5 ways to design an ethical user experience
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5 ways to design an ethical user experience

How to design an ethical user experience

User experience is everything related to a user’s interaction with a product or service. When designed well, it creates a seamless product that people will love. By focusing on your user’s experience, you are ensuring that you deliver a product or service that does good. 

In this article, we’ll take you through what good user experience is and why it’s so important. We’ll also share some of our best practices for creating excellent user experience to ensure you can build the most ethical service. 

Why is user experience important? 

Regardless of how good the intentions behind the product are, a poor user experience will still alienate users and reduce the amount of good your product or service can achieve. 

A product or service with a great user experience will be;

  • relevant and useful to the correct people
  • easy to understand and learn how to use
  • something users remember
  • cost effective
  • efficient
  • something users want to use
  • enjoyable for users to use

Do your research

User research is the process of understanding who your users are, their needs and their frustrations. Conducting user research will help you to create a product or service that is inclusive and addresses real issues. Here are the two types of user research methodologies.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is a type of research that is flexible and doesn’t require a large number of participants to create meaningful insights. It deals with the thoughts and emotions of users; “why did they do something?”, “what are their attitudes?” and “what do they believe?”.

Popular qualitative research methods:

  • User interviews – A method of understanding the thoughts and feels of users
  • Observations – A method of understanding how users actually do something
  • Usability tests – A method for understanding usability issues with a digital service and uncovering opportunities for improvement

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is a type of research that is rigid and requires a lot of participants to create meaningful insights. It deals with hard data; “how many people did this?” and “how often do people do that?”.

Popular quantitative research methods:

  • Surveys – A method for gathering key information from a large number of people
  • Website analytics – Collecting and analyising key website data such as page views
  • A/B testing – Comparing two versions of the same feature to gauge which is more effective with users

While neither of these methods is better than the other, they do have their time and place. Quantitative research is best used to discover things such as how many people visited your website. Qualitative research, however, is the best method to find out why some visited your website .

Helpful resources

There are many different types of user research methods, each requiring expertise to be done properly but here is a great introductory piece from Medium on how to conduct user interviews. For more information on different research methods Nielsen Norman Group is an excellent resource.

Empathise with your users

After conducting user research, you can begin to use it to help make informed decisions. However, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as an average user, as no product or service has only one type of user.

Think of a coffee shop. There isn’t one type of customer; there are people writing novels, busy business people grabbing a quick coffee, harassed parents needing caffeine, and many more. Considering the full range of people interacting with your product or service is more ethical than considering your users to be one monolith, as you are empathising with people’s lived experiences, what they want from you and the barriers they face.


Personas are a great way of representing who your users are. A persona is a visual representation of your key audiences. Creating these assets helps you and your team think about these people more empathically and encourages you to ask yourself, “who are they?”, “what are their lived experiences?”, “what concerns do they have?” and “what do they want from our service?”.

Here is an example created in-house at Matchstick Creative which shows one of the types who attend Firestarters. 

Helpful resources for audience personas

A great resource for finding out more about how to create, and the importance of, personas can be found on the Interaction Design Foundation

Creating a narrative

Now you understand who your users are and what they want, you need to know how they interact with your product or service. A great way of gaining an understanding of this is by creating journey maps. 

Journey maps are a simple, easy-to-read representation of all the steps a person goes through to achieve a certain goal. These are useful tools because they help teams build a shared understanding of the service. A common problem when designing a product or service is a lack of a shared understanding of what you do. Individuals within teams tend to only understand the section of the service that they deal with and no one tends to have a complete overview.

As well as helping to build a shared vision, journey maps help teams to consider all of the frustrations a user may experience and how to address them. Without creating this shared vision, you may unwittingly be creating situations that cause problems. Journey mapping will help you become more empathetic when designing your product or service.

There are different kinds of journey maps, each with strengths and weaknesses. Here are three common types:

  • An experience map – A general overview of how a generic person experiences something. eg. Someone buying a coffee. (Although there is no such thing as a generic user, it is important to get a rough sense of how these interactions work before digging deeper into specific types of people)
  • A customer journey map – An overview of how a specific type of person interacts with your product or service. Eg. How a busy business person purchases a coffee at your coffee shop.
  • A service blueprint – Similar to a customer journey map, except this time, it also maps out what your product/service needs to do to facilitate each of the user’s interactions.  Eg. A person choosing a coffee – the background asset needed is a regularly updated menu.

Here is an example of a customer journey map created for one of our clients, Borough Care. Read our case study to find out more about how we helped Borough Care improve its user experience.

Helpful resources

Journey mapping is a process that requires a lot of collaboration and expertise. If you’re looking for more information on the process, explore this article from Adobe.

Collaborate with your team

Once you understand your users, what they want and how they will be interacting with you, you can begin to create design solutions that are meaningful and impactful. Collaborating with your team when designing is essential as it will lead to more innovative, well-rounded solutions. 


Workshops are an excellent approach for encouraging collaborative design within a team, and a method that we use at Matchstick Creative. They offer a platform for diverse team members with different skill sets and experiences to come together and contribute their ideas. 

There are many different types of workshops, but in essence, a workshop is when a group of people come together for a set period to work on a specific problem. The best way of running a workshop is to have one facilitator who will take the group through a series of tasks but other than that, there is no hierarchy among the rest of the participants. In a workshop the opinion of the CEO will have the same weight as the opinion of a caretaker, This approach fosters an open and inclusive environment, where the opinions of each team member are valued equally. It recognises that valuable insights and innovative ideas can come from anyone, irrespective of their job title or role.

Test your solution

Having designed a solution that you think addresses all of your user’s needs, it is not enough to assume that it is good enough. The most ethical next step after design is to test that it actually meets the needs of your users and does what it is supposed to do. 

Usability testing

A great example of testing a solution is usability testing. This method works particularly well for websites. Participants are asked to complete a series of tasks representing the key features of the website.  The researcher will note the participant’s behaviour and feedback. The aim of this is to uncover issues that might be creating a negative user experience, find any opportunities for improvement and discover more about what users want.

Helpful resources

Here is a real-world example of usability testing, Matchstick Creative conducted a series of usability tests to improve our client’s existing service. Another great resource for learning more about usability testing is the Nielsen Norman Group.

Key learnings on ethical experience design 

Experience design is a vast field and we have barely begun to scratch the surface in this article, but if there are three things you can take away, they should be:

  • Put people first – When creating any product or service you must ensure that you understand who your users are and what they need. If you create something without considering users first, you may be alienating people and creating more issues than solutions.
  • Create ‘one truth’ – A challenge many products/services face is no one within the organisation has a complete understanding of all of the interactions users have with it. It is essential to create this understanding in order to build solutions.
  • Learning never ends – Even if you have done all of your due diligence before creating a product/service there may still be issues so it is important to test your solution to check that it actually works.

Start creating great user experiences

We hope this article has helped give you an insight into what goes into creating an ethical product which has a fantastic user experience. But, if you’re looking for even more insights on how to help clients create great user experiences, follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn. For more updates on the latest news from Matchstick Creative, sign up for our monthly newsletter