IxD Ethics: Business vs. User

13 Nov 2007 - 11:28am
6 years ago
11 replies
446 reads
Christopher Fahey
2005

In the "fundamental tenets of design" thread, I had written as my
third rule "Don't lie" (right after the similar "Show sleazebags the
door."). I really believe that, and as interaction designers I think
we run into this question far more often than we think.

Apparently lying to the user is fundamental to at least one business
sector: Mobile phones.

Mark Hurst writes [1] that mobile phone companies lie to their users
in several pretty big ways:

1) The signal-strength bars on your phone usually exaggerate the
strength of the signal.
2) The batter strength indicator also exaggerates the power left in
your battery.

Both lies serve the same purpose: To encourage people to use their
phones. Apparently, people don't use their phones as much when the
signal is weak or their battery is low, so by lying they drive up the
minutes.

Some people, including Mark, speculate that the carriers also use
dreadfully long voicemail system messages to drive up minutes (ever
call someone on Sprint? It takes 45 seconds to actually get to leave
a message, which I suppose helps your provider, not Sprint
necessarily -- maybe there's industry collusion there, too).

Obviously all of these decisions are GREAT for business. I can easily
imagine that if all of these practices were stopped, phone usage
overall would decline by a few percentage points, which could make
the difference between profitability and losing money for the company
as a whole. And users don't seem to mind -- what they don't know
doesn't hurt them, right?

What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
lying to the user?

Those of you in the mobile device business, are you familiar with
this practice?

-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

Comments

13 Nov 2007 - 11:52am
bminihan
2007

I often say that if cell-phone companies had invented the automobile, we'd
still be on horses. It boggles my mind how people are unwilling to pay a
few extra dollars for this or that [insert grocery item] or spend hours
researching the best deal to save a few bucks on a flight from Milwaukee to
Tampa...but they don't bat an eye when paying $80-$150 a MONTH to do
something that (mobility aside) they could do for a fraction of the cost
from home, the office, over the Internet or a pay phone.

I lump myself in the above group, so I'm not making fun of anyone. I just
think we are convinced by all manner of surreptitious means, to NEED to use
cell phones, and that the fundamental billing model of the unusable "base
rate" plus tacked-on cost of value-add features is the first clue that "they
aren't in it for the customer."

I realize you're making a design point, and I'm not in the mobile device
business, so I'd be interested to hear what those designers say. Due to my
opinion stated above, my working assumption is that designers build mobile
interfaces to allow the business to configure them as they need to. You
don't have to build a battery meter that's always 3 points higher than it
should be, you just have to build in a way for the business folks to tweak
the baseline. The business takes it from there.

Bryan
http://www.bryanminihan.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Christopher Fahey
Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 11:28 AM
To: IxDA Discuss
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] IxD Ethics: Business vs. User

In the "fundamental tenets of design" thread, I had written as my
third rule "Don't lie" (right after the similar "Show sleazebags the
door."). I really believe that, and as interaction designers I think
we run into this question far more often than we think.

Apparently lying to the user is fundamental to at least one business
sector: Mobile phones.

Mark Hurst writes [1] that mobile phone companies lie to their users
in several pretty big ways:

1) The signal-strength bars on your phone usually exaggerate the
strength of the signal.
2) The batter strength indicator also exaggerates the power left in
your battery.

Both lies serve the same purpose: To encourage people to use their
phones. Apparently, people don't use their phones as much when the
signal is weak or their battery is low, so by lying they drive up the
minutes.

Some people, including Mark, speculate that the carriers also use
dreadfully long voicemail system messages to drive up minutes (ever
call someone on Sprint? It takes 45 seconds to actually get to leave
a message, which I suppose helps your provider, not Sprint
necessarily -- maybe there's industry collusion there, too).

Obviously all of these decisions are GREAT for business. I can easily
imagine that if all of these practices were stopped, phone usage
overall would decline by a few percentage points, which could make
the difference between profitability and losing money for the company
as a whole. And users don't seem to mind -- what they don't know
doesn't hurt them, right?

What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
lying to the user?

Those of you in the mobile device business, are you familiar with
this practice?

