What limits what we can imagine?

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been reading about the limits to imagination. And outside of school, I’ve been reading this book:

In this book, Kat Holmes talks about how many designed products reject their users, e.g. a computer mouse and can openers for right-handed people or maybe an app that only iPhone users can use.

I’ve thought quite a bit about inclusivity and design during these past few weeks as we read these articles. When we read about doctors and how they’re trained to think about patients, I thought about one of our interviews we did for our capstone project. We interviewed a transgender woman who introduced us to the idea of trans broken arm syndrome. Which effectively means that trans people don’t get the care they need for basic health concerns, like a cold or a broken arm because the doctors tend to focus on their trans status and hormones.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.02.21 PM

This type of prejudice in health care happens to people of color as well. Last week, Milwaukee proclaimed that racism was a public health crisis. “More than a hundred studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes. In Wisconsin, the highest excess death rates exist for African Americans and Native Americans, at every stage in the life course.”

And this type of racial inequality exists everywhere, especially in tech. Here’s a chart of the lack of diversity in tech companies as of 2017. (image links to website.)

Diversity in Tech

And why does this matter?

Because when we’re mostly white and we design for ourselves, this is what can happen:

Racist soap dispenser - Imgur

Ian Bogost talks about his frustration with technology when he says, “So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner.”

Kat Holmes says a similar thing when she says that, “Designing for our own abilities as a baseline… can end up excluding many more people.”

So when I think about the question that Richard has been asking us, “What limits what we can imagine?” I’m afraid the answer is us. WE are the doctors approaching people with our implicit bias. WE are the ones designing can openers for right-handed people. WE are the ones designing soap dispensers for white people.

So what’s the solution? Well, also us! WE are the designers here at AC4D learning user-centered design. WE are the ones who want to design with instead of designing for.

So hopefully we can learn from their mistakes.