At the outset I asked: are there practices that can foreground credibility and trustworthiness in design for the web?
Research from the fields of human computer interaction, social psychology and beyond suggest that there are. These practices relate not only to aesthetics, but encompass many factors, including website structure, content and copy, and transparency around authorship. Design has to step beyond its traditional role and encompass all these considerations. A user-centred, collaborative approach allows this to happen.
Credible = appropriate
Credible design is, above all else, appropriate. No combination of grid, colour, font, visuals, writing style, etcetera will appear credible to all people in all situations. Understanding and engaging with user needs, expectations and perspectives better places a designer to comprehend and construct an appropriate response.
The good, the bad and the incredible
LAWA is a website designed with credibility front and centre, to meet the needs of user and client. Making Good is personal; a documentary, a demonstrative expression of research, and a conceptually driven design response. Using the incongruous notion of 'incredible' design to explore the boundary – or the grey area – between credible and incredible, I hope the user is playfully provoked to consider and reflect on the innate judgements they make about credibility in the online space.
Good: Ethical and moral
Considering a live design process through an ethical lens has been enlightening; sometimes contradictory, sometimes challenging, bringing with it more questions than answers. I was surprised by my moral ambiguity at times. I thought my personal boundaries were much clearer than they are; grey areas abound once more.
Milton Glaser’s Road to Hell is thought provoking. But, as he says, “all questions of ethics become personal” (Glaser, 2002). Had I documented my own personal version in advance, my insight may have been deeper. Considering my experience as a design student, I was struck that – bar talks by library staff on plagiarism – very little is said explicitly about design ethics, or about issues that form my own ethical framework (environment, sustainability, social justice). Perhaps a gap lies therein. Perhaps a personal ‘Road to Hell’ toolkit would be a valuable addition to design education.
Embrace the grey?
When I began this project I believed that, theoretically, an absolutist position was possible; that I should be able to look at any brief and decide (after thorough research): acceptable or not acceptable. Perhaps that is why Dr Joy’s presentation left me feeling morally conflicted, as it shook that conviction.
Jacqueline Roach asks, “isn’t it better not to walk away from jobs on ethical grounds, but ask if there’s some way that you can have an influence, something you can bring?” and I think there is merit in judicious use of this approach; in fact I believe Open Lab’s influence did bring greater transparency to LAWA.
It has also become clear to me that ‘black and white’ is too reductive and judgemental. The one issue that I found genuinely ethically taxing was the tacit suggestion that the entire LAWA project could be greenwash. A refusal to engage on the basis of this high-level judgement would not only be an oversimplification, but also denies the opportunity to make small steps. I have shown that a multitude of ethical compromises, conflicts, balances and tradeoffs occur at many levels. As Ken Garland (2006, p.177) says “we’ll see how we can approach the ideal world from the real world”.
What have I learnt, and where does this go? I feel like I have only scratched the surface of ethical design, and I am interested in different ways to engage design in freshwater issues.
If I had to summarise my learning in a single sentence, I would borrow from Steven Heller (in turn borrowing from Milton Glaser): “the key is to ask questions” (Heller & Vienne, 2003, p.xi). Questions helped me understand the problems, the user needs, and to test solutions. Questions showed that freshwater quality is a complex issue with no quick fix, and helped me to understand the part LAWA could play. Questioning myself challenged my beliefs and gave me greater insight into my own practice. “Ask questions,” says Heller, “for the answers will result in responsible decisions”. Responsible decisions are definitely Good.