-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

________________________________________________________________
*Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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13 Nov 2007 - 12:52pm
White, Jeff
2007

"What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
lying to the user?"

My opinion is yes & no - I would always put the business needs before
the needs or wants of the user. The lights have to stay on, right?
**But** to me it's a matter of how you conduct business - I would
never purposefully make voicemail take a long time to access so
minutes and revenue go up. I would try to realize that I'll make much
more money in the long run by having a great customer experience and a
super quick voicemail system. It's just a fundamental difference in
business strategy - you can be dishonest and nickel and dime people to
get your dollars (and probably loose them forever), or you can take
the honest, ethical approach and win over customers for a lifetime by
simply doing the right thing and being honest.

Jeff

On Nov 13, 2007 11:52 AM, Bryan Minihan <bjminihan at nc.rr.com> wrote:
> I often say that if cell-phone companies had invented the automobile, we'd
> still be on horses. It boggles my mind how people are unwilling to pay a
> few extra dollars for this or that [insert grocery item] or spend hours
> researching the best deal to save a few bucks on a flight from Milwaukee to
> Tampa...but they don't bat an eye when paying $80-$150 a MONTH to do
> something that (mobility aside) they could do for a fraction of the cost
> from home, the office, over the Internet or a pay phone.
>
> I lump myself in the above group, so I'm not making fun of anyone. I just
> think we are convinced by all manner of surreptitious means, to NEED to use
> cell phones, and that the fundamental billing model of the unusable "base
> rate" plus tacked-on cost of value-add features is the first clue that "they
> aren't in it for the customer."
>
> I realize you're making a design point, and I'm not in the mobile device
> business, so I'd be interested to hear what those designers say. Due to my
> opinion stated above, my working assumption is that designers build mobile
> interfaces to allow the business to configure them as they need to. You
> don't have to build a battery meter that's always 3 points higher than it
> should be, you just have to build in a way for the business folks to tweak
> the baseline. The business takes it from there.
>
> Bryan
> http://www.bryanminihan.com
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
> Christopher Fahey
> Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 11:28 AM
> To: IxDA Discuss
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] IxD Ethics: Business vs. User
>
> In the "fundamental tenets of design" thread, I had written as my
> third rule "Don't lie" (right after the similar "Show sleazebags the
> door."). I really believe that, and as interaction designers I think
> we run into this question far more often than we think.
>
> Apparently lying to the user is fundamental to at least one business
> sector: Mobile phones.
>
> Mark Hurst writes [1] that mobile phone companies lie to their users
> in several pretty big ways:
>
> 1) The signal-strength bars on your phone usually exaggerate the
> strength of the signal.
> 2) The batter strength indicator also exaggerates the power left in
> your battery.
>
> Both lies serve the same purpose: To encourage people to use their
> phones. Apparently, people don't use their phones as much when the
> signal is weak or their battery is low, so by lying they drive up the
> minutes.
>
> Some people, including Mark, speculate that the carriers also use
> dreadfully long voicemail system messages to drive up minutes (ever
> call someone on Sprint? It takes 45 seconds to actually get to leave
> a message, which I suppose helps your provider, not Sprint
> necessarily -- maybe there's industry collusion there, too).
>
> Obviously all of these decisions are GREAT for business. I can easily
> imagine that if all of these practices were stopped, phone usage
> overall would decline by a few percentage points, which could make
> the difference between profitability and losing money for the company
> as a whole. And users don't seem to mind -- what they don't know
> doesn't hurt them, right?
>
> What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
> the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
> lying to the user?
>
> Those of you in the mobile device business, are you familiar with
> this practice?
>
> -Cf
>
> Christopher Fahey
> ____________________________
> Behavior
> biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
> me: http://www.graphpaper.com
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

13 Nov 2007 - 1:14pm
Anne Hjortshoj
2007

The problem with business practices like the ones followed by the various
cell phone companies is that they create a huge opportunity for competitors.
To grab market share, a new cell phone manufacturer/company only has to
create a reasonable (vs. annoying) experience for its customers.
Or at least, it would make sense to assume so. I believe that the hype
surrounding the iPhone (and the Mac, to a limited degree) is a direct result
of this phenomenon.

