These last few months have made me think on a multitude of subjects that have to do with design. My own fragility and bias in the context of design is definitely one of them. The need to take a holistic view, an intersectional perspective if you so will, is another.
To my mind, my perspective affects these posts just as much as any research I do does, and my biases definitely shine through in the research I do. Not to mention my current interests. This bias and subjectivity is however not limited to myself. It is something everyone who does research or writes about design is subject to, or for that matter, anyone who practices design on a daily basis (hint – that’s pretty much all of us).
The reason I bring this up is because it impacts the field of design, design practice and design research. It affects who teaches design, who has access to those teachings, who has access to research and who has access to practice design. It also affects who has access to the finished design, because all of those preceding steps are whittling away at different aspects of what the design is and can be, until the end result is filtered by so many subjective views and biases that only a certain subset of the population remain to take part in it.
This is of course also a statement filtered through bias and preconceptions. There are outliers trying to gain access to all of these steps along the way but the access can come with both physical and mental barriers that will affect how much access the person has and what kind of mental strain and struggle it will entail to gain that access.
Physical barriers can be anything from physical accessibility of a building or tactile interface that is difficult to understand and master or impossible to master unless you have two working hands and working eyes. It also includes the ability to pay for or access books and articles produced by the research community, and they can be supremely pricey. Or for that matter, the university tuition fees or online course fees.
Mental barriers consist of everything from upbringing (you’re a _, you shouldn’t like _) to having the deck stacked against you when it comes to education (what school did you go to, did you do well enough to gain entrance to the education you wanted and was that because of your own efforts or because of perceived virtues or vices that come with your gender or the color of your skin or any other parameter you really can’t change but colours you all the same?). Did the school you went to take into account neuroatypical approaches to learning? Did it support students with dyslexia or dyscalculia? Did it even the playing field, or did it make things harder?
Did the culture surrounding your subject of choice welcome you or did it toss you out? How were you spoken to? How were you spoken about? Were you seen and validated or ignored? Were you represented in a positive light in the design or were you ignored or even made fun of?
There are so many aspects of design, of our biases, of the structures in place to encourage or discourage us to be included or excluded that to my mind it’s irresponsible to ignore those aspects.
We have to talk about design from a wide and varied perspective in order to understand why we are where we are right now, and in order to understand how we can fix the aspects of our environment that are broken.
Design is supposedly a creative field, but how creative can it be if it passively or actively chooses to be exclusionary to some experiences, be it through inability, lack of knowledge or simply not wanting certain experiences to be represented?
We as designers need to do better. I definitely need to do better. And so, my need to figure this out is me writing in my notebook, trying to understand this world we live in. From a biased and subjective and totally imperfect perspective.
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