The Hidden Privilege in Design
I remember listening carefully to the presentation on the redesign, trying hard to bite my tongue and keep my comments until the end. I was still shy, I still felt new, and I was battling a serious case of imposter syndrome. It was probably a dumb question, anyway. I shouldn’t ask it.
Easier said than done. I felt the question permeating through every fiber of my being, reverberating in my mind until it was the only thought I had.
“Did you get anyone else’s insight on this project? Was it just you all? Have you considered how that might be limiting at all?”
For about three seconds, I was relieved that someone asked this question. Then, I realized that person was me. Six white faces turned to look at me inquisitively. One woman, who looked extra offended, spoke next. She said a lot of things, but the crux of it was a lesson in what it means to be a designer.
“Design is about putting yourself in the shoes of your user… that’s what being a designer is all about — human-centered design.”
Some context — this very homogeneous team of designers was working to solve one of the most significant challenges of our era: redesigning the online immigration system, namely the process by which people apply to become citizens of the United States. I can’t overstate how important it is to design this properly: it can singlehandedly skew one’s ability to be successful in this world.
Because their users? Terrified, non-English speaking immigrants with everything on the line. Families who don’t know the difference between a usability test and an interrogation. Mostly brown people. Mostly Spanish speakers. And many haunted with stories of separation, deportation, and devastation. I don’t need to remind you of the demographics of the designers in the room.
How could this group possibly believe the idea of human-centered design was enough of a qualification for them to design for a demographic so far removed from their own experiences without at least acknowledging this massive gap?
Especially for a demographic whose fate depended on it?