We’ve spent so many years designing for an emotional response. It’s now time to design for responsibility.

Here's our manifesto.

By Rishad Patel
Splice Design
We're building a responsibility design framework. It's time. Image: Shutterstock Illustration: Rishad Patel
We're building a responsibility design framework. It's time. Image: Shutterstock Illustration: Rishad Patel

We want to build a responsibility design framework.

We, the people of media, often talk about how we want to — need to — regain trust. We tend to forget sometimes that responsibility is how you get there. It’s a major pit stop.

Too often, terms and conditions get lost in the footer of a website, or in a text wall of legalese. Editorial responsibility tends to be defined as a set of nebulous personality-centered principles with no human or technological systems to implement or validate them.

We’ve spent so many years designing for an emotional response. It’s now time to design for responsibility.

The components of responsibility

The idea is to build a design system for responsibility.

The principles of building a design system have been in place for a while. It’s there to make sure best practice is in place, so we don’t reinvent the wheel every time. It’s about having a robust system that incorporates usability principles, standards, a style guide, a pattern library, guidelines, components, usage, etc. The application of the system doesn’t really matter as long as its philosophical components are in place.

What if we did this with media responsibility — publisher responsibility — as the operating system?

Google does this well. The simplistic view is that they did it to serve their own business interests; the wider view is that they raised web standards in order to serve the users of the web, which also served publishers’ business interests.

Google gave us PageSpeed Insights that allowed us to test how quickly our websites loaded — because that’s what our users wanted; the Mobile-Friendly Test to make sure we were publishing responsive web pages — because that’s what our users wanted; and AMP, because that’s what our users also wanted.

They even introduced that insanely popular beast Material Design to benchmark their well-researched idea of how information hierarchy should be a universal design principle.

The mighty Brad Frost gave us the hugely influential Atomic Design, a design system methodology for creating a design system based on breaking it down to its most basic building blocks and components.

Why have we not built one that instils — and installs — standards for media responsibility? (Unless somebody has, and I’m being clueless 🙂 )

We’re actually familiar with the components of implementing this. Find investment — philosophical, time, and financial. State and communicate the vision and structure of this system to end users and newsrooms. Build your system on a solid architecture of logic, tech, and scale. Get buy-in. Incorporate a usable feedback system. Create comprehensive documentation and an outstanding training program.

But how do you reward milestones? How do you penalize — and learn from — setbacks?

Let’s go back to Google. When they made the case for mobile-friendly web pages, they structured it beautifully. They did their research and discovered the problem: non-responsive pages saw dropoffs and high bounce rates. Then they presented the problem and gave us a way to test for mobile-friendliness. Built in to the test were best practices, roadmaps, guidelines, and even downloadable assets that enabled us to build our own mobile-friendly pages. They even gave us ratings and scores.

But within the system was a significant penalty system: if you didn’t comply, the Google search algorithm would demote your pages in its search rankings.

Carrot and stick. Do not go directly to trust. Do not pass responsibility.

The way forward

Like you, at Splice, we’re interested in media standards, transparency, and best practice.

We think the roadmap to trust — by our own industry, by governments, and by our readers, users, audiences, and customers — is one we have to build with the tools of responsibility.

Literally. We’re thinking of this system — this responsibility design framework — will be built with training programs, a CMS structured around responsible, even altruistic, publishing guidelines, open-source codebases, academic coursework, the whole shebang.

Listen. We think this system is actually a movement, and like most movements, it needs momentum — and all of us to create it.

What do you think? Is this naive? Just plain dumb? Or do you think we have the beginnings of something here? I’d really love to know. Email me. I’m rishad@thesplicenewsroom.com.

This manifesto first appeared in Rishad’s weekly Splice Frames newsletter, which explores the intersection of media and design. Subscribe here.

Rishad Patel is a product and design professional. He is the co-founder of The Splice Newsroom and is responsible for developing the company’s products and services. Follow Rishad Patel on Twitter.

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