Design ethics, edge users, and the role of active proxies in unwinding the spiral of exclusion
The ethics and responsibilities of technology companies are under increased scrutiny over the power to design the User Experiences (UXs) embedded in their products. Researchers advocating a Rawlsian “just and fair” design process have suggested a “veil of ignorance” thought experiment in which designers adopt the standpoint of unspecified hypothetical users to ensure designers are not biasing their own perspectives at the expense of others. This article examines including and excluding such standpoints through the lens of edge users—a term based on extreme “edge cases” in which systems are more likely to break down. Edge users are particularly marginalized and subject to a spiral of exclusion when interacting via Internet and Web resources whose design disregards them because their ability to research and voice their experiences is further limited. Active proxies, those already helping or standing in for marginalized users, can be enlisted as design allies to develop a deeper understanding of such edge groups and contexts. Design ethics, in short, needs to move beyond making technologies accessible to all people, to making all types of people accessible to designers.
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