Designing user experiences for liars and cheats

Loky is an Android app that helps you (in the company's words) "Keep your private life, private." It protects SMS messages from 'secret' contacts behind a PIN code.

Here's how TNW describes it:

Here’s how it works – if one of your ‘secret’ contacts sends you a message, it doesn’t show up in the regular Messages app at all. Instead, it’s stored within Loky – ready for you you read and reply to when prying eyes aren’t around. If you want to keep certain files on your phone private (maybe incriminating photos or a video), they can be hidden within Loky too. Photos can even be taken from within Loky, meaning they never hit your main photo gallery in the first place.

Loky really is the sneakiest app I’ve ever used. You can get it to send a ‘dummy’ SMS (the default option is a fake spam text from a mobile phone retailer) to the main Messages app so you know when a new secret message has arrived. There’s even a ‘Dummy’ PIN code which loads a fake version of the app which you can load up with innocent data.

If you get taken by surprise and need to close it Loky a hurry, you can just shake your phone for a couple of seconds to close the app. Meanwhile, the app locks itself if left unattended for even a few seconds, although if that annoys you, you can adjust the auto-lock time.

Fascinating, no? And a really well thought out user experience. The design team obviously explored many different user scenarios to come up with a very useful application for a very specific community. This is user-centered design at its best. I'm fascinated by this app. If I had an Android, I'd probably pay the £2.99 to check it out... not that I have any use for it.

BUT, I'm also fascinated by the implications of designing an app specifically for the purpose of deception. Or for a user community that will end up using it for... well, what? Lying? Cheating? I, personally, have no moral judgement about this. People lie, and cheat, and they have for all recorded history. It seems to me that deception is part of human nature. That said, I personally choose to be as honest as possible, a fact that my clients respect, and also can find frustrating, especially when I express opinions that are counter to their own, or when I tell them how much time something will take.

And here's why I find Loky so fascinating... not just because it sounds like such a great test case of user-centered design, but because of the questions it triggers in me. For example, as a designer what is my personal responsibility to be true to my own ethical code? What happens when I'm asked to design something that goes against a strongly held belief? Whose job is it to decide if something should exist or not?

I have no answers to any of these questions. I'd love to hear what you think. Seems to me, as more applications like Loky are developed, that for those of us in the design field this is a worthy discussion to have.

So, what do you think?

Got something to hide? Loky is the sneakiest app we’ve ever seen.