Home » Blog » Finding ethical algorithms around the web

Finding ethical algorithms around the web

One of our existing clients, Cathy O’Neil of ORCAA, asked us for some design help a couple months back. She does algorithmic auditing. Meaning: she checks the algorithms companies are building/using for bias. Sometimes algorithms create unfairness without intention. ORCAA wants to fix that and help groups write more unbiased algorithms. They control so much of our lives, after all. You can find algorithms used in teacher pay, the banking system, criminal justice statistics, and more. Even the media we see can be determined by algorithms.

Feeling curious? Before we dive into our work with ORCAA, here’s more info on how algorithms affect our lives.

The client’s ask

ORCAA’s work is to mathematically assess these algorithms to see if their results are fair. Cathy was requesting a graphic she could use as a seal of approval once her audit is complete. She wanted her clients to be able to show that they had been audited and therefore let their users see that they take the fairness of their algorithms seriously.

Of course we were happy to help, we like Cathy — and ORCAA’s work — a lot. Plus, I did her logo a while back so I’m familiar with her brand…and have all the art files and fonts I need.

Her request was simple:

“I am thinking something that would be a recognizable stamp of approval – so, probably round or oval, with a pronounced border to make it look like it might have actually been stamped, that incorporates the ORCAA logo and name, and that says something like ‘Audited by ORCAA, found to be ethical and fair’.”

The work we did

She and I went back and forth a bit on the details and the wording. We added a year to it to ensure that the seal of approval was dated. Algorithms change and we needed the seal to be current to be accurate. Then I handed her a few options. Here they are:

She picked one she liked and we did a little tweaking. You can see it changed from “Algorithm audited and found to be ethical and fair” to “Algorithm audited for accuracy, bias & fairness”. We did this for legibility at a small size, layout, and aesthetics. Lots of words are hard to squish into a little space. This way worked better and would be easier to understand. And come on, who doesn’t love a good ampersand?

It wound up looking like this:

This work took me all of three days with the back and forth, and in the middle of overseas travel. It was easy working with ORCAA. Cathy knows exactly what she wants, is flexible and willing to give way to our expertise, responds quickly to our needs, and always pays on time.

I loved doing this little project. And I hope you start seeing this little seal all over the internet.

Thanks, Cathy!

You can learn more about ORCAA’s work on our blog.