User experience design is in an exciting phase. The design community is constantly exploring new applications, methodologies and strategies for the field. There are many ways we can apply design thinking to products, services and tech.

One of the most intriguing areas of interest where we can harness the innovative potential of UX design techniques, is by supporting our local communities in the civic space.

As UX designers, we should not mistake a social justice cause for a technical problem. In other words, we should identify the technical solutions that can be implemented within an organization so that they can enhance their work, rather than focusing on characteristic we desire as an evolving society which could only be affected by changes in public policy.

“It is important that we do not mistake a social justice cause for a technical problem.”

Community inclusion

Employing UX design for communities in the civic space is very open-ended. You want to be as innovative as you are progressive.

In UX we look at the user as an individual, using psychology based methods to interpret human patterns and usage. We use explorative methods of research; surveys, diaries, concept provocation; and we may begin to understand the journeys of our focus target and start to identify their joys and challenges.

“In UX we look at the user as an individual, using psychology based methods to interpret human patterns and usage.”

Furthermore, it is in these explorative situations that unexpected details become apparent. We begin to empathize with our community members, and thereby conceptualizing a new experience for them.

Social justice issues are institutional, and cannot always be improved by a new experiential design solution. To fight for social justice takes a top-down approach, looking for civic inequalities, and then correcting the system in order to compensate for them. This is often found in activism causes.

User experience design is an intimate process built from the community-up, where designers seek to empathize with the member’s everyday life, and develop a solution around that experience.

Towards an integrative approach

If we truly want to channel the power of UX research for the good of our communities, we need to make sure that the micro and the macro build upon each other. Because when it comes to social innovation, empathy for some of the user’s most mundane experiences can be just as potent as that for an entire community.

Three things Ideation League has learned

As we embark on our UX consultant journey here are three things that have become apparent:

  1. We don’t always need to build an app to solve technical problems.
  2. We learned to reconcile what we are passionate about and what we believe in, and use it as the fuel to commit our technical skills.
  3. We aim to tackle challenges that can be affected by our design team instead of a cultural societal standard that will likely take time to change its narrative. We need to remember in the end, we are UX designers, not social activists.