Designing for Meaningful Social Interactions: an ethical social responsibility


Digital advances have offered a new ground for people to virtually gather and share their ideas and experiences with each other from/to any corner of the world. UX/UI designers have the power to create these virtual places for them. They can thus use their ethical responsibility to focus on meaningful interactions wherein people can connect and collaborate with purpose; and learn from each other both professionally and personally.

Helpful communities

Stackoverflow – the world’s largest developer community is a great example of an online platform that encourages constructive participation. They came into the digital picture in 2008 and used gamification methods to facilitate social interaction. For instance, each of the 560,000 registered programmers have public reputation scores, and they can also earn badges along the way to add to their credibility. Their reputation grows as per their contributions in the community while Stackoverflow marks the best answers to encourage people in giving more comprehensive answers to each other.

Box and Arrows, a US-based UX/UI design company followed suit as they designed a web app called for designers and developers to build their online UX portfolios. They opted for a different path in terms of social features in comparison to platforms like Behance and Dribble by adding an “Ask for Review” button to the website. On using the feature, users are sent constructive feedback via mail. Their next step was to facilitate interaction among users wherein they can give reviews to each other. Instead of using likes, stars, and comments, B&A structured feedback forms in a manner that teaches reviewers to give useful and personalized feedback.

Designing for Meaningful Social Interactions

UX/UI designers of the present and future must similarly create helpful communities through such methodologies to create platforms that harness meaningful interaction among people. Similarly, these concepts can be applied to other professions and interests as well allowing people from all backgrounds such as science, technology, marketing, fashion, art, entertainment, fitness and wellness among others to gather and share ideas (with safeguards on intellectual property).

It is important to understand that these examples are not the same as YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. These social media platforms are designed keeping in mind the consumer considering they are flooded with advertisements and branding. Meaningful social interaction design must include a producer’s playground wherein enthusiasts can communicate with each other and grow.

Airbnb as an aggregator accomplishes this, as their review forms exemplify structured, meaningful, and effortless interaction. While reviewing hosts, guests can choose from a list of common issues ranging from décor to safety. Accordingly, more specific queries are provided in MCQ formats. Airbnb further encourages social interaction and user experience by allowing to send a private message to hosts before writing public reviews.

Designing meaningful social features

The following tips can be followed in the journey towards an ethical design movement.

  • Transference: While contemplating design aspects for meaningful social interactions, designers must first consider real world ones. Would a professional in a particular field seek to attend an event wherein random people approach each other every five minutes with requests and pleas to consume their work? The design must be intended for a target audience wherein they can share feedback and constructive criticism with each other.
  • Values: John Edelman defined values as “ideas that guide us in action.” Designers must reflect on the target audiences and understand the characteristics, traits, or habits that are unique to them for effective and meaningful social interaction. They must also enlist product values. Developed by Batya Friedman and Peter Kahn Jr. from the University of Washington, Value-Sensitive Design is an approach that takes human-oriented values into consideration when designing technology. Hence, values like privacy, safety, identity, longevity, transparency, responsibility, equality, and ownership among others must be considered.
  • Prototype: Mocking social features using existent communication tools such as email or chat are the most useful way of prototyping. It is important to interact with real users, try different social interactions, and gather feedback for the design. These insights will be invaluable for software features.

In conclusion

Designing meaningful social features is no cup of tea, since there are few examples of such platforms. This form of UI design involves more labor than merely adding a like button and requires critical thinking to build a real community around the product. Designing a different form of user experience with meaningful social interactions is not only an ethical social responsibility, but also an opportunity that can be leveraged to reap dividends for all players involved.

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