What does UX have to do with Social Justice?
Social Justice is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as ‘promoting common good’. If designers are not promoting the common good, then what are they doing?
Each day user experience designers make choices based on user research, feedback, user testing and things they know to be true.
At last year’s UXCampDC, an annual conference held in Washington DC, I facilitated a conversation about UX and Social Justice. I was inspired to facilitate the conversation based on this Fast Company article which discussed challenges in UX. The talk turned into a discussion. In the room were UX designers, product managers, entrepreneurs, and others.
The conversation started with a story of a friend of mine who happens to be blind. When we first met I told her I worked as a User Experience Designer and I mentioned to her I do my best to make websites usable. She then asked me a question that forever changed the way I looked at things. She asked, “Do people who build websites even care about people like me?” After she asked, I had to pause for a moment before I answered. I had to answer her honestly and tell her that many Designers out there do not consider people with disabilities when they are designing. Although I am an advocate of accessible design I know that it is not utilized as much as it can be.
As the discussion began, in the room we established to use ‘yes, and’ if someone had something to add to the conversation. Yes, and is used in improv and it is a way to keep people going because if you use the word ‘but’ you may negate what the person said before you.
By using the ‘yes, and’ method we were able to have an open conversation instead of the conversation turning into one where people might close themselves off to others in the room.
We discussed many issues from accessibility to the impact of the algorithms (which many designers have no control over) to beating a junior designer in fear repercussions if they were to ask a question if they felt the product was not ‘promoting common good’.
The common ground we found in the discussion was the challenge of balancing business goals with user needs.
What happens when they don’t align? What do you do? The answer is…it depends. Often times asking a question will prompt a discussion. And then there are times when one has to move on from the situation if it does not align with their personal values.
Why is ‘Promoting Common Good’ Good for Designers?
Being able to create the way people use products and services and aligning them with business goals can be a challenge.
During the discussion, I was reminded of a company I worked for many years ago. They believed in the following: People, Product, Execution. The pillars of that company have stuck with me throughout my journey as a designer.
People, Product, Execution
The People are the ones who create and make the products. The products are used by people and people always came first.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the process of design and all of the things that are included in the user experience design process. At the end of the day, we have to remember that our users are people and people have feeling and emotions that we impact.
When The discussion was over, we did not have any up answers because ‘promoting common good’ does not just have one answer. One solution does not fit all problems. It’s best to look at every situation as a new one and choose what is best at the moment.
At the heart of User Experience Design is Empathy. Empathy without compassion does not make for good design. Compassion with empathy means that you want to help people and not just feel for them.
Empathy is the glue that holds UX together. Taking the time to understand your user and to make sure you are doing what is best for the is the responsibility of the designer. We may not always succeed but we should at least try. We have to ensure that when we practice empathy, we also practice compassion.
Regine Gilbert is a user experience designer, educator, and international public speaker in NYC with over 10 years of experience working in the technology arena. Currently, she is a Sr. UX Design Consultant. Regine has a strong belief in making the world a more accessible place—one that starts and ends with the user. She started her career in design as a fashion designer, then quickly evolved into working in a corporate information technology setting before returning to the world of design. She is passionate about accessibility, design and technology.