, like most things, it comes with both good and bad.

When creating impactful user experiences, organisations carry so much responsibility to use ethical design. Some do so with flying colours, others fail miserably. In our latest virtual event, we delved into the nitty gritty of this insanely important topic and looked at where businesses are getting it right… and where they are getting it oh so wrong.

Considerate design

We partnered with the charity Scope, to work on a really exciting project, Mindful Monsters, which was initially a pack of cards that you subscribe to. And that is where we came in, to help build an app to supplement these cards. The idea was that when you were out and about with kids, you could give them tasks and teach mindfulness. Which was a cool alternative to just letting them fall down the rabbit hole of YouTube on your phone. With Mindful Monsters you could engage with them in a meaningful way. 

Our task was to recreate that in a digital format. We went through our D&D process to come up with a concept of how we were going to conceptualise that product. What we landed on was gamification. This had the best of intentions, but still meant using dark patterns. 

Gamification is a classic dark pattern that is commonly used in the gambling industry. When we tested the original product, this got pushback from parents as the more the child plays, the more they get rewarded. Parents didn’t like the idea that their child was going to be encouraged to game and increase their screen time.  

Using a dark pattern to encourage mindfulness and quality time is such a grey area, but, can dark patterns be used for good?!

In that scenario the user testing was great because we quickly saw that parents didn’t want to go down that route. So we were able to take that on board and gauge our final output in a way that reflected their concerns. You have to go down the moral maze every time, and make decisions collectively as a team, with clients and users to get the right results.

And that’s why it is so important that you keep design ethics at the forefront of your mind, and have a team in place to keep every single person accountable.

Consumers are more aware of dark patterns and won’t put up with it forever. So as an organisation, a designer or a developer, that is part of putting a technical solution out there, you have to be so considerate! Think about long term gains rather than short term gains. Think about your brand’s health, and the invaluable importance of maintaining integrity. 

Dark patterns in the wild

A “Dark Pattern” is a deceptive UX interaction that is intended to mislead a user, or deceive them. Getting people to do not necessarily what they want to do, but what YOU want them to do. 

However, it does get interesting when you are getting users to do something that THEY do want to do. Such as a quitting smoking app, you are manipulating them to actually do something they want to do, and achieve a really good outcome. It’s still a dark pattern… but for good!

Here are a few examples of ways companies use undeniable dark patterns:

Using trick questions

An older example from a few years ago, but quite notoriously Sky used trick questions to get an outcome that they preferred. It is unnecessarily complicated because they are depending on users reacting how they expect due to word play. It’s unfortunately a really common tactic and not good ethics!

Confirmed shaming

This is a classic one. It’s designed to trick you to not exit out of something you want to. On a health food site, you might think this is a good thing as the site is set up to give you health tips, which is a great tool.

Unfortunately, when the time comes and a user wants to opt out, they are subjected to the not so subtle guilt trip and shaming by having to click a button declaring, “No thanks, I like to make bad choices”. While there is a bit of dry humour in it, this is an obvious dark pattern.

The run around

This is another common one in the dark pattern world. Hootsuite is a social media platform you can use to post to different social media accounts. Just the simple process of trying to downgrade your “Pro” account is rife with obstacles. The option for the “Free” account is referred to as a downgrade and the whole block is even greyed out in a considerably lighter font than the other options, making it seem like it’s not something that is available to you.

Once you navigate through those stumbling blocks, the next window is a spoonful of confirmed shaming and them pulling some olympic level linguistic skills to manipulate you from changing your account. You still go ahead with your downgrade, only to be met with more hindrances.

In all, 5 pandering steps to try to keep you in the account that makes them the most money. They really pulled all the dark pattern punches in this one!

Hot shit or hot air

Now it’s time for everyone’s favourite game…

For this round we looked at whether different companies were utilising ethical design with their users best interest at heart, or using clever smoke and mirrors to make dark patterns look good.


This is a new product called “Nemo Net” which is essentially a single player iPad game that NASA only brought to market in April of this year. It allows players to access the health and classify coral reefs globally – as a game! When you play, the premise is that you “go around the world” and uses real data from satellites, so players can in real time assess the health of actual coral.

The problem is that they are gamifying the process. It reads a little bit like they are getting loads of people to do free work for them and getting data. But they are being clear with the goal and what they are doing with the information. There are hints of a dark pattern, but the humble goal of saving the planet, while still being transparent with users.


This company is redefining the way that corporates book travel. When you do book through them, they will offset your carbon footprint AND donate a proportion to relevant charities that will deliver on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals).

What’s so unique is that they recognise that online travel companies spend billions of pounds in advertisement. Goodwings recognises that and doesn’t spend a penny on ads, so instead of advertising they invest that budget into companies that deliver the SDG. Pretty amazing, great ethics and hands down….HOT SHIT!

Duck Duck Go

A search engine that puts privacy at the heart of the internet. There is no data harvesting and they aren’t ad hungry. They want users to know they can trust the internet and what happens to their data. You get the same results as all other engines, so there is no bias. 

For those that missed the webinar, that is the brass tacks of what our spectacular hosts delved into. The importance of ethical design needs to be at the forefront of every single decision made as your users will recognise this, and you also won’t have to shoulder the burden of duping users with dark patterns.

Drop us a message if you want to discuss any of the elements we covered in this session, or if you have an idea for future “Tech For Good” topics we could cover!

Published on July 15, 2020, last updated on July 15, 2020

Give us the seal of approval!

Like what you read? Let us know.