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Ethical Engagement and the Dark Side of User Experience Design

Colin Gray
Assistant Professor of Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue University


Newell-Simon Hall 1305 (Michael Mauldin Auditorium)

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The profession of user experience (UX) design has rapidly expanded in the past decade, impacting the design of user interfaces, the larger strategic goals of organizations, and ultimately, the relationships of humans and society to technology. While knowledge of user needs and human psychology is generally framed as a means of generating empathy or reducing the divide between humans and technology, this knowledge also has the potential to be used for nefarious purposes. In 2010, scholar and UX practitioner Harry Brignull coined the term “dark patterns” to describe this dark side of UX practice, which I have engaged with over the past two years. In this talk, I will share the results of several studies that address practitioners’ engagement with ethics, focusing particularly on the concept of “dark patterns.” This work spans the generation of a corpus of exemplars, the sharing of examples by practitioners on social media, and design students’ engagement with dark patterns in their work. I use these studies to build a case for ethical engagement in the education and practice of UX designers, pointing towards the need for scholars and educators to address both near-term issues such as manipulation, and longer-term issues such as technology addiction.

Speaker's Bio

Colin M. Gray is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology and a Fellow in the Educational Research and Development Incubator. He holds a PhD in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University Bloomington, a MEd in Educational Technology from University of South Carolina, and a MA in Graphic Design from Savannah College of Art & Design. He has worked as an art director, contract designer, and trainer, and his involvement in design work informs his research on design activity and how design capability is learned. His research focuses on the role of student experience in informing a critical design pedagogy, and the ways in which the pedagogy and underlying studio environment inform the development of design thinking, particularly in relation to critique and professional identity formation. His work crosses multiple disciplines, including engineering education, instructional design and technology, design theory and education, and human-computer interaction. and

Karen Berntsen