Unintentional design and digital hate

Our Director of Design, Rich reflects on unintentional design, and how seemingly innocent frictionless acts can have real-world consequences.

We live in a world where our unconscious actions can have a real and tangible effect on many people.

So much of our digital lives are driven by frictionless actions: a like, a share, a signature. Yet behind every click is the potential to support or harm.

Today, I was reminded of the effects of unintentional design and the spread of hate.

A UK Government Parliamentary petition was created to “Remove LGBT content from the Relationships Education curriculum” in schools, and rapidly spread through social media.

The dangers of frictionless acts

Frictionless acts make it easier to share information quickly. But these acts have consequences. The lived reality of this technical marvel is something much darker and dangerous. It’s easy to spread hate.

The result is that people are harmed and the hard-won rights of marginalised groups are continually questioned and debated. And LGBTQ+ people are reminded of the transient nature of their situation.

Equity is something yet to be achieved by LGBTQ+ people. Our rights are something that can still be given and taken away, depending on the prevailing political discourse. We’re never truly free.

A photo of Rich Prowse in 1999This photo captures a moment from my life at university in 1999. At the time, I was experiencing bouts of severe depression.

As a gay man born in the late 70s, I grew up under the shadows of AIDS and Section 28 which stopped schools from talking about LGBTQ+ people.

I learned that my love was less or wrong. I should be tolerated or not exist. I quickly internalised the homophobia of the outside world, and turned that inward to self-destructive thoughts and behaviours.

My teenage years were stolen from me. I could not live and love in the same way as my friends.

Hate spreads further and faster

The hate and violence I experienced was limited to a small group of people who mimicked their friends and family. Today hate is no longer limited to a physical location: it can spread quickly, anywhere, anytime, anyone. One click, one like, one share at a time.

Algorithms help to accelerate the spread of lies about the LGBTQ+ community and reinforce them by showing more similar content. The consequence, more hate, violence and suffering.

Intentional and unintentional design

Design is never neutral. It’s a process involving planning, prototyping, and development with specific goals in mind, which can have both intentional and unintentional outcomes.

As designers, we spend a huge amount of time thinking about the content we write, the interfaces we design, and the processes we develop. Often, we fuss over insignificant details at the expense of more important issues.

A screen shot of Twitter dialogue adding friction to the sharing processExample: Twitter adds friction to the process of sharing information

We forget that the digital and physical worlds interact. And when they do, the effects are potentially toxic on some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society.

As designers, we need to spend more time thinking about the consequences of our work. Similar to architects who have to consider the safety of people who use their buildings.

The same applies to our work. We need to take responsibility for not only what we create, but also its potential effects. We need to design with intent.


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