Where Design & Social Justice Intersect

This week in my visual design course, we're diving into user experience -- a field of study that comes quite naturally to me, I've discovered. (It turns out designing a website landing page is not so different from designing a reader-friendly annual report!)

We were assigned a fascinating article, "Design as Participation." It begins with an anecdote about Modernist architect Mies Van der Rohe:

"Mies understood that the geometry of his building would be perfect until people got involved. Once people moved in, they would be putting ornamental things along the window sills, they would be hanging all different kinds of curtains, and it would destroy the geometry. So there are no window sills; there is no place for you to put plants on the window."

In brief, Mies Van der Rohe was the very opposite of a human-centered designer.

Of course, things are different today. In 1986, Don Norman invented the term "user-centered design," defined as engagement with the needs, desires and shortcomings of the user. This approach has become "instinctive and mandatory" in the design of any website, app or service.

But at some point, some participants were no longer valued. Uber, Amazon, TaskRabbit -- these services provide incredible ease and efficiency to their users. But what about the humans delivering the services? Shouldn't we consider their needs and desires, too?

I'm learning that the various projects and passions I've pursued -- global development, digital marketing, visual design, user experience -- share a few things in common. Empathy. Measurability. Problem solving. An understanding of systems.

And slowly, my career is coming into focus. At the intersection of design, communication and social enterprise -- and with empathy for all participants, regardless of which side of the app they sit.