Enterprise and Design Ethics


I have worked with a good number of developers, designers and clients over the last 25 years, all having different view points and ways of working. For this I am very grateful, there is nothing like encountering something new to snap you out of your comfort zone, and help you take stock of what you’re doing.

However I have noticed something recently in the enterprise world that just doesn’t seem right. In fact it had the inner designer in me screaming, leaving a bitter after taste.

Design Experts in the Room.

Now as a designer, or even developers acting as designers, we are seen as the experts in the room in terms of design.

We are the people with the experience, the knowledge. We are the people that the managers and directors are looking to for the nugget of inspiration, for that innovative solution to move things forward. At the end of the day we are the ones that understand the customers and business needs completely, or should be.

I’m not doing to bang on about using a Human Centred Design approach or getting out and doing some customer research, we all know that is a given, right?

What I’m talking about here is the design itself. the quality of that design.

But, you could say, “Hang on, sometimes the client knows the customer better”. – Well yes, maybe they do, and yes, they can contribute to the design.

It is possible that the client understand the views and expectations of their current customers better than the design team. But I can count on one hand when this has occurred in my entire career. Most of the time they have sacrificed that knowledge for a seat at the table and are operating on an outdated baseline. This makes the best designer in the room – the designer.

Rise of the Bobble Heads.

What I’m seeing time and time again is the designer not excising this right and expectation of being the expert in the room. They will sit and agree with management in meetings like a row of bobble heads.

These designers are instead defaulting to what the “manager” wants, or what the “director of finance” wants. They are doing this, knowing full well that the outcome will be completely unusable and not designed at all for inclusivity.

I’m seeing senior to lead designers just do as they are told, like a robotic intern, colouring in the wireframes, providing and approving horrible unreadable interfaces with poor colour contrast, bad layout or the like.

When I gently ask why? They just shrug and say, “It’s what they want. I’m just the designer, it’s their project”.

Now I’m all for letting things fail and iterating, letting a bad design decision go forward to see it fail and be corrected.

But what happens next is the problem. A good deal of the designers just give up. No correction, they don’t even point out the bad design principles, they just let it ride. No speaking up, no rocking the boat, just nodding bobble heads.

The designs are approved and railroaded into production. The designer just moves onto the next project, leaving the customers and stakeholders with an unusable system.

“But, sometimes you can’t win,” you say. Yes, I too have dealt with directors that wanted to help design the product, but there are multiple ways of dealing with this and explaining your design and process and allowing for this senior collaboration. In fact, if done well this can be a benefit to all.

Speaking Up.

I have always considered that as designers we have a moral and ethical duty to stand up and disrupt the room, to say when the “suggested” design needs a little (well a lot of) tweaking. To be the voice of reason, the voice of the customer.

We have a duty of care to our clients and customers to protect them from bad design. Sometimes this means protecting them from themselves.

Instead I’m just seeing nodding bobble heads.

Have we left our sense of morality, our ethics of design behind in the quest to just get the project done, to just push out that user story? Is quality just not a goal we seek anymore?

What has happened, have we as enterprise based designers, become too robotic, too uncaring of our customers to have become the nodding bobble heads, that just do the job?

What do you think, have you encountered this behaviour? Please tell me I have missed something?

First published in Linkedin Pulse and Medium – March 2016

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