An Incomplete List of Resources for the Equity-Centered Designer

A compilation of exercises, frameworks, and thoughts that serve to advance the design field’s relationship with systems that perpetuate oppression.


Like the design process itself, the aim for this resource collection is to be iterative and ever-evolving.

It has been a turbulent past few years on race in this country. Writer and journalist Jeff Chang notes in his 2016 essay book, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation,

Polls show that more Americans are concerned about race relations now than at any time since 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots. The previous peak had come in 1965 — the year of the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the apex of the civil rights movement, the year of the last national consensus for racial justice.

Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Anderson, and Philando Castile are just a few names out of many — too many — that reveal these deaths were not one-off events. Rather, deep-seated structures and biased mental models are awake and active every day across America.

Equity meets design

To fully operate as socially-minded designers, as creative humans who strive for “social impact,” confronting equity and its barriers is crucial to acknowledging the dignity of the communities we enter; to be our authentic selves so that we can move beyond transactional relationships to relational ones. This issue is urgent: a critical reflection not only on the design process, but also on ourselves and our position as designers.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been striving to figure out how to articulate the themes and insights I’ve encountered in my work as a design researcher. The desire and frustration to somehow produce an articulate and cohesive viewpoint on how design and equitable practices come together has been a galvanizing force, but so many questions were popping up and lingering in my mind.

As my usual go-to mode when I’m stuck, I wanted to learn and codify my knowledge on who has already taken actions around these questions; hence the list. But for collective action to launch and amplify, a common understanding of equity is vital.

What I talk about when I talk about equity

My conception of equity and the way I talk about it to people has been greatly influenced by Inside Higher Ed’s article which pulls out the nuances among diversity, inclusion, justice, and equity:

  • Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?” Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”
  • Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”
  • Diversity asks, “How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?” Equity responds, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?”
  • Diversity celebrates increases in numbers that still reflect minoritized status on [a college] campus and incremental growth. Equity celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems and increases in supports for people’s life chances as reported by those who have been targeted.

For a further dive into how equality, equity, justice, and liberation differ from each other, Cultural Organizing provides helpful visuals that go beyond the usual “equity vs equality” graphic that has been circulating on social networks.

In short, my intention is to signal boost these existing resources, so that more designers, design researchers, and any other folks working at the crossroads of design and disenfranchised individuals and communities can examine and/or build upon them.


BLOG POSTS AND WEB PAGES

Design for Equity
Creators: Enterprise Community Partners, Impact Design Hub

A blog series that aims to elevate the dialogue related to designing for equity by bolstering new voices and new perspectives.

“Design for Equity Glossary
Creator: Enterprise Community Partners

A glossary that highlights the nuances around the concepts of diversity, equality, equity, privilege, and power — especially within the design field.

equityxdesign
Creators: Caroline Hill, Michelle Molitor, and Christine Ortiz

equityXdesign is a practice that merges the consciousness of racial equity work with the methodology of design thinking.

“Everyone is Biased: How Reboot Builds Bias Checks into Design Research”
Creator: Reboot

An overview of three bias-aware practices that Reboot staff members incorporate into the design research process

“What is Equity-Centered Community Design?”
Creator: Creative Reaction Lab

Formulated by the Creative Reaction Lab, Equity-Centered Community Design is a creative problem solving process founded on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community.

BOOKLETS AND WORKSHEETS

“Design for Equity Meal”
Creator: Enterprise Community Partners

This meal kit is built on the premise that the topic of equity can be hard to address, so people need to make time, space, and a supportive environment to have these discussions. It lays out a structure for having important conversations on race and equity in the design field, and a way to capture and communicate the breakthrough moments that participants generate.

“Empathy Techniques for Educational Equity”
Creators: Stanford d.school, Carnegie Foundation

As a tool to help designers heighten awareness of the biases they bring to design work, this booklet prompts designers to notice their own behaviors, the behaviors of others, and the outcomes of systemic oppression.

Tools: Table of Collaboration + Humility Map + Target Audience
Creator: Creative Reaction Lab

Stemming from Creative Reaction Lab’s process for Equity-Centered Community Design, these worksheets offer deeper documentation and reflection on sector strengths for collaboration, humility and empathy building, and community needs.

CARD DECKS

“Liberatory Design Cards”
Creators: Stanford d.school’s K12Lab, The National Equity Project

This card deck introduces the liberatory design process, mindsets, and practices, so that aspiring equity-centered designers can construct a paradigm of design that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

CONVENING NOTES

Designing Equity Convening [2016]
Creators: National Endowment for the Arts, Surdna Foundation

A brief summary of the presentations, conversations, and group exercises from a one-day convening that explores the role design can play in building more equitable and just communities.

SLIDE DECKS

“Equity-Centered Design Framework”
Creators: David Clifford, Stanford d.school & design school X (DSX)

To emphasize the necessary vulnerability and courage to cultivate one’s self-awareness as an equity-centered designer, this re-imagining of the design thinking process adds two new design modes to the existing hexagonal d.school design thinking graphic: Notice and Reflect.

WEBINARS

“Design for Racial Equity” [2017]
Creators: Enterprise Community Partners, Impact Design Hub

In this webinar, select practitioners share a look under the hood of their initiatives, discuss successes and challenges along the way, and highlight replicable approaches to generating racial equity through design in practices and communities.

WORKING PAPERS

“From the Technical to the Political: Democratizing Design Thinking”
Creator: Reflex Design Collective

Reflex Design Collective presents a curricular framework that integrates design thinking with social justice to transcend flaws, such as a myopic focus on technological innovation and failure to address political power dynamics, as well as complex social problems.


Now, for a moment, forget about this compilation of resources.


I’ve become wary of collecting resources for the sake of collection. Without a pedagogy that centers critical thinking, examination, inclusivity, and agency, history will repeat itself.

To build upon educator Jose Vilson’s piercing point, this post is simply a list of resources. Will, leadership, and tolerance for discomfort — among other traits — are critical for moving forwards. Additionally, as Antionette Carroll has described her work at Creative Reaction Lab, “I’m not looking for process adoption, I’m looking for mindset change.”

While one of my main goals for this resource list is to help disseminate existing knowledge and tools, meaningful and sustained change within our own consciousness is the fundamental first step for widescale change.

How might you cultivate an equity-focused mindset and practice?


Want to connect with other aspiring, emerging, or established equity-centered designers? Join Creative Reaction Lab’s slack group for Equity-Centered Community Design!

I intend for this post to be a living, work-in-progress list of resources. If you have any suggestions, comments, or other musings, please don’t hesitate to leave a response. If you enjoyed this read, give a clap so that others may find it.

Last Updated: October 2017