Friday, June 27, 2008

Designing Ethical Experiences: Understanding Juicy Rationalizations

Rationalizations and ethical design ...

"Designers rationalize their choices just as much as everyone else. But we also play a unique role in shaping the human world by creating the expressive and functional tools many people use in their daily lives. Our decisions about what is and is not ethical directly impact the lives of a tremendous number of people we will never know. Better understanding of the choices we make as designers can help us create more ethical user experiences for ourselves and for everyone.

In Part 1 of this series on Designing Ethical Experiences, “Social Media and the Conflicted Future,” I explored the familiar dynamic in which design mediates unresolved conflicts between business stakeholders and users by making unethical compromises and looked at changes in technology and culture that make this unhealthy dynamic more likely in the future. In Part 2, “Designing Ethical Experiences: Some Practical Suggestions,” I outlined some practical techniques for effectively resolving ethical conflicts during our design efforts by adapting existing user experience tools and methods.

In this third installment, I’ll explore the surprising mix of misperceptions, biases, and cognitive mechanisms underlying the decisions people make when facing ethical choices, which unfortunately encourage us to come up with juicy rationalizations for unethical decisions.
Not As Ethical As We Think

“People believe they will behave ethically in a given situation, but they don’t. They then believe they behaved ethically when they didn’t. It is no surprise, then, that most individuals erroneously believe they are more ethical than the majority of their peers.”—Ann E. Tenbrunsel, Kristina A. Diekman, Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni, and Max H. Bazerman.

As in the mythical town where every child is above average, it is obviously impossible for everyone to be more ethical than his fellows. Surprisingly, however, consistent findings from psychology, management, sociology, and economics research show our ethical behavior is quite a bit worse than we imagine. We not only choose unethical options more often that we think when facing ethical dilemmas, but after the fact, we also change our ethical standards and our memories to justify the many unethical decisions we make. [2]

Considerable research on decision making and business ethics shows a powerful combination of cognitive distortions, shifting perceptions, and personal biases—a combination that recalls the dialogue about juicy rationalizations from “The Big Chill”—heavily affect the choices we make when faced with ethical dilemmas. To shed light on the mechanisms that affect our decisions, I will summarize some of the most relevant research, with an emphasis on how these findings relate to user experience design. It seems we all carry a bit of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse."    (Continued via UXmatters, Joe Lamantia)    [Usability Resources]

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