The 9th of November, 2016


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?

Mostly useless sorting and filtering

I was perusing fountain pens today because I felt like treating myself to something fancy. I then came across this gem:

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 3.50.23 PM

So, you mean to tell me that I can sort a line of pens by gender? My pens have a gender? My pen can be feminine or masculine? SAY WHAT? …

Reminds me of the BIC for Her Retractable Ball Pen debacle not too long ago —

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 3.53.53 PM

:: slowly backs away ::

Imperialism By Way of Design

If we design for other cultures, we absolutely impose our value structure and culture on that target audience. An implicit part of the design process is understanding how to impart a shared understanding from one culture to another, whether that culture has a technological, geographical, political, utilitarian, or a philosophical divide. Designers need to be very cognizant of the role they play in shaping how people perceive the world and how they think. The best ones are completely informed as to the ways they can shape someone else’s perspective and worldview, and that is a responsibility that should be taken very seriously.

There is a great program that was started in the United States called “Zambia’s Scholarship Fund.” It is a scholarship fund that helps send children to school, often built or funded by ZSF. From there, students are funded by volunteers and donors from elementary school all the way to high school and beyond. Students who choose to continue their education can elect to go to a ZSF-sponsored teaching college to learn how to become educators. Upon graduating, they staff the very schools that are built and/or supported by ZSF. This type of program was incredibly sensitive to the Zambian culture and value system. It keeps talent inside the country, helps improve the school system and education standards, and provides a sustainable way to keep students out of trouble and in the classroom. Supporters from all over the world can provide monetary or tangible donations to be sent over to support their local efforts.

On the contrary, there are programs that try to raise money or donations for complicated hardware and software that many of these countries can’t maintain or support over the long term. Sure, internet access can open up the floodgates for opportunity in a place like Zambia, but at what cost? Should the children of Zambia forgo basic necessities and primary education at the expense of being immersed in a technology that cannot be sustained in the long term at this time? Or is it better to integrate these types of technologies slowly, so that it can scale with the needs and demands of the culture?

Design is definitely a form of imperialism — it can be used for good or bad. Having design sensibility means pushing back on requirements when you think they are harmful to someone else, and recognizing if a new design or method of communication actually creates more problems than it solves. Design is a subtle way to initiate conversations and shift perspectives. Design requires understanding of cognitive psychology, anthropology, sociology, technology, human-computer-interaction, and other complex fields in order to be effective. It also requires that it solves a genuine problem for its consumers, because there is plenty of noise out in the marketplace as it is.

Design without purpose is garbage, and counterintuitive to what the field of design stands for. In terms of its imperialistic nature, it can be easily manipulated to control workflows, the way people perceive things to work, and change or heighten expectations where it may not have been previously considered.  Because of the nature of design, it is important to incorporate ethics into all aspects of the process and to heavily weigh the decisions that are made against the value it brings to the people who will consume it.

Ethical Use of Data in M&A

There are a number of ethical ramifications when two corporations come together regarding security, data, and personal privacy. When one company purchases another, a number of assumptions can be made:

  1. Does the acquired company have to relinquish control over private information of their current customer/user base?
  2. Is the acquired company now required to share sensitive information about their customer base?
  3. Who owns the data?
  4. Can customers/users opt out of data-sharing?
  5. Can customers/users leave the platform and download and/or wipe their data prior to leaving?
  6. What kind of information can be shared within the terms of the previous privacy policy?
  7. What information can be ethically shared?
  8. Can customers/users also be privy to that information?
  9. Is there a way customers/users can weigh in on how they want their information to be used?

However, the eventual compromises in security practices, data sharing, and the concept of personal privacy largely depends on the company that is being purchased, and what the terms of the acquisition agreement are, but there are a number of heuristics that can be applied.

With Google’s acquisition of Nest, there is lots of room for compromising customer data, personal privacy, and security. The acquisition agreement did state that Nest would stand by their existing privacy policy and limit the use of customer information to only providing and improving Nest’s products and services. The article did point out the usefulness of anonymized information; however, the sample is still a specific targeted user base, not something widely representative of perhaps Google’s hardware target market. It very well could be that Google was simply acquihiring the staff of Nest, looking to bring on board a certain skill-set or way of approaching a hardware problem, rather than to easily capture the data of their current customer base. (One could argue that Google could just pay for a research firm to provide that type of information, and that it could be substantially cheaper than acquiring a company outright.)

For one, the original terms and conditions by which they originally acquired users or customers should be honored despite the ownership transfer. For the acquired company to have become successful, it is assumed that they delivered upon their product promise but also held to a high bar of expectation. Therefore, compromising the integrity and brand trust would probably diminish the valuation of the acquired company. A brand is only as valuable as their existing customer base and their public’s opinion of them, so it is in their best interest to not breach their customer trust.

Best measures should be taken to ensure the highest level of security when sharing any particular type of data. Customers should have a say whether or not their information is used by this new company. They should be able to opt out of any future data-sharing opportunities. They should also have an opportunity to leave the service prior to data sharing in the case that they do not want their information being transferred to a new service.