Power on Design – “Designing for Woober”

Power and Design. How are they related?

Last ten days we were exploring a complicated world of ethics and power in design, and their influence on our design decisions.

As always, we had three sets of articles that include a variety of articles from analyzes of historical events to a Twitter discussion.

Readings brought hot group discussions and a lot of thoughts and shook our ethical standards.

As a result of a synthesis of all 15 readings, I came up with a story about two young designers. Then, I made a video of process drawing a comic.

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Today, I’m going to tell you a story called “Designing for Woober”. For Good or For Bad?

Meet these young designers. This is Steve and this is Sarah. They just graduated from a design school and are very excited to start their design journey. They both want to make a change in the world and design for good.

Steve and Sarah just got jobs in the company of their dream – Woober. Woober is a rideshare company, that gives an opportunity to be your own boss and earn money by giving a ride to ones who need it in your free time. Woober is very innovative, famous and powerful, so it’s obviously a great place to work. Steve and Sarah are very excited to work for Woober.

Everything looked perfect – a very nice lady gave them a presentation about the company and its values.

“We are customer obsessed … we celebrate differences … we do the right thing … we value ideas over hierarchy”

Happy drivers, happy riders, happy employees! She said that the company follows principles of democracy, everybody has a voice and everybody has power.

After that, they were introduced to a project named Greyball: it’s a tool that would help identify and deny service to rides that violate Woober’s terms of service.

What Steve and Sarah soon found out is that the tool was actually used to deny Woober rides specifically to law enforcement officers. They both found this project very unethical. They found out, that drivers leave Woober very often because they just don’t get paid enough! So, Woober had to minimize background check procedures to reduce the costs and make more people eligible to drive, even those who are dangerous for the society. But the boss, Mr. Ber, believes that this is the best way to do business. Nobody agreed, but everybody followed his guides. Steve and Sarah were worried. It didn’t look like democracy.

Steve silently starts to work on the task. He feels so powerless. He is a junior designer and can’t do anything against his boss’es will! He wants to be able to take responsibility for his job, but he can’t because he didn’t want to lose his job! He gave up on an idea to spend working time doing something meaningful. But every day after work he went to do some volunteering, trying to fix what he was breaking at work for 8 hours every day.

At the same time, Sarah started to work on a plan. She didn’t want to just leave and find another job, while Woober continues to do its dirty things, no. She wanted to change the way Woober works! She opened her notes from Design Theory class and read all the books about design ethics.

She did something nobody was doing before her – she goes and talks to Woober drivers to understand their life. She founds out that for most of them didn’t like their job. They think that this is a temporary gig because they don’t learn anything new there, don’t have an opportunity for career growth and the pay is super low. Sarah learned so much from them and created a plan.

But before she finalized it, she went to her colleagues who worked for Mr. Ber for a long time and asked questions about him. Everybody mentions that he loves comedy A LOT, and one day he wants to become a comedian. Brilliant!- says Sarah, and makes changes to her plan. Now she is ready to pitch.

Mr. Ber didn’t like visitors, he was shocked by such an impudence from a Junior designer, but agreed to meet with Sarah.

Sarah presents her plan: Mr. Ber, I think, I have the solution for the company to keep drivers happy and make them stay with the company longer, so we don’t need to hire so many non-eligible drivers and then hide from law enforcement officers.

Are you saying that we need to pay them even more? – Said Mr. Ber – We can’t do that! And we’ll need even more money to pay our lawyers then!

Sarah says: I learned that drivers want to learn and grow – what if we give them an opportunity to learn a profession while waiting for next rider? They will practice their skills with passengers, impress them and the passengers will likely pay them more in tips! We will create a career path to transit into Woober’s office if they wish.

This is a list of jobs I’m thinking about:

  1. Psychologist
  2. Singer
  3. Comedian
  4. Storyteller – A.K.A. TED speaker
  5. Civic life coach

Imagine, if you could get a live concert while having a ride to your job? Or stand up comedy show? Wouldn’t it be awesome?

Mr. Ber was thrilled. – Yes, yes, comedy show! Let’s start to do it today! Sarah became a leader of the project and turned the company to the one she wants to be working at. Steve was empowered by Sarah’s example and became a follower of his own beliefs.

The very happy End!

IDSE401 Designing for Woober from Maria Zub on Vimeo.