The ethical principles in web development

We as web developers are responsible for creating a great experience and a safe environment for our users online. When we choose to use ethical approaches in our web development we are helping to create a better world-wide-web for everyone.

Here you will find a list of the ethical principles to use in web development and a description of what they mean.

1# Usability

  • Learnability
  • Memorability
  • Efficiency
  • Errors
  • Satisfaction

Every time we interact with a new product or website we start with the so-called learning process and depending on how easy the product or website is to learn the faster we will get the hang of it. When we build web applications it is important to make the learning curve as small as possible to make it easier for our users.

By shortening the learning curve we also improve the efficiency, because by taking away wasted time learning a new design we give them time to do other stuff. Other ways to improve the efficiency could be by trimming forms from unnecessary fields and shortening down checkouts. One example of making checkout more efficient in a webshop is Amazon, where they made the option to do a quick checkout by using the already-saved credit card information from the user. This means that the user could purchase a product with only 1 click on a button.

We should also make sure that when errors happen they are easy to understand so that the user knows where they did wrong and how they can proceed.

2# Accessibility

Accessibility is very important in today’s world since the internet is no longer meant for only the sighted or those without disabilities. Today we include everyone on the internet and the way to do this is to make sure your website is accessible to everyone. 

Accessibility ensures that you can navigate the website without sight or without using your hands. It makes sure that screenreaders know what to read and how to interact with your website. The problem that people with disabilities often face is that images don’t contain an alternative text or that important sections on websites can’t be accessed because they aren’t tappable.

For most people, it is not intentional when their website is not accessible and in reality, it is quite hard to ensure accessibility on every level. A great way to test if your website is accessible is to blindfold a friend and ask them to perform certain tasks on your website. If they succeed you have done a good job, but in most cases, you will get surprised about how hard it is to navigate a website without sight. This test can give you some valuable feedback on where you can improve your accessibility.

3# Privacy

The next important topic to talk about is privacy. We have all tried to search for a product on Google and all of a sudden we are presented with hundreds of ads on this specific product on every website we visit. Most of us have also heard talk about Facebook reading our messages and Alexa listening in on our conversations at home.

We as web designers and developers are responsible for building products that only collect the information necessary and that are in our visitors’ best interest. Let’s look at Signal which is a messenger with privacy in mind. When you sign up for an account with them, the only thing they ask for is your telephone number because nothing else is necessary to get started. They don’t ask for your first and last name, because why is that important if you have come to them for privacy?

4# Transparency

Transparency is great to build into your web application since it makes it easier for your users to make their choice without force or manipulation. Netflix for example lets you sign up for a 30-day free trial, but without any further notice, you will be billed after your trial, unless you cancel the subscription in time. 

A transparent approach to this would have been to first ask for the credit card information after the trial ended so that the user could make a decision about whether they wanted to continue or not. When automatically billing customers after a trial period you create a bad experience that your customer will remember. 

5# User involvement

As designers, we create products that will become a daily part of our visitors’ life and hopefully give them great experiences. We can create user involvement in our design by giving them a clear understanding of what’s going on and the tasks required. Example: In a webshop, we need to fill out some information before the order can be handled. Often these pieces of information are divided into steps and sometimes the user cannot see when they are done or what’s ahead. To improve user involvement we can place a step-section above the form to clarify exactly which steps the user needs to take before successfully placing the order. This will prepare them for what’s coming ahead and make them able to visualize how long time the given task is going to take.

A great way to ensure user involvement is to use Human-Centered Design (HCD) which was developed by Don Norman.

6# Sustainability

Pollution caused by the internet is a great problem without much focus. If the internet was a country it would be the 6th biggest polluter in the world and every day it is getting worse. 

When building websites we should have sustainability and the environment in mind to help create a better internet. By switching out web hosting companies using coal energy and by using environmentally friendly principles we can create a product that both causes less pollution, ranks better on search engines, and a product that is more accessible to people living in areas with low bandwidth.

Final words

We have now talked about the principles of ethical web design and hope that you now know why ethical web design is important for the future of both our users and our environment.

If you would like to learn more about ethical principles, then we recommend reading “The ethical design handbook” by Trine Falbe, Martin Michael Frederiksen, and Kim Andersen. The book will give you a great explanation of why ethical design is important and how we can implement it in our products.

Lastly, we would like to encourage you to write a comment about your experience with ethical web design below in our comment section. Thank you for reading the article, and please share it with your friends, colleagues, and family to spread awareness of the ethics in web design.

Share your love
Michael Andersen
Michael Andersen

Michael Andersen is the author of Sustainable Web Design In 20 Lessons and the co-founder of Sustainable WWW (World-wide-web), an organization teaching sustainable practices. With a passion for web design and the environment, Michael solves puzzles to make the internet more sustainable.

Articles: 21