Ethics and cruft

I once had a client who insisted on sharing their white papers only if the person interested would leave their e-mail address first. I tried very hard to convince them to simply publish their knowledge on a blog. To no avail. The company in question didn’t need to think about usability, they said, since they had a monopoly. I should have fired this client. If you want to fuck things up, do it without me. But unfortunately I was not the boss. Not much later the company I worked for started publishing white papers behind e-mail forms as well. And not long after that fact I switched jobs.

Cennydd Bowles wrote an article about how design teams can deal with these so called dark patterns. He says that it’s every designer’s obligation to discuss these issues, and to try their hardest to make sure the web doesn’t get polluted even more. I couldn’t agree more. The web has more than enough cruft as it is.

I’m very happy that I work at a university where designing for what the user wants, and needs, is at the core of everything we teach. This might result in future design teams that don’t have to discuss dark patterns. They simply won’t.

But I don’t think it’s only a design problem. If you look at what the cruft actually is, it’s mostly dumb marketing tricks (subscribe to this email list that you have no idea about what it is about since it’s taken over by this overlay) and insane legal stuff (cookie warnings, changes to terms of service).

Maybe we can change a few things through education. Infiltrate in marketing schools. Publish articles on marketing blogs. Convince them to, as Cennydd says, ensure our products are beneficial [not just to our selves, but] to the world. We should try to change organisations so marketing teams are not the final decision makers anymore. Hard to do? Naïve? Sure. If you have better ideas I’d love to know them.