How you can be an ally with your product design choices.

BLM Window Doodle, by Julia Fernandez

News flash: Black Lives Still Matter

As of this writing of this on July 4th, 2020, I am proud to stand in solidarity with a movement that has had a long time coming.For those of you visiting from another dimension of the universe, and happen to just stumble upon this blog while the Gods of the world wide web have somehow not given you access to other resources on BLM, here’s a short summary of why 2020 has been a revolutionary year for Black Lives in America:

  1. February 23 Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in Georgia

  2. March 13 Breonna Taylor served a knock warrant and was killed during this police encounter

  3. May 25 George Floyd is killed by Minneapolis Police with police officer Chauvin kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes while Floyd pleads, “I can’t breathe.”

  4. May 26 Protests begin demanding the officers to be held accountable from the George Floyd case

  5. May 29 Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, Secret Service Agents rush Trump to a White House bunker as protests gather around the White House

  6. June 1 Anti-racism solidarity protests are held around the world including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and Brazil

  7. June 3 Senate Bill 217 introduced to hold police accountable

  8. June 5 Vigils are held on Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday, calling for police officers involved in her killing to be fired

  9. June 7 Confederate statues fall, Minneapolis council members announce the intention to defund the police department

  10. June 10 Man calls police on peaceful protesters

For more detailed information, check out this timeline created by the Collegian.

One of the most important things that I feel this movement has done is the revolutionize the definition of what an ally looks like. It is the obligation of an ally to keep educating themselves, to keep learning, and to keep protesting. As a designer, I wanted to take it a step further and research how I can use my skills for the better.

Why redefining the standards of inclusive design can make a lasting difference amidst Black Lives Matter.

I think I am not alone in saying that I am fearful that people are still treating #BLM as a movement or a trend. However, I find that the best productive way to combat this is to find ways that I can personally contribute to the cause: whether that maybe educating myself through podcasts, books, and movies about black history, or protesting in your own ways.

Let me virtually say this louder for the people in the back—protesting comes in different shapes and forms. Amidst COVID-19, sometimes people are unable to go outside and protest. But that’s okay, because there are other ways that you can be a part of the movement.

I have found that finding my passions and how I can personally use my skills to protest has been fulfilling as well as motivating.


I created the video above after being inspired to watch speeches from prominent voices of black history.

But I didn’t want to stop here–I wanted to figure out how I, as a budding product/graphic designer, can use my technical skills to change the face of my work, one product at a time. Which brings me to the meat of this post.

You are holding a device that is programmed to encourage racial biases.

You read that right. A lot of products that you are utilizing on your mobile phone are created with an approach called “anticipatory design,” encouraging users to make a system that discourages freedom of choice by creating an environment that encourages users to make quick judgements, and are actually placing marginalized users at risk.

In this TED Talk conference by Jennifer Eberhardt, the social psychologist articulates how designing for speed can actually foster injustice.


“Categorization and the bias that it seeds allow our brains to make judgements more quickly and efficiently,” she said. “But just as the categories allow us to create quick decisions, they also reinforce bias. The very things that help us see the world also can blind us to it. They render our choices effortless—friction free.” Jennifer Eberhardt

Why friction can be the answer to products’ pre-programmed biases.

Friction, a new word for me today, is the interruptions that users confront when using a product.

Whether that may be providing users more time to pause before making quick decisions, or creating additional steps in the users’ flow in the form of dialog boxes, warnings, or confirmation messages, users are able to think twice before making/submitting a choice. In addition, being able to redefine powerful slogans that are constantly consumed by users such as “If you see something, say something” to “If you see something suspicious, say something specific,” (an anti-racist slogan made by Nextdoor), rings to light the power of the narrative which you put your user through.

Anti-racist security slogan, NEXTDOOR

Through Eberhardt’s work, NextDoor was able to prevent racial profiling incidents by 75%.

So, what can I do to change my methods for the better?

This information is useful, but how am I going to start changing my methods of product design in order to ensure that I can cover as many bases as possible to make sure that my design is anti-racist?

1) Changing my perception on seamless design

Before writing this post and reading more about the racial implications of UX and AI, I always thought that the less clicks it was for a user to get from point a to point b, the better. But as I spoke about friction, I need to reframe what I currently accepted as normal and understand that there are implications when it comes to creating fully friction-less design.

2) Revise my product design process to prioritize inclusivity

Being in university and taking a few classes on interactive design is one thing, but going further and learning more about inclusive design and actually implement these learnings is another.

Unfortunately the classes I have taken do not currently have a curriculum on accessible or inclusive design, but that does not make it an excuse for me to turn a blind eye on parts of my design process that are currently failing to prioritize inclusivity.

Here are a few things that come to mind:

  1. Showing transparency in the demographic of users that participate in my testing and pushing to have a diverse demographic

  2. Question parts of my design that speak to a need for friction

  3. Find ways to proactively word prompts/the design’s narrative to be meaningful and purposeful.

3) Keep on learning and reflecting

I realize that it is now my duty as a designer to keep learning about how I can make my designs anti-racist and inclusive to whatever demographic of users I choose to target. In the same way that we are encouraged by our activist friends to keep signing petitions, keep taking action, and keep fighting the fight for our black brothers and sisters, I encourage you to keep learning about the injustices present in UI/UX design, I ask you to keep finding solutions to solve products that are currently harming users by feeding into their implicit biases, and I urge you to spread the word to your fellow designers about how they can improve on their inclusivity.

Until next time,

Julia

#activism #blm

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© JULIA FERNANDEZ 2020