Designing For People: Eric Meyer Tackles Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty

To call a person ‘thoughtless' is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

So says An Event Apart cofounder Eric Meyer in Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty, a personal, thought provoking exploration of the need for empathetic design. In it, Eric tackles the profound (although unintentional) edge-case cruelty that can creep into our most lauded interaction design achievements—such as when Facebook's acclaimed “Year in Review” feature this month generated an ad that showed Eric the face of his daughter Rebecca, who had just died this year.

Image: Jeffrey Zeldman

This is another aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design. In creating this Year in Review app, there wasn't enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or anyone who had a bad year. The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn't take other use cases into account.

The article has made a deserved late-year stir in the web and design communities, and in the press, picking up coverage in The New York Times, Washington Post, Sydney Morning Herald, NPR, Time Magazine, USA Today, Boing Boing, Mashable, and Tech Crunch. Hopefully it will reach some of web and interaction design's most brilliant practitioners, giving them important new scenarios and users to consider when they create.

Read the full article at, and see Eric speak insightfully and from powerful personal experience about "Designing for Crisis" at An Event Apart Atlanta (Feb. 16–18) and An Event Apart Seattle (March 30–April 1).