The social and ethical issues of
Software Design and Development
“Ergonomics is the study of the relationship between human workers and their
work environment.” (Davis, 2011). Therefore, it includes all hardware, software
and environment that affect how the user and participants interact with the
product. However, in software design and development, instead of
concentrating with a huge variety of products, we just focus on the software.
Ergonomics is one of the three major social and ethical issues of Software
development and design. Apart from just being able to serve a wide variety
of audience (which is a main element of inclusivity), ergonomics includes
how easy the software is to use and what background knowledge is require
by the user and participants, among other factors, with a focus on audience
from different cultures, economic backgrounds, social groups, gender
differences and ways to make the software accessible for the physically and
The actual software development process should also be ergonomically
inclusive; it requires a variety of skills. These include “effective communication
skills, working in teams, creativity, design skills, problem-solving skills and
attention to detail.” (Davis, 2011)
Before the invention of Graphical User Interface (GUIs), it used to be very
difficult for users and participants to use computers, as these systems were
based on command lines, called Command Line Interfaces (CLIs) and didn’t
provide a user-friendly interface for the users. However, due to the limited
functionality of the GUIs, CLIs remain a preference for specialised or
automated computer tasks. Therefore, most software applications were
written for large military and business organisations. The hardware and
software were so intimately linked that the package solution was bought
together as an entire product. The revolution of personal computers has
changed our way we think about hardware and software today.
All property is protected by law. This means that while a person may own a
physical product or a piece of software, he/she might not necessarily own
the rights towards the design of that software or product.
Therefore, legally, that certain individual cannot copy the design or use the
design of the software/product for their monetary profits. However, they can
use the single product/software they own for any purpose they deem fit.
However, traditional physical products that were built required specialisation
in knowledge of the product and the field, the necessary machinery as well
as the workmanship. All these expenses beared by the manufacturer of the
product (the individual/organisation which has the rights towards the design
of the product) are referred to as manufacturing costs. Therefore, for physical
devices even today, this cost barrier acts as a safeguard for illegitimate use
of the design by other individuals/organisations to copy for their profits. But
software together with books, films and music are easily copied and
therefore require extra legal protection and reinforcement.
Intellectual property can be defined as “Property resulting from the fruits of
mental labour”(Davis, 2011) . Intellectual property laws cover the
design/framework of most products. Since copying of software and as such
films, books and music is relatively inexpensive compared to physical
products and requires almost minimal computing knowledge, they can be
made by anyone. Consequently, laws have been passed that in most
countries that protect the intellectual property rights of software developers
and to ensure that they are financially rewarded for their intellectual efforts.
This is made possible today through the use of Software Licence
Agreements.These agreements have been created to enforce the
intellectual property rights of software developers and other electronic media
producers. These Licence agreements hence must use legal jargon and
therefore be legally correct, if they are to be used in a case in court. Not only
do licence agreements protect software developers’ intellectual rights, they
also protect developers from the financial loss or hardships their customer
may suffer due to the purchase of their product.
Since licence agreements use legal jargon to ensure their validity in court,
they are often difficult to understand. To make our understanding of Licence
agreements easier, it is possible to break down each component of the legal
rights and responsibilities the developer includes in their licence agreement in
order to ensure their legal protection against certain anticipated aspects:
Licence: the formal permission or authority to use a product. This,
however does not mean that the user gets ownership of the software,
they are merely granted the right to use it. The same laws apply to
other forms of such mass media, including books, films, photographs,
Agreement: a mutual contract between parties. These agreements
can be made in various ways. One of the most common ways is to ask
the user to agree to certain conditions of the agreement by clicking
“OK” just prior to installing a software package or downloading or
Term: the duration and the commencement date of the agreement. In
most cases, the agreement starts as soon as the agreement is made;
this needs to be included in the agreement for both parties to refer to
Warranty: any assurance provided by the software developer – some
type of guarantee. This is to be included in the agreement. A warranty
gives some sort of assurance by the developer to the user regarding
the quality of the software. However, to protect their legal rights even
further, developers state that the software is sold “as is” and therefore
any standard glitches experienced by the user is not covered by the
warranty. Warranties rarely apply to other forms of electronic media
(such as films and music), as there is no legal need of “assurance” or
“guarantee” from the producers/developers.