It's amazing to me that it's taken someone like Steve Jobs to make the
obvious point that there's such a huge competitive advantage gained from
making things -easier- for customers. Maybe it comes down to tactical vs.
strategic thinking ...

-Anne

13 Nov 2007 - 2:00pm
ldebett
2004

On 11/13/07, Christopher Fahey <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com> wrote:
>
> What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
> the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
> lying to the user?
>

Wow. What if you *unknowingly* perpetuate the lie? Damn. I had no idea.
(Although it does make sense now that I read it)

In a former gig, I worked on an product that connected to Bluetooth capable
phones. In the UI (it had a high res display), I exposed the battery life
and signal strength - basically values that the phone provided converted
into icons. The phone said "signal = 3", I put up 3 bars, etc. Does that
make me a liar too?

"Bluetooth capable" or "compatible", now that I think of it, is also pretty
much BS. There are "official" standards, but no 2 phone mfrs follow them in
the same way. Each one does it differently, and they aren't eager to share
their data formats with 3rd parties. Especially ones that would provide
enough duplicate functionality to allow users to safely keep their handsets
in their pocket/glovebox/briefcase and out of sight during use. Ones that
would effectively take over the oh-so-valuable "mindshare".

So, that's doesn't constitute lying, but they are definitely interesting
competitive business practices.

~Lisa

13 Nov 2007 - 2:43pm
Mark Schraad
2006

I distinctly remember an era of the Macintosh operation systems (early to mid 90's) when the slowness of the disc copy function was a primary complaint. In a subsequent release, the progress meter was sped up and then disappeared sooner, then there was an additional delay... before the copy function completed, in the exact same amount of time.
and
The new visual messaging certainly broke the wait into more smaller pieces. It did make the time pass quicker, but certainly was a deceptive slight of hand. There was, however, not stated promise from apple about increased speed.

Mark

On Tuesday, November 13, 2007, at 11:32AM, "Christopher Fahey" <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com> wrote:
>In the "fundamental tenets of design" thread, I had written as my
>third rule "Don't lie" (right after the similar "Show sleazebags the
>door."). I really believe that, and as interaction designers I think
>we run into this question far more often than we think.
>
>Apparently lying to the user is fundamental to at least one business
>sector: Mobile phones.
>
>Mark Hurst writes [1] that mobile phone companies lie to their users
>in several pretty big ways:
>
>1) The signal-strength bars on your phone usually exaggerate the
>strength of the signal.
>2) The batter strength indicator also exaggerates the power left in
>your battery.
>
>Both lies serve the same purpose: To encourage people to use their
>phones. Apparently, people don't use their phones as much when the
>signal is weak or their battery is low, so by lying they drive up the
>minutes.
>
>Some people, including Mark, speculate that the carriers also use
>dreadfully long voicemail system messages to drive up minutes (ever
>call someone on Sprint? It takes 45 seconds to actually get to leave
>a message, which I suppose helps your provider, not Sprint
>necessarily -- maybe there's industry collusion there, too).
>
>Obviously all of these decisions are GREAT for business. I can easily
>imagine that if all of these practices were stopped, phone usage
>overall would decline by a few percentage points, which could make
>the difference between profitability and losing money for the company
>as a whole. And users don't seem to mind -- what they don't know
>doesn't hurt them, right?
>
>What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
>the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
>lying to the user?
>
>Those of you in the mobile device business, are you familiar with
>this practice?
>
>-Cf
>
>Christopher Fahey
>____________________________

13 Nov 2007 - 3:14pm
Mark Schraad
2006

I am going to take a bit of an issue with the premis here. Unless they are showing a measurement that is specific (absolute numbers or percentage) and are distorting those numbers they are hardly out and out telling a lie.

These are relative and fuzzy scale indicators. They may not be linear, but how do we know that they do not accurately reflect the situation.. The second half of a tank of gas in my car always goes faster than the first... did Audi lie? Though I can not think of a case off the top of my head, I can imagine a situation where the exact measurement value is not telling me what I really need to know. Maybe the battery looses more juice in the second half of the charge than in the first. So which display is the truth?

