The Stakes of User Interface Design for Democracy

12 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2021

Date Written: July 7, 2021


Digital design choices such as color and font, the size and placement of action buttons, and the number of steps required to execute an action all shape the user experience (UX) and what information people absorb and release. Digital platforms and service providers shape the UX in ways that can be respectful of user autonomy and advance accurate, high-quality information, or in ways that subvert user choice and promote deception. Social media platforms have used “deceptive design” in many respects, making it easier to manipu­late users into taking actions, sacrificing data, and succumbing to beliefs they might not otherwise want to. This paper proposes that platforms replace “decep­tive design” with empowering or “democratic design.” Regulators have incorporated design best practices in a number of offline policies. This paper surveys key examples, ranging from emissions labels on cars to health warnings on cigarette packs where regulations were guided by design principles. Design best practices should inform online policy as well.

Suggested Citation

Goodman, Ellen P., The Stakes of User Interface Design for Democracy (July 7, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Ellen P. Goodman (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law ( email )

217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102
United States
856-225-6393 (Phone)
856-225-6516 (Fax)

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