Photo credit: Matt Sayles
The Mash-Up Americans is a media company and creative studio that explores race, culture and identity in America and what makes us who we are. We smash the traditional (and eye-rolling) “identity” verticals to instead center our stories on the universal: family, relationships, food, and issues like guilt, faith and love, through a nuanced and compassionate cultural lens. We believe that storytelling unlocks empathy; and with empathy, positive social change is possible.
We publish original stories at mashupamericans.com, produce a popular podcast with American Public Media and Southern California Public Radio and curate must-read stories in our weekly newsletter. We also work with select clients who want to create and distribute content that speaks to Mash-Up America in an authentic, meaningful way.
Design and Exclusion is created in partnership with Mash-Up Americans. Amy S. Choi is the host and both she and Rebecca Lehrer helped produce the show. Read more about Mash-Up Americans on Design.Blog.
Ivana McConnell wrote a piece on exclusionary design for Design Observer:
You can build it, but should you?
The aim of good design is to solve difficult problems in intuitive ways, and the best solutions come from those directly affected by that problem. For this reason, questions are a foundational step in the design process. We ask questions to bridge gaps and understand deeply the problem we aim to solve—what does that problem really feel like? Questions build an understanding that, once built, lets us begin to design a solution—one which addresses the problem in an inclusive, thoughtful manner. However, one question is too often lost in this process:
“Should I build this?”
What I appreciate most about being an artist is the community. While some might imagine the lone artist toiling in their studio, what I have experienced is artists coming together on the internet and in-person, sharing ideas and questions, and finding ways to work together. One way this happens is through the creation, modification, and sharing of tools for artmaking.
In May of this year, I prototyped Creative Power Day—an experiment to show young people that strengthening their creative muscles would make them better at everything they tried—from schoolwork, sports, and the arts, to being better friends now and being stronger leaders in the future. We engaged more than 500 students aged 10-14 in 22 classrooms in the US, Canada, Iceland, and Ireland. The workshops were facilitated by trained volunteers and included hands-on activities and discussion designed to build three essential creative muscles:
- Seeing connections between disparate concepts
- Developing an openness to new ideas
- Building resilience through experimentation
Earlier this summer, an internet gimmick surfaced on social media where people randomly posted their first seven jobs. Implicitly, this meant that you had to be old enough to have held seven jobs in the first place (a fact that eliminated pretty much anyone under forty). Nevertheless, referencing these forgotten anecdotes quickly became a kind of sport: what emerged was a combination of irreverence (famous people divulging they’d once been interns) and insouciance (less famous people declaring they’d only ever been interns), all of which produced a surprising result.
It leveled the playing field.
For an industry that complains about the inconvenience of waiting for a cab, doing laundry, or picking up takeout, we sure build a lot of suffering into our apps.
Virtual reality initially caused motion sickness in women because the equipment was developed and tested primarily by men. Interracial couples try to take photos together and fail because their phone’s white balance can’t capture both dark and light skin tones. People struggling with mental health issues, violence, or other trauma try to get help from Siri and Alexa but we’re only recently seeing that considered. All these stories and more, underscored by a rampant and constant harassment of women, people of color, people disabilities, those of Muslim and Jewish faiths, and LGBTQA—and tech’s bewilderment on how to help.
Last year I gave a short talk about designing for both physicians and patients at a Design + Healthcare event hosted by John Maeda and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Prior to this, most of my time as a designer working in the healthcare industry was spent at Spruce Health, where I designed a mobile application that enabled patients to be treated remotely by a dermatologist. Shortly after that talk, Spruce shifted the direction as a company and turned the technology behind the dermatology clinic into a platform any physician could use in their practice. Very quickly, I went from designing an experience focused on patients to one that was focused on physicians. As a result, I was forced to rethink how I approach problems through design and redefine what it means to drive change.
I’ve always wanted to be a designer.
I grew up drawing and painting (traditional artist) and knew I wanted to be able to do that for the rest of my life. I was good. I still am, I think. When I was 9 years old my mother gave me an art school test booklet she saw on TV. It had a turtle or pirate character and a couple other exercises to test your ability.
When discussing technologies to support learning and education, my mentor Seymour Papert (who, sadly, passed away last month) often emphasized the importance of “low floors” and “high ceilings.” For a technology to be effective, he said, it should provide easy ways for novices to get started (low floor) but also ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceiling). With his Logo programming language, for example, kids could start by drawing simple squares and triangles, but gradually create more complex geometric patterns over time.
My experience being Filipino American Designer right now (and this literally happened to me last night):
New Person: “So, where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from Tennessee.”
New Person: “Oh, really? Huh… (awkward pause) but…”
Me: “But, yes I was born and raised here, so I’m American, but, yeah, my parents are from the Philippines. They came to be the doctors of a rural town, and had me there.”
New Person: “Oh, the Philippines! I was wondering…”
“Our individuality is all, all, that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it in, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life’s bittersweet route.”
— Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
When I think of designing for people of color, my thoughts immediately go back to my college years studying architecture in St. Louis and to a project that is known as one of the greatest failures known in modern architecture.
Coworking is a growing movement of spaces and people, usually independent contractors, who have realized that working together makes for happier, more productive work lives, so they’re making it happen without the hierarchy. The spaces vary, but they’re generally membership-based and value-driven. People who belong tend to believe in collaboration, openness, accessibility, and sustainability. There are thousands of coworking spaces listed in the coworking Space Directory (a wiki collectively owned and updated). More than 450 of them participate in what they call a coworking visa program, where you can belong to a space in Iowa, for example, but spend a few days working at the one in Italy.
In a world fascinated by the unicorn designer that is a coding savant, I want to call on designers to pay closer attention to something else: words.
The case for writing in design has been made by people far more articulate than myself, a few of whom I highlighted in the Design in Tech Report released at SXSW. It’s a perspective I think is worthy of continual discussion and one I don’t often see being advocated for by designers themselves, so I’d like to raise a few more points.