The 9th of November, 2016

(repost)

It’s half past 3 here in Denver and I’m still up. I’m gravely unhappy. When the results came in, I’d say about 99.99999999% of my urban tribes were just as unhappy as I was about the news.

Well, actually, we weren’t *just* unhappy. We were furious. Floored. Flabbergasted. Embarrassed. Terrified. Mad. We wondered what kind of world we would return to in these upcoming days and weeks. We wondered how much longer our parents and communities could hide behind the thin veil of the “model minority” myth before they too begin learning the truth about what lies ahead.

I don’t have any kids, so I naturally didn’t think of them. I do however teach a group of 15 college students. I also have a cohort of 16 more students starting a class next Monday. My responsibility as an educator weighs heavily on me tonight. It weighs heavily on me every day and night, but tonight even more so.

You see, it’s not just about the person who is now assuming a powerful position in office. It’s about legitimizing and normalizing certain behaviors and ideologies. It’s downplaying things that would be subjected to punishment or admonishment in any other context.

I happen to fall into many of the categories that Trump dehumanizes. I’ve been sexually assaulted, as a child (for nearly a decade) and as an adult. I’m a minority. I’m female. I work in a significantly male-dominated industry. I’m atheist. I’ve once been told by my male superiors that I’m way smarter than I look. At multiple companies I’ve had to “dress the part” to get said male superiors to “take me seriously.” Depending on what part of the country I’m traveling to, people often ask me where I learned to speak English so well. Here in Denver, they address my husband first before they speak to me. When traveling, some people even find it surprising that he and I are married. And let’s not forget the bulging eyeballs when they find out that I teach at the local university. (How dare I do such a thing!)

I’ve used my own innocuous platforms to bring a little bit of light and sparkle into the world. I’ve tried to make the world a little more tech-friendly and accessible. My work in the classroom entails opening up discussions about the real-life implications of interactive design and its impact on the lives of everyday folks like you and me. Rest assured that I will continue to incorporate moderated discussions, user interviews, need-finding exercises, primary research, secondary research, data analysis, iterative improvement exercises, and retrospectives in all of my classes to reinforce the dire need to critically think, uncover biases (generally about design), and to challenge authority. I do this 15-20 students at a time, 2-3 times a year. It’s a slow and steady process and I can only hope that I make enough of an impact that they carry these lessons with them in their journey and reapply these research skills elsewhere.

However, given the outcome of tonight, it seems like more needs to be done. As a digital designer and as an educator, I can do more. Reading through some of the articles over the last few days have got me thinking. There are lots of design and accessibility problems we’ve yet to solve:

  • How do we make it more accessible for people to get *to* their polling stations
  • How do we make it easier for people to register to vote in their state after they move?
  • How do we remove points of friction once people show up at their designated voting station?
  • How do we educate people on state-specific registration requirements?
  • How do we educate people on deadlines?
  • How do we quantify urgency for other elections to increase voting regularity?
  • How can we design ballots to be easier to comprehend?
  • How do we simplify the language so that people with varied levels of education can understand the issues?
  • How can we even go about educating people on the issues sans propaganda before they head to the polls?
  • Most importantly: How do we solve these problems in states, regions, and cities where there is a clear digital divide?

I should identify a few design problems, quantify them, and then narrow down which one I could begin trying to solve. And then relentlessly and doggedly pursue solving that one with the right folks. And then move on to the next. And the next. And the next.

Digital design and education is my forte, after all. What good does it do if I don’t share it with the townspeople?

Academia vs Real-World Experience

What would you say are the biggest differences between in-class projects and real work experience?

Currently working as a mid-level UX designer who helps in hiring new designers, I can say there are a lot of differences:

-Deadlines seem less quantified (“If I don’t finish this by the deadline, my grade will suffer” vs “If I don’t finish this by the deadline, my project can get cancelled”)

-Team members don’t always pull equal weight

-People tend to veer towards what they are comfortable with. In the real world, you will work on projects that you aren’t comfortable with, and they are essentially mandatory

-In the workplace, you will deal with a lot of variables: hostile co-workers, mean managers that can make design progress impossible, or very demanding clients. You won’t have clarity on all of the details…you will mostly have to fish them or hunt them down or have a great manager on your side. In academia, all of the requirements are handed to you and all you have to focus on is execution. The professor does everything except for the project for you.

-Grading is way too easy in academia. What is considered acceptable by academic standards can fall extremely short in the real world.

-Presenting in-person to a client, manager, or stakeholder is extremely different than presenting to classmates and/or professors.

Class projects are a great way to find your voice as a UX practitioner, but to become one, I believe you need some real world practice.