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The Digital Ethics Compass

The Digital Ethics Compass is a tool to help companies make the right decisions from a design ethical standpoint

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We’ve all heard the stories of big tech collecting uncanny amounts of personal data, using cunning algorithms to manipulate our brains, or even hiring neuro specialists to make us addicted to digital products. Scary as they may be, they can seem irrelevant or far from the work lives of the digital designers and product developers who don’t work for Facebook, Google, or Amazon.

The reality is that many of these stories start with a reasonably ordinary designer who makes everyday design decisions. Wanting to design the best possible solution is understandable, but in that pursuit digital solutions can have unintended consequences. Vulnerable audiences, user data or the far-reaching consequences – these, and many more, are all considerations we need to take when designing digital solutions if we are to create a better, fairer, more responsible, and ethical digital world.

To do that, we need to start with the design decisions that designers, product managers and programmers make every day. Decisions that ultimately impact the company’s image, competitiveness, and growth. In short, it’s a matter for top management and the Digital Ethics Compass toolkit is here to help.

The kit is available for free by courtesy of, well, us.

The tool has two features:

  1. Ethical checklist (heuristics): The checklist helps you ask the right ethical questions to avoid the most common design mistakes. Ethical design patterns guide you with practical recommendations and examples of how to create ethical digital products.
  2. Ethical workshop tool: Build more ethical and responsible products with the workshop tool. You’ll be guided through a workshop, designed to help you locate any ethical problems with your digital products or services and find new and more ethical solutions.

Ethical checklist (heuristics):

Download the two PDFs: The Ethics Navigator and the Knowledge Cards to use the Digital Ethics Compass as an ethical checklist.

The Ethics Navigator can be used as a big game board or digitally with the PDF version. Five fundamental ethical principles help guide the process of designing digitally ethical products. As you may notice, no principle is ever 100 percent unambiguous. You may even find they raise more questions than they answer.

In the next ring, you will find three categories where ethical issues most often arise: Data, Automation, and Behavioral Design.

You’ll find 24 questions in the outer ring that you can use as a checklist to avoid making the most common design mistakes. If you’re curious about the questions, use the knowledge cards to take a deep dive into each of the 24 questions.

The knowledge cards explain the five ethical principles and the 24 questions in the Ethics Navigator. Each knowledge card elaborates on an issue and gives recommendations and examples of good and bad ethical design solutions. You can use the knowledge cards if you face a specific design challenge and need help moving forward.

Ethical workshop tool

Download all the PDFs to use the Digital Ethics Compass as a workshop tool. The most essential one is the playbook, which explains the steps of running a design workshop. The other PDFs are practical tools for you to print and use in the workshop.

The playbook describes in detail how to run the workshop and it’s worth paying attention to a few things:

  1. Pick a facilitator who knows all the material in the Digital Ethics Compass well.
  2. The workshop takes a minimum of four hours, but we recommend using a full day or two half days to get the maximum benefit. You can also do additional workshops for other digital products in your company.
  3. The workshop is designed for in-person attendance, but you can also use the PDFs with online collaboration tools like Mural and Miro to run a workshop online. Feel free to contact us or some of the project’s consulting partners about this (see partner list below).
  4. Include all those who make or impact decisions about the design of a digital product in the workshop. Designers, product managers, programmers, data scientists, CEOs, business developers, etc. – it’s an advantage to have as interdisciplinary a team of participants as possible, as it supports seeing the product from different perspectives.

The Digital Ethics Compass: An extended course

The Digital Ethics Compass can also be combined with a more comprehensive course run by the consulting partners who helped develop the Ethics Compass. A course lasts 1-3 days and tackles more broad issues about design ethics and how to be better at designing ethically. The course is tailored to company needs, but to give you an example, here’s what a program might look like:

  1. An interview or a survey assessing the company’s digital products and the organization’s maturity concerning digital design.
  2. Preparation: Participants spend approximately one hour preparing.
  3. Day 1: Introduction to ethics and digital design ethics with hands-on and engaging examples.
  4. Day 2: Workshop based on the Digital Ethics Compass. Moderated by an experienced consultant with deep knowledge of the tool and design issues.
  5. Day 3: How do we get better at working with digital design ethics in our daily work? How do we change the organization? How do we change our processes? Etc.
  6. Follow-up: The course is followed up with interviews and assessments.

Need the toolkit in Danish?

Don't worry – we have your back!

Go to The Digital Ethics Compass in Danish

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