The Lighter Side Of The Spectrum: Ethical Web Design

Ethical Web Design

John Berger’s famous words – “Without ethics, man has no future…..Ethics determines choices and actions and suggests difficult priorities” is a reverberating reminder for the current digitally-inclined world. It seems that the digital prowess and dominance over human beings have made the ethical and moral lines foggy.

With such fading moral responsibilities, we should be looking deeper into our website world to ensure that the realm stays true to its evolving ethical values. While the struggle to stick true to one’s digital ethics is tough given that the sole aim is to gain leads and increase conversion rates, it’s worth a shot to discuss and reassess the same. 

Tally to see how true you have been to the ethics in web design despite the luring financial goals. 

  • The Evaluation Of The Ethics In Web Design

When we think of website designing, the topics that immediately come to our mind are – 

  1. Enhancing customer experience in web design
  2. Trends in website designing
  3. Designing your website the millennial way
  4. Inspirations of website designing during the pandemic
  5. Ways to Imbibe a sense of humor in website designing
  6. Introducing dark mode rises for websites

Clearly, the ethical aspect doesn’t crop up as the frontrunner in ideas. However, it is the ethical angle in website designers and their designed sites that gets a lot going. For the digital experience design, one must think of the consequences that one’s designs might have on the end-users. 

Approaching designing ethically can significantly guarantee 

  1. The longevity of the website designs developed and 
  2. Increased client satisfaction too. 

With such imminent leverages in mind, it is now time to take a look into the four pillars that support the ethical framework for the tech community. 

The Ethical Framework For The Design Community

True that website designing is an aesthetic quotient for an added appeal that has a considerable potential to draw site visitors down the sales funnel; however, there are some other considerations to be made. 

With designing, it is now always about ‘what’ designs have been inspiring designers, or ‘what’ designs elements that they befit the business motto. Sometimes, it is also about ‘how’ the designing decision affects the users and ‘how’ the designs are made. 

These are the moral compasses that draw the line of ethics in web design. The framework helps designers across the ethical marshlands and ensure one that the practices followed are the best ones possible and that it conveys the best virtues. 

The framework is supported by the 4 pillars of – Consequentialism, Capability Approach, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics. 

The Capability Approach Principles Of Web Design

Human-centered design has been a well-discussed topic among designers lately. Although, it was established ages ago that website designing is more of a service wherein designers craft solutions to help users achieve their goals, this one of the crucial steps for the ethical aspects of designing. 

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The capability approach acts as a tool for designers to justify their decisions in regards to the end-user experience and long-term outputs.  The principles for this include –

  1. Defining the capabilities that one wants to build in their communities, users, and the world.
  2. Designing solutions that offer capabilities to users to help them claim or reclaim their agency.
  3. Gauging success in regards to the achieved functionings and the potential growth of the greater good of end-users.
  4. Ensuring that each decision taken is a step towards personal and global well-being.

The Consequentialist Principles Of Web Design

Consequentialism or utilitarianism shares the perspective that any act can be justified in case the resulting benefit outweighs the investments towards the project. This requires all to concentrate on the plausible consequences of any designing decisions or actions and to gauge the utility of the same. 

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In this case, individuals need to be alert of the shortcoming of this approach, considering that while short-term consequences are easily accessible for viewing – the long-term, not so.

The principles of the approach stretch to –

  1. Offering remedies/solutions for those at a disadvantage as a result of the decisions taken. 
  2. Prioritizing the iterative enhancement over any permanent solution. 
  3. Triumphing the boosted utility for all, over the increased utility for the majority.
  4. Anticipate unexpected outcomes.

Virtue Ethical Principles In Web Design

Among the 4 pillars of ethical framework, virtue ethics is the oldest. Virtue ethics is based on the reasons why designers decide on a particular design and how the developers evolve over their taken decisions. 

While ‘virtuous web designers’ sounds like one taken out from a reputed novel, the concept holds in the tech world. There are a few factors that make a designer ‘virtuous’ –

  • TruthfulnessStaying upfront honest with the clients, the end-users, the developed content, and to yourself. 
  • KnowledgeAcknowledging the designing craft and ensuring that your skills stay up-to-date.  
  • Resilience: It is advised that individuals own up their mistakes made, learn from it, and push forward to learn new skills in the website designing field. 
  • Openness: Staying transparent is the core of the ethical values of web designing. It is always beneficial to value the opinions of yourself and others around you during any project. 
  • Care: Take into account the duty that you have toward the care of the content, end-users, and towards yourself.
  • Courage: Make sure to take intelligent and calculated risks to move the designing craft forward and push the boundaries to gain success. 
  • Equity: Ensure that each of your end-users shares accesses to the same content.
  • Collaboration: Designing websites is a team effort and to promote a successful designing project, share your knowledge to boost the skills of your colleagues. 
  • Access: Anything and everything that you create must be made accessible to all who may and are encountering it. 

