Design centers a massive promise: that the field can shape the world. How does it fall short?

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Photo by bady abbas on Unsplash

What made you fall in love with design?

Personally, the field made me feel like I could do anything. Our tools, mindsets, spaces, and creations have stewarded possibility for generations. I remember learning about how the methods of human-centered design — tactical empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, and many more — were tools available to any human that wanted to make something new in the world.

Over time, I learned more about the constraints caused by the actual culture of design. What actually happens in the design community — the artifacts we construct, the processes we develop, the people afforded power, and the spaces we develop — reproduce the same socioeconomic constraints, narratives, and half-measures that we’ve seen throughout the progression of society. …

We need new ways to think about transforming the world. Fortunately, the path was trailblazed half a century ago.

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Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Does going to school make you feel empowered?

Think back to the last time you were in a classroom.

We’re not talking about when you walked across the stage, or the few times in your life you used your education at your job. I’m talking about those morose times in a lecture hall, learning about whatever topic you’ll forget at the end of the semester.

Let’s go back. Actively sitting in the seat, listening to a professor, taking quizzes and tests, going to office hours (if you’re that kind of overachiever), Today, sitting in front of the Zoom, How did it make you feel? …

To build an antiracist future, we have to take a hard look at today’s creations.

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Photo by Liza Rusalskaya on Unsplash

This moment feels different.

It seems overnight, the world is overcome with injecting anti-racism into every endeavor. Some colleagues, for the first time, are coping with the weight of the oppressive system. Others, fortunately, have collected countless resources posed to help design a more equitable future.

Unfortunately, racism proves to be larger, more abstract, and more elusive than the objects traditional designers are used to constructing. To some extent, it’s not their fault: racism’s been designed into our society for hundreds of years. …

To build an antiracist future, we have to take a hard look at today’s creations.

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Photo by Liza Rusalskaya on Unsplash

Design is the process by which the politics of one world become the constraints on another.

Fred Turner

I’m glad you’re back.

If you made it here first, you might want to check out A Hundred Racist Designs, Part 1. It will clarify the context for you.

If you have, I’d love to hear how your reflection went. What racist objects inhabit your daily life? What changes can we make so the things we make are more equitable? How are we making oppression more visible to our objects, day by day? It’s important to note how truth-telling is only one step on the journey. …

Kindness isn’t just a virtue. It’s essential for gathering trustworthy data in unknown environments.

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Photo by J W on Unsplash

Can we get into VIP?

If you’re at an event like Botswana’s Desert Race, you might think that saying this means we’re trying to get over on event planners. Admittedly, in a way, we were But, we weren’t doing it to enjoy the event’s talent, or to enjoy the good life. We had essential research to conduct.

We needed people, pictures, and stories about the event and getting into the VIP area offered the space to learn about who — and how — it was designed. However, gaining access didn’t require a PhD, or hundreds of dollars. …

Let’s unpack the impact of our favorite media.

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Photo by Mario Calvo on Unsplash

Remember Nick Cannon’s recent hot take on slavery? No, not that one.

This one:

Do you remember the context? This was about the time massive slave movies were captivating theatre audiences. Lincoln, Django Unchained, and 12 Years a Slave, had come out in quick succession. For better or worse, Cannon’s opinion stirred up a national discussion about the impact of black cinema. Some agreed, others thought he made much ado about nothing, At the time, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

I’ve since changed my mind.

It might have been Mike Brown’s death. Maybe it was Trump’s presidency. I can’t remember exactly when I reached the end of my rope, but I’ve slowly fallen out of favor with stories that center black trauma and experience to sell compelling stories. Today, the art isn’t separate from experience; seeing these stories just throws more salt into open wounds. …

Dwell not on the best day of your life.

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You made it.

You turned in the paper. You passed the defense. Graduation is nigh. Your dad’s brought the good camera for the celebration, and your mother packed the fanciest of church hats. You’ll hug your professors, walk across the stage, and leap into the rest of your life.

So, why do you feel so empty?

Trust me, I get it. I’ve been through four graduations of my own. Each was a new opportunity to reflect on my accomplishments and appreciate how far I’ve come. …

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Featured Image: Protests at the University of California, Berkeley. Source: Energy and Resources Group Website

“Berkeley is less than the sum of its parts.”

My first graduate school professor said this quote, the one I most remember from my first day of graduate school. By transferring from aerospace engineering to studies in global poverty and development in Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (ERG), I knew I should expect a nontraditional training program, and I was hungry to dive into the unknown. What I didn’t expect was for my new professor to drop a revelation I’d dwell on for years.

Later I would come across Gestalt theory, where I assume my professor adopted his quote. Gestalt theory was established by 1920s psychologists who studied how humans develop and maintain perceptions in our chaotic world, and the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka infamously stated “the whole is other than the sum of its parts.” The parable of the blind men and the elephant portrays this concept well; in the story, men fervently argue from their limited perspectives about the state of the whole animal. Clearly, my professor recognized that even the sage departments at Berkeley needed a different perspective. …

How does a word’s history define its future?

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Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Take a second, and think of some technologies you use every day. What do they do for you?

My computer? It helps me connect to loved ones and strangers all over the world, conduct and synthesize my research, write articles, and it can help me curate my digital footprint. Solid.

The clothes I wear? Yes, that’s tech too. They keep me warm, they keep my body protected from the elements, and they help me project my personal style. Makes sense.

The airplanes I’ve used? They let me travel to places I haven’t seen, to conduct my research, to visit new friends and family, and they help me pollute the atmosphere so marginalized communities feel the results of climate change more quickly. …


Pierce Gordon, Ph.D.

How does your design shift power? |

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