Thesis is quite a journey.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a solid thesis post, so here goes.
Since the thesis retreat, my head has been in a few different places. I’ve proved to myself, beyond a reasonable doubt, that turning up the volume on marginalized perspectives in design is what I need to be working on. I’ve also spent time with the fact that this is a wicked problem, and that I’m now in for what will likely be a very bumpy and intensely personal road from here.
Carving out a small part of this issue to work on for the next few months is going to be scary, and difficult. At the moment, it feels like whenever I focus in on something I can come up with a laundry list of reasons not to do it, or why that particular issue is impossible to overcome in such a small time. It’s an interesting form of paralysis that’s a fun mix of thesis stress, cultural conditioning, and plain old procrastination.
Over the last week I’ve been thinking a lot about implicit bias, and was planning on creating a few interactions that express the biases we all hold. One idea was switching the gender of names in several news articles to see if it had any impact on the reader.
My rationale went something like this:
- To make better products, we need more diverse perspectives in design.
- 80% of the people who make websites are male, 87% are white*.
- People have implicit bias, which impacts how they view others.
- People like to hire people like them.
- If I can teach people about bias, I can show them how deeply ingrained certain stereotypes are.
- If I can teach ways to overcome bias, then maybe I can change design processes + hiring practices.
Then, I went out for dinner with my good friend Jerri Chou. We talked about my thesis, where it came from, where I see it going. I told her about my plans to make implicit bias more visible, then we got to talking about the opportunity of diverse perspectives. This is something I keep coming back to - If most of our environment (physical + digital) has been designed from a mainstream perspective, what if we shift that view slightly, does it mean that we can rebuild everything? No doubt there are some serious opportunities there, $$ and otherwise.
We discussed an immensely wide range of ‘women-related’ (I need a better phrase than that) topics + issues throughout the evening. Jerri wasn’t all that convinced by my implicit bias focus, and suggested that my project needs to be more personal than that - it needs to solve a problem that I have, fix something that bothers me, help me overcome deeper issues, or reach personal goals.
She’s totally right. I knew that the implicit bias exercises would be interesting, and definitely spark some good conversation. However, this comes with a negative slant - my work would be focused at the ‘mainstream’ designer, saying, “Your perspective is wrong, now here’s how to fix you”. This isn’t what I want.
What I want to say is: “Your perspective is right, now here’s the opportunity” and say it to the large segment of the population that doesn’t hear it enough. Perhaps the best way to do that is to follow Jerri’s advice, acknowledge that I’m part of that large segment, and say it to myself.