Based on these factors, the principles for virtue ethics comprise –

  1. Aligning every designing action per the virtues that you hold to.
  2. Design as the virtuous web designer as you desire to be. 
  3. Defining and sharing the web designing virtues that you value and how they define a virtuous web designer. 
  4. Pre, during, post designing of websites take into account the evolution you go under as an effect of your designing decisions. 

The Deontological Principles Of Web Design

Also known as ‘Duty’ or ‘Obligation Ethics’, Deontological ethics is an approach that concentrates on the action of designing and not on the consequence of it. 

The most prominent example of this code of ethics for web designers is the web standard. While there are no reasons to design web documents, individuals still do it considering their duties towards  – web owners, browsers, users, and members. 

  1. Using categorical essentials when creating new rules as a starting point. 
  2. Considering there are no rules, one would need to bank on the complete ethical principles of web designing while planning to create new rules. 
  3. Banking on the duty of care towards the information, clients, users, and the future as a whole. 
  4. Following up with the existing guidelines, rules, and best practices.

Checklist Of Ethical Principles of Web Design

Let’s be very specific here – there is not a one code of conduct when it comes to website designing that all consent to. The ethics are subjected to evolution based on the personal belief of the designers and their community culture. So, with ethics for website designing, the designers rely heavily on respect and empathy. 

Based on this, here are the top 5 takeaways on principles for ethics in web design

Place Your User First

All website designing decisions, irrespective of whether they are about –

  1. Revenue models
  2. Social media integration and sharing
  3. Content management systems
  4. Server infrastructure, or
  5. Front-end frameworks

-it is essential to place the end-users first. Start with 

Step 1: Capability approach to establish the capabilities that are being offered to end-users and viewers and lay down the future world that you plan to offer them with your designing solutions. 

Step 2: Virtue Ethics to help you look into what kind of designer you evolve into while taking these designing decisions. 

Step 3: Deontology to help consider the best practices undertaken and the duty of care that you must adhere to.

Step 4: Consequentialism to map out the short-term and long-term consequences of designing while calculating the utility of the same. 

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Remember: Design Decisions Are Decisions Made On Behalf Of End-Users

Thinking of each decision you take as a decision taken on behalf of the end-users is crucial. This is because any designing decision that you take will have a substantial impact on how the website world will be perceived in the future. 

In this regard, these principles of web design are tools during thinking about designing decisions to be taken. 

Never Manipulate Behavior

Unlike the cool dark themes of the website designing world that have hit the roof in its trend behavior, the dark sides of the web are undesired and push end-users into a trap. 

Those who have an Amazon prime account and have tried to delete it would nod their head to this. As easy as it is to create the account, it is even more challenging to delete it  – the designing is meant to manipulate user decisions to never delete the prime account. 

This designing path is more inclined towards financial gain and promotes user-unfriendliness. Hence, it is essential to avoid such maneuvers. 

Ensure Positive Consequences

Remember Walter O’Brien’s (Scorpion TV series) famous quote “When I use my intelligence for the greater good, that’s when I’m most fulfilled”? 

As designers, that should be your goal too – the greater good. For any designing decision that you make, think of this – 

  1. How or if they enhance the common good for the users?
  2. What are the plausible consequences of your designing decisions? 

This gets challenging for online commerce sites considering that e-commerce and ethical web design becomes quite a balancing act. Designers need to establish a peaceful balance between the respect for the products or services and the preservation of user rights. 

Originality Of the Design

While more or less all designers take inspiration from their favored designers, it is a general rule of the thumb to not get too heavily dependent on prior designers. As much as it is unethical, it also has a negative impact on the credibility of your brand as is perceived by the end-users and goes against the code of ethics for web designers


Considering that you have stayed moderately true to the ethics in web design, be sure that your end-users, clients, community, and organization have benefitted from this. 

However, when it comes to morality and ethics, it needs working each day. So, get started today!

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Pratip Biswas

Pratip Biswas is the Founder and CEO of Unified Infotech, a New York-based web design company that has been featured in Deloitte Fast 500 | Fastest growing tech companies in 2018. His company is working with Enterprises, SMB’s and Start-ups to improve their efficiency through Digital Adoption and help them discover new possibilities through constant innovations. Pratip also writes regularly on Blockchain technology and has been published in publications like "Yourstory", "Dzone" etc.

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