Mark may have more insight into the 'intent' in these case than I do, but I think that is the real measuring stick. Did they willingly diseave?

At many junctures IX designers make trade-offs for and against the user. While I often play the role of extreme user advocate, I certainly understand that sometimes the interface must nod in the direction of monetization. That's life in the business world.

On Tuesday, November 13, 2007, at 11:32AM, "Christopher Fahey" <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com> wrote:
>In the "fundamental tenets of design" thread, I had written as my
>third rule "Don't lie" (right after the similar "Show sleazebags the
>door."). I really believe that, and as interaction designers I think
>we run into this question far more often than we think.
>
>Apparently lying to the user is fundamental to at least one business
>sector: Mobile phones.
>
>Mark Hurst writes [1] that mobile phone companies lie to their users
>in several pretty big ways:
>
>1) The signal-strength bars on your phone usually exaggerate the
>strength of the signal.
>2) The batter strength indicator also exaggerates the power left in
>your battery.
>
>Both lies serve the same purpose: To encourage people to use their
>phones. Apparently, people don't use their phones as much when the
>signal is weak or their battery is low, so by lying they drive up the
>minutes.
>
>Some people, including Mark, speculate that the carriers also use
>dreadfully long voicemail system messages to drive up minutes (ever
>call someone on Sprint? It takes 45 seconds to actually get to leave
>a message, which I suppose helps your provider, not Sprint
>necessarily -- maybe there's industry collusion there, too).
>
>Obviously all of these decisions are GREAT for business. I can easily
>imagine that if all of these practices were stopped, phone usage
>overall would decline by a few percentage points, which could make
>the difference between profitability and losing money for the company
>as a whole. And users don't seem to mind -- what they don't know
>doesn't hurt them, right?
>
>What do you think? Would you ever design a system this way, putting
>the business's needs above the user's needs? Even to the point of
>lying to the user?
>
>Those of you in the mobile device business, are you familiar with
>this practice?
>
>-Cf
>
>Christopher Fahey
>____________________________
>Behavior
>biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
>me: http://www.graphpaper.com
>
>
>
>
>________________________________________________________________
>*Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
>February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
>Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
>________________________________________________________________
>Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
>

13 Nov 2007 - 10:58pm
cfmdesigns
2004

Bryan Minihan <bjminihan at nc.rr.com> wrote:

>I lump myself in the above group, so I'm not making fun of anyone. I just
>think we are convinced by all manner of surreptitious means, to NEED to use
>cell phones[...]

Amen. How did our parents manage to go to the movies or out to dinner without the kids? How did the kids manage to get through the school day away from their friends? How could we possibly leave the bedside of a sick friend, even just to go change our clothes so as to not drive the hospital staff insane from body odor? What if something happened?!

And yet somehow they did, and we all lived through it.

Somehow the ability to do something has transformed into the need to do it.

-- Jim

13 Nov 2007 - 11:11pm
Steve Baty
2009

On 14/11/2007, Mark Schraad <mschraad at mac.com> wrote:
>
> These are relative and fuzzy scale indicators. They may not be linear, but
> how do we know that they do not accurately reflect the situation.. The
> second half of a tank of gas in my car always goes faster than the first...
>

Mark, if my limited electrical engineering skills serve me, the rate of
discharge of a lithium ion battery is not linear but follows something like
a two-hump curve where the battery loses charge faster at very high & very
low charge levels, and at a slower rate through the mid-range, with the
slowest rate of loss at around 30% charge.

Car fuel tanks are less complicated, but they're usually not evenly-shaped,
so the 'level' of fuel is not necessarily a good indicator of the actual
amount of fuel residing in the tank.

However, the basic issue raised by Christopher - that some businesses will
consciously distort the graphical representation of a numeric value to
create a false impression is true and in evidence in a broad range of areas.

