Via Christian Crumlish, I discovered the excellent essay Are we building a better Internet? by Matte Scheinker. Matte’s essay looks at how seemingly small design decisions can have huge impacts on the way that the internet evolves. He says:
The first design meme I encountered with true deleterious power was the opt-out check-box for marketing emails on sign-up forms. Our argument for it to be opt-in instead was user-experience focused with a nod to the business folks. Undesired emails would hurt the brand, annoy the user, and not necessarily generate qualified leads. What we didn’t consider back then was how that small decision would help create today’s Internet. These undesired marketing emails — along with the invention of V1@gra — contributed to the cacophony of commercial noise that now pollutes the Internet. As far as I know, this noise hasn’t killed anyone. Yet most of us would prefer the Internet to feel a little more like relaxing on a secluded beach with a good book and less like Times Square on a muggy Saturday night.
Imagine for a moment what today’s design decisions will do to mold the Internet’s future. What if every product decision you made last week became a successful design meme? Would that create an Internet where you’d want your kids to play?
Sometimes we get lucky and it’s not difficult to discern the difference between right and wrong. Don’t sell user data because you’re short on beer money. Don’t keep emailing users after they unsubscribe. Don’t read user emails to find the next great stock pick. These are certainly over-simplified dilemmas, and sadly, most ethical dilemmas aren’t as clear-cut.
He goes on to talk about other ethical decisions that designers and businesses make and the impact that they have. You really should read the whole thing.
But Matte’s questions are not just for web designers and developers, they are also for business managers: Are you making business decisions that might affect the future of the internet? Of your business? Of Business? If everyone behaved as you do, would the world be a better place?
Decisions that affect the internal world of your business don’t just affect your staff, they affect their spouses, families, friends. If you’ve ever known someone who’s unhappy at work you know how far and how fast that unhappiness can travel. And if you’re making good decisions – enabling and empowering the people you work with to communicate, collaborate and be more effective – then your influence will also spread as the people you work with pick up good management habits.
Of course, this isn’t just about feeling good: if you have passionate employees you have a whole raft of potential evangelists who can represent your brand in the wider community. If you treat your customers with respect, they’ll be more likely to recommend you to their friends. And if you make good decisions about your website’s design, you’ll gain much more goodwill than abusing customer’s trust.
Being ethical isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.