Is it time we start designing for deviant users?

Enter the UX Risk Designer.


Christian Leong

3 years ago | 6 min read

Ideas on race, insurrection, and the correct America do need to circulate national discourse, but should not be acted on with such malice. When media platforms hold so much power that the president of the free world becomes ballistic² about his exile and tepid towards a violent raid on the capitol, then media platforms hold a lot of power.

They also hold the power to change this.

These insurrections are all too commonplace, and their design needs to directed towards preventative risk measures, rather than reactionary attempts to clean up the mess. Why can’t we accept that many protest movements start online, and use Design to make them more productive?³

Why can’t we accept that many protest movements start online, and use Design to make them more productive?

Whichever side you’re on, that was a sad day in American history — a nation proud of its traditions of democracy looked anything but with neither side willing to concede an inch and rampaging any “perpetrator” who crosses them.

This is not compromise, this is condemn-nize.

Enter the UX Risk Designer

Social platforms were created as a means to connect with others and whether their creators intended for their platforms to overthrow governments or not is a moot point. They do this and will continue to do so.

With so much influence comes a great level of responsibility for the trajectory of commonplace society.

Sure, tech bros didn’t ask for this, but what else is to be done when their platforms are used for such insurrections? Instead of running from such movements caused by deviant users, why don’t we design systems for initiatives to be heard and seen better? These possibilities shouldn’t be handled by UX Designers, working on hero use cases, but rather one who’s versed in abnormal psychology, design, and perhaps criminal justice?

Enter the UX Risk Designer
An example persona created by a UX Risk Designer
An example persona created by a UX Risk Designer

As technology evolves and anything can be built and weaponized to push an agenda, these individuals will become increasingly important, to make sure that technological power has a safe place within society.

Deepfakes can already change individuals into realistic models of others and put words into their mouths with astounding realism.

Amy Adam’s face translated as Nicholas Cage’s is impressively spot on
Amy Adam’s face translated as Nicholas Cage’s is impressively spot on

As these technologies make their way to the mass market, the chance of deviant use is simply too consequential to ignore. There must be brainpower allocated to designing for these deviant use cases, there must be a new breed of UX Designers who focus on risk.

Cut off the head and it will grow back

By removing the president from the social media sphere, his insurrection is nowhere near dead and other similar protests will continue to happen on platforms. Why is this?

Today, online protests are oftentimes shapeless and do not have a distinct leaders, when their head is cut off, another will grow back. This shapelessness makes them difficult to deal with, because they lack a clear vision and teachings for success.³

Platforms are here to stay, and social movements on them will continue to happen, the question now becomes, how do we design solutions for “deviant” users that are non-violent, and productive.

Who counts as a deviant user?

Although the word deviant traditionally has negative connotations, this demarcation of such users isn’t that. Instead, deviant users are those who deviate from a platform’s intended uses in ways that can lead to harmful outcomes.

President Tr*mp is easy to pin as a deviant Twitter user, but less obvious deviants lurk at many levels within a product’s ecosystem. Social platforms have enabled child sex traffickers to recruit and sell children for sex⁴, and organize ‘Hitler Youths’ uprising⁵. Intelligent stuffed animals are being hacked⁶, removing all barriers between your kid and the hacker.

Instances like these need to be addressed and solutions need to be designed. The hope is that UX Designers focused specifically on these problems, can design solutions for these additional edge cases of users.

So how do we design for a Hitler Youth?

This won’t be easy! And sometimes there might not exist the best design solution. However, for many movements what’s the harm in accepting the fact that many of them start online, and designing formal solutions to organizing these movements in a productive fashion.

The rudest of rudimentary examples (I promise I am a better designer than this), is to have movement leaders create forms, outline goals, declare leaders/points of contact, gain supporters, and down the line be considered by elected officials.

Their changes could either be voted on, or we could use a different democratic design to rectify these. The key here is that this sect of users now has legitimate grounds to effect change. When this isn’t correctly followed, punishment can be more specific and binary, so that we don’t have such gross disconnects as seen in the George Floyd and Capitol protests.

Why don’t we accept that potentially dangerous movements predominantly start online?
Why don’t we accept that potentially dangerous movements predominantly start online?

Gut reactions, flipflopping, and loyalty

The internet can be a strange place, full of whacky ideas and discourse. Reactionary societal movements would be of the utmost consideration to design for in designing for movements. To discourage inauthentic movements, new movements should mirror movements that start offline — they should be campaigns, and they should be hard.

Potentially, a new movement should have to gain steam and credibility as it gains more followers and approval from credible individuals. Through design, a checkpoint number of supporters could be required for a movement to be publicized locally.

Another checkpoint could be required to publicize nationally, and an even greater checkpoint, could potentially push it towards decision-makers and be voted on.

An example artifact charting stages in the design of movements
An example artifact charting stages in the design of movements

At each stage, friction can be added to access the authenticity of followers and inactivity could lead to the loss of a follower, similarly to how movements function offline. These milestones and designs would take the efforts of the UX Risk Designer, but also collaboration with other experts.

What is the future we want to design?

I am advocating for a new type of designer, to consider more types of users and design for their alternative uses in systems. These designs have the potential to radically influence society, by building more democratic systems.

Although not every alternative use and movement would be supported by the new UX Risk Designer, this would lead to a more democratic world. My question to you is, is this what we want?

What is the future we want to design?

So, you think design can stop mass online mobs?

While I believe that a more structured design for societal change will help stem the number of Capitol attacks that we see in the future, underground insurrections will continue to happen.

However, now that there’d be a formalized process for enacting social change online, there's now concrete guidelines to the right and wrong ways of pushing change.

When ulterior methods are used, grounds are much clearer for penalties and lawmaking can start to catch up to ever-evolving technology. As stated earlier, this would minimize the differences in security punishments like the ones witnessed between the George Floyd and Capitol protests.

Better yet, it would actually absolve these platforms from being solely responsible for violent protests, with these concrete uses for their platforms. Instead of having these outbursts fall on the shoulders of Mark Zuckerberg retroactively, we can now put the responsibility on individuals preventatively.

New beginnings

Throughout the 2010s wages have stagnated, inequality has increased, and conditions of the middle classes have gone down. In the 2020s, this is expected to continue⁷. As I look at the world around me, while these problems are obvious, another one rages beneath the surface. People just aren’t listening to each other.

To design a more satisfying world, we must know what we want, perhaps a stronger democracy, and then build it. To build this or anything else, we need to listen to our users, even if they may be deviant.


Created by

Christian Leong







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