Regards
Steve

----------------------------------------------
Steve 'Doc' Baty B.Sc (Maths), M.EC, MBA
Director, User Experience Strategy
Red Square
P: +612 8289 4930
M: +61 417 061 292

Member, UPA - www.upassoc.org
Member, IxDA - www.ixda.org
Member, Web Standards Group - www.webstandardsgroup.org
Contributor, UXMatters - www.uxmatters.com

14 Nov 2007 - 8:04am
Mark Schraad
2006

And my point is, what if the user experience designer distorts the
graphical representation of the amount left... in order to better
facilitate the usage pattern? This would be lying as well, but with
good intent, right? So the crime here is not so much the distortion
or interpretaion, but in the intent.

On Nov 13, 2007, at 11:11 PM, Steve Baty wrote:

> On 14/11/2007, Mark Schraad <mschraad at mac.com> wrote:
> These are relative and fuzzy scale indicators. They may not be
> linear, but how do we know that they do not accurately reflect the
> situation.. The second half of a tank of gas in my car always goes
> faster than the first...
>
> Mark, if my limited electrical engineering skills serve me, the
> rate of discharge of a lithium ion battery is not linear but
> follows something like a two-hump curve where the battery loses
> charge faster at very high & very low charge levels, and at a
> slower rate through the mid-range, with the slowest rate of loss at
> around 30% charge.
>
> Car fuel tanks are less complicated, but they're usually not evenly-
> shaped, so the 'level' of fuel is not necessarily a good indicator
> of the actual amount of fuel residing in the tank.
>
> However, the basic issue raised by Christopher - that some
> businesses will consciously distort the graphical representation of
> a numeric value to create a false impression is true and in
> evidence in a broad range of areas.
>
> Regards
> Steve
>
> ----------------------------------------------
> Steve 'Doc' Baty B.Sc (Maths), M.EC, MBA
> Director, User Experience Strategy
> Red Square
> P: +612 8289 4930
> M: +61 417 061 292
>
> Member, UPA - www.upassoc.org
> Member, IxDA - www.ixda.org
> Member, Web Standards Group - www.webstandardsgroup.org
> Contributor, UXMatters - www.uxmatters.com

14 Nov 2007 - 4:59pm
Christopher Fahey
2005

> I am going to take a bit of an issue with the premis here. Unless
> they are showing a measurement that is specific (absolute numbers
> or percentage) and are distorting those numbers they are hardly out
> and out telling a lie.

You're right that systems can be inaccurate due to technology
idiosyncrasies, but the specific story (or rumor) is that the mobile
carriers do it deliberately for the purpose of driving up minutes. In
which case, it's a lie.

The premise of the question, really, is that we designers can be
asked by our bosses to design deceptive systems in order to increase
company profits.

-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

14 Nov 2007 - 7:08pm
Christine Boese
2006

Actually, I heard a retired phone company exec admit that it is true, about
the voicemail slowness set up deliberately to up the billing from it. I
mean, I heard him admit it in an interview on an PRI news program, and those
news programs vet their sources better than most journalism enterprises
(slippery slope there, I know).

But can I bib cite the exact program date and segment? No. By the nature of
orality (and podcasting temporality), my memory tells me it was either the
APM Marketplace Money segment, or APM Marketplace. I subscribe to both in
iTunes, and I'd say it was in the last six months. That's as good as I can
do.

Yes, it is ethically slimey, but as technologically possible as those people
who work the math for hedge funds to mine and aggregate all the percentages
of a cent that can be skimmed from millions of broker float transactions.

Chris

On Nov 14, 2007 4:59 PM, Christopher Fahey <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com>
wrote:

> > I am going to take a bit of an issue with the premis here. Unless
> > they are showing a measurement that is specific (absolute numbers
> > or percentage) and are distorting those numbers they are hardly out
> > and out telling a lie.
>
> You're right that systems can be inaccurate due to technology
> idiosyncrasies, but the specific story (or rumor) is that the mobile
> carriers do it deliberately for the purpose of driving up minutes. In
> which case, it's a lie.
>
> The premise of the question, really, is that we designers can be
> asked by our bosses to design deceptive systems in order to increase
> company profits.
>
> -Cf
>
> Christopher Fahey
> ____________________________
> Behavior
> biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
> me: http://www.graphpaper.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

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