Limited use: some developers do not provide users unrestricted use of
the product. For example, the product may be limited to be installed
on only a limited number of computer systems, or could be only valid or
legally usable for a certain period of time.
Reverse engineer: many agreements today prohibit users to break
down the purchased software, in order to reinforce the intellectual
property rights of the developers. These laws also apply to other forms
of media such as music and videos, where the purchaser is not legally
allowed to break down the final product into primitive or simpler
Backup copy: some agreements allow copying the software package
for archival purposes. However, these copies can only be legally used if
their original software (or media) files are damaged when in term of
the agreement. When the terms of the agreement are over, the
backup copies should be destroyed.
There are 7 types of use of software and media covered by a licence
Commercial: covered by copyright. One archival copy can be made
as a backup. The product cannot be modified, distributed or reverse
Shareware: proprietary software that is provided to users on a limited
basis and only for a certain limited trial bases and pursuant to a licence
which restricts any commercial benefit, use or exploitation of the
software. Shareware is also covered by copyright
Freeware:copies of freeware can be made; freeware can be
distributed and altered. However, freeware is still protected by a weak
reinforcement of copyright. The source code of the freeware
application may or may not be available to the public
Public Domain:Copies of this form of software application can be
made with or without restriction. Hence, public domain software
applications are not covered by copyright laws.
Open source licence: although open source applications are still
covered by copyright laws, these types of applications remove most of
the traditions laws and rights of the (original/primary) developer/s. the
development of open source applications is largely based on
collaboration from the public, and the resulting modified product is
also released based on the same open source licence.
Site licence: these are covered by copyright laws. These type of
applications restrict the users/purchasers as to how many computer
systems can an application be installed on.
Creative commons licence: although software and media work under
this licence is still copyrighted, its use for software applications is rare.
However, they are widely used in media forms such as photographs,
music, video files, etc. Under the conditions of the Creative Commons
licence, the user is generally permitted to freely copy and distribute the
work, as long as the original developer/producer is acknowledged.
Inclusive can be defined as: containing, embracing or comprising everything
concerned. Comprehensively includes and takes account of stated
concerns. (Davis, 2011)
Inclusivity is one of the three main social and ethical issues of Software Design
and Development. Inclusive software should take into account the different
users who are going to likely use a developer’s product. It is a responsibility of
a developer to determine the types of users that are going to use their
product. Moreover, developers that ignore inclusivity are likely to lose a fair
market share from their product, resulting in lower sales and reduced profit.
There are 4 main factors developers should think of when anticipating the
inclusivity of their products:
Cultural background: “The culture of a people can be described as
the set of ways of living built up over a period of time and passed from
generation to generation.” (Davis, 2011).
To be inclusive of the various cultural backgrounds in the usability of
their product, developers must firstly understand or at least be
empathetic to their needs and beliefs. Although it is not possible to be
aware of all the cultures, we can easily include users from a variety of
dominant cultures as part of the testing process occurring during
development. This includes the subordinates of language (including
writing scripts), numbers, religion, superstition, currency, time, dates, just
to name a few.
The dominant language of a country should be used in the interface of
the solution. Many software developers today manage to translate the
content of their applications into different languages, by asking the
user themselves their preferred language of installation. This allows their
applications to have greater inclusivity as the application can also be
used by people who are unfamiliar with the language in which the
developer originally developed the software.
Apart from this graphics and symbols used in a software application
are also pivotal to the inclusivity of the software. Different images can
be interpreted in different ways by users from different cultural
background. A graphic that may be humorous for a user could be
offensive to another, especially due to their religious beliefs.
“Economic characteristics relate to the generation, distribution and use
of income and wealth” (Davis, 2011). The economic background
factor can be examined at a local, national, global or even an industry
specific scale. It is a responsibility for software developers to know the
economic capacity of their targeted users, as this assists in increased
the inclusivity of their software applications, causing increased sales
and larger profit margins. The most successful applications in the
market are those with costs that are accessible by the widest variety of
audience. The recent shift towards the development of open source
applications has helped in this regard.
Davis, S., 2011. Intellectual Property. In: Software Design and Development -
The Preliminary Course. Sydney: Parramatta Education Centre, p. 17.
Davis, S., 2011. Software Design and Development - The Preliminary Course.
2nd ed. Sydney: Parramatta Education Centre.