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Anti-Racism Ethnographic Essay UX Research

If anti-racism isn’t part of your design process, stop saying you practice human-centered design.

Hi, I’m Kyle Rezac-Dennis. Like many others, I unequivocally support the policy agenda for the post-Ferguson Black liberation movement advanced by the Movement for Black Lives, including all 2020 Policy Platforms and I also happen to be a product designer.

Can you honestly say you’re practicing human-centered design if you’re not also practicing anti-racism on a daily basis?

When someone asks me about my design process, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that anti-racism is the first principle I think of. We shouldn’t have to hide these beliefs when we apply for design jobs. A commitment to a just and equitable world makes a stronger product designer— in fact, it should be a requirement for anyone who claims to practice human-centered design (HCD).

Much of what designers do is interpreted in the context of uniquely American anti-blackness. Racial heuristics create invisible bias in the design thinking process that can only be accounted for by interpersonal vigilance. Bluntly, tech companies need to answer for shipping products that end up reinforcing artificial boundaries rather than disrupting them.

When they make products that reward humans’ worst instincts, product teams are practicing human-targeted design (not human-centered design). Many applications aren’t solving problems; they’re contriving or inadvertently creating them because of the perverse incentives of a particularly broken form of American capitalism technology could help us overcome. But, if we’re not hyper-vigilant, technology will recreate all the inequities of the physical world.

If you worked on a product team at a medical software company, would you raise concerns if you thought your product produced racially-biased patient outcomes? What if you were on the AirBnb team that’s trying to uproot racism