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We’re familiar with dark patterns in UX design. What about in our civic institutions?

In May, a colleague on the Modernist Studio team sent a curious message in Slack: “Is it weird that an economic stimulus payment was sent as a debit card, addressed to a combination of your first name and your wife’s maiden name?” he wrote.

When the stimulus check was announced, the Trump Administration and the IRS framed it as a much-needed boost for struggling families. But for millions of Americans, that value promise failed to deliver. Some, like my colleague, received payments that looked like spam, and threw their stimulus away. Many were promised a direct deposit and instead received a debit card — which was great for spending, but useless for paying rent or saving for medical bills. Others are still waiting, months later, for their money to arrive. Incarcerated people who work and pay taxes were sent stimulus payments and then asked to return them. …

Originally published by Modernist Studio.

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A design process vis a vis a journalistic process. Model by @chwoodiwiss.

In late 2019, a team of designers, writers, researchers, and software developers at The New York Times published a list of 10 “themes” around news consumption to watch for in 2020. The list included plenty of interesting insights, but far more exciting was the methodology behind it.

NYT’s designers didn’t build their 2020 forecast from tracking analytics, sending out reader surveys, or doing market testing. They did something else: They sat down with readers, in their own homes and workplaces and on their commutes, and observed how people consumed the news.

“We watched how people use their social media accounts, we listened to podcasts alongside them in their cars and we sat in their kitchens while they asked Alexa for the weather forecast,” the team wrote…

Power Trip

An Evangelical Texan is now using her pulpit to fight Trumpism. Will her flock follow?

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Illustration: Kelsey Dake

It’s a beautiful September morning in Austin, Texas, and Jen Hatmaker is gently heckling the congregants of Austin New Church. Today’s sermon is on the parable of the Prodigal Son, and Hatmaker, delivering the sermon, is just winding up for a big theological swing when a cell phone rings.

She pauses.

“One time my phone rang, from the front row, in the middle of my own sermon,” she reveals, to laughter. “Yeah. Loved that.”

The parishioner’s phone rings again, and Hatmaker lets loose a slow, deep chuckle, eyes searching for the offender. “Get outta here!” …


Catherine Woodiwiss

Design Strategist at Modernist Studio | Editor & Journalist | Austin, Texas

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