A conversation on ethics is often the equivalent of “eat your vegetables” in the tech and design world. We rightfully know the benefits but our practice is often far behind. Instead we find ways to avoid the conversation, relegate the conversation to moments of crisis and, dare I say, ignore it altogether in favor of designing cool things and/or eating ice cream.

In the last few weeks, the UX team at Viget has been mulling over what it means to have an ethical UX practice. We’re all in agreement that centering ethics leads to better designs and better tech.

As a UX researcher with a background in academic research, the conversation around ethics takes on even more dimensions. In the academic world, every research project that includes people must receive the approval of an institutional review board (IRB). The IRB is tasked with assuring the ethical soundness of every research project. Though it is by no means a perfect system, it is a system built on important lessons. There is much to learn from the ethical considerations in the academic research world.

One such notorious case is the Tuskegee experiment conducted between 1932 and 1972.

The Tuskegee experiment was an ethical nightmare in the world of biomedical research. The study was designed to observe untreated syphilis over time. A group of African American men in Alabama were recruited into the study, and only told that they would be receiving free health care from the US government. The study lasted for 40 years without the knowledge of the men, most of whom did not even know they had syphilis. Over time none of the participants were given treatment and ultimately many died either from syphilis or related complications.

While often times UX researchers are not necessarily dealing with these sort of large scale research projects, the digital world is not immune to the same kinds of unethical decisions. In 2014, Facebook was widely condemned after the world caught wind of their 2012 study which manipulated nearly 700,000 users’ newsfeeds to see whether it would affect their emotions. They conducted these studies without any informed consent from users. The study validated that manipulating people’s feeds did in fact impact the viewers emotions and mental state. There was no consideration during the design of the study for the potential impact on users who might have been negatively affected nor safeguard for possible psychological distress.

The fact is that UX researchers are dealing with people and with that comes real and important ethical considerations. The Tuskegee experiment would come to dramatically shift the landscape of research in America, ultimately leading to the creation of the National Research Act. This in effect created Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to protect human subjects from physical or psychological harm.

Though UX researchers are not required to subscribe to IRB standards, there are many ways in which we can hold ourselves accountable.

Here are 6 takeaways to consider in order to practice ethically sound UX research:

Treat your users with compassion.

    The Tuskegee experiment researchers willingly watched for 40 years as participants died and infected family members. This was a clear example of lack of compassion.

    Treating your users with compassion is about recognizing their value beyond your research needs. This can be as simple as ensuring that interview slots for usability tests and user interviews are scheduled after work hours.

    View your users as competent.

      When conducting research it’s important to view your users as competent. Always function from the perspective that users have their own capabilities and wisdom.

      For instance, when conducting a usability test, value all the ways a user uses a tool, even when it isn’t how you envisioned.

      Allow your users to consent both before, during, and after your research.

        No matter how benign you believe your study to be, take the time to get informed consent from your users. A user should always be crystal clear on what they are consenting to. In both the case of the Tuskegee experiment and the Facebook study, the involved parties were not informed of the study or given an opportunity to consent.

        In addition, prior to the study, it’s important to check that the user continues to consent both during and after the study. Prior to beginning the study, ensure the user is still interested in continuing. After completion of the study, again explain the purpose of the study and ensure that the user is content with the next steps.

        Be honest with your users about the purpose of your research.

          Being honest about the purpose of your research is the only way to start your research. Being honest isn’t about you breaking your NDA clause. Instead it is transparency about why you are engaging with a particular user and what insights you hope they can help you uncover. Ultimately, you cannot have consent without being honest about the purpose of your research.

          Protect the privacy and confidentiality of the users you speak with.

            Many times in the course of speaking to a user, a user might reveal personal and vulnerable information. It is important that you ensure that any data you collect is non-identifiable in order to respect and honor your users’ privacy. As the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) demonstrates, we exist in a world where data protection is high in mind. In a digital world, data is an important and a sensitive thing. As UX researchers or someone conducting UX research,  it’s important to ensure that your data collection methods keep data protection in mind.

            Respect the life and the dignity of every user.

              Ultimately, at no point should you engage in research you believe will in any way undermine the life and dignity of your user. Conducting UX research is about learning the behaviors and motivations of your users. When you conduct research you are entering into an often brief but important relationship. You must honor this and ensure that your process is not one of simple data extraction but rather one of honoring the gift of information you are gathering.

              Ethically sound research is in essence about being honest, doing no harm, and valuing your users. Even in the fast-paced world of UX research, we need to dedicate time to reviewing our practices and ensuring that our research is grounded in ethics.


              This practice project/Client brief is the third one in this series from UX Design Mastery after the one for a Blog website and an eCommerce project.

              Design portfolio projects for UX and UI designers

              Included in each design brief is the following:

              • Objectives (What is REQUIRED by the client. This part usually trips designers up as they go off designing what is not required)
              • Timeline (For this to be realistic each brief has a timeline that is as close to real-world work as possible)
              • Platform(Where your designs will live. Understanding these platforms will give a well-considered solution)
              • Target audience (Users always come first and the design must accommodate the target audience’s pain points)
              • References (If you are not sure where to start, clients normally give a set of examples or references they like. The closer the design solution is to the references, the fewer revisions a designer will have to do)
              • Deliverables (Most importantly how the solution should be delivered. These represent what a well-detailed portfolio case study looks like so hit it out of the park)
              • Recruiter advice (Portfolio advice from creative directors, CEOs and leading design creatives from the biggest companies)

              A little about me

              Creating a portfolio project is hard work.

              I still remember when I did not have a single project in my portfolio that would really make me stand out and get noticed by recruiters. 

              I had just left my job as a Java Developer and was about to put all my effort into starting a design career. 

              One of the very first successful projects I created was a conceptual mobile app for a local airline. I had recently been on a trip which was frustratingly delayed and poorly communicated to passengers. 

              So I decided to creatively express my opinions through a conceptual project and it was responsible for me getting hired for my first design job. 

              Its also my most appreciated project .

              I hope this travel app project you work on, provides you with as many opportunities as I have received. 

              Let’s get into it

              Design Portfolio Project 3: Travel App

              Client Brief

              Client: Choose any travel brand of your liking

              Timeline: 1–2 Weeks


              Create a mobile app design that can:

               • Allow a user to book a flight, a hotel and car on a specific date for different destinations

               • Find the best deals on flights, hotels and car hires

               • Ability to select holiday activities

               • Organize all travel plans into one itinerary

               • Notifications


              Please design a travel app for either iOS or Android. So we require mobile screens. Pay attention to

              iOS guidelines


              Android guidelines


              Target Audience


              Please conduct some research on the following travel apps that we love and get ideas for functionality and features to include



              • Research (refer to references provided)

               • Highlight 3 enhancements or unique features you have included to make our app stand out and solve user pain points

               • Sketches of initial ideas

               • Wireframes

               • Visual mockups screens of

               ⁃ App Onboarding

               ⁃ Home screen where a user can book a Hotel, a Flight, a Car or an activity in a popular city

               ⁃ Listing page of Hotels

               ⁃ Map view showing hotels location

               ⁃ Itinerary screen

               ⁃ Possible notifications

               • Results section: Feedback from testing with 5 random people

               • Fonts: Brand related

               • Colors: Brand related

               • Link to this project

              Nice to have

              Video walkthrough (Screen record using QuickTime an Invision prototype interacation)


              Go through an entire booking experience to understand how the app is design.

              Advice from recruiters

              I wish more portfolio websites included little descriptions of what the designer’s role was in a specific project, or even pointed out some specific problems or personal thoughts about aspects of their designs. Too many portfolios now are just vanity shots and client name-dropping without actually communicating what was done. 

              James Cabrera, Senior Product Designer, Refinery29

              Going the extra mile and making sure it’s easy to consume, well-presented, and filled with helpful context about your projects tells us a lot about your communication skills. Ideally a portfolio should be more than just a collection of pretty thumbnails and mockups — it should speak to your problem solving skills.

              Ryan Le Roux, Metalab

              If you’re just starting out as a designer, a good alternative to unsolicited redesigns are personal projects. These self-initiated projects are a great way to build up your design and product skills, while also putting something out into the world for people to use. You’ll learn a ton from the experience of launching something and the feedback you’ll get from your users will definitely make you a better designer.

              Elyse Viotto, Shopify

              If you are interested in gettting the PDF download and four extra example case studies of award winning Travel app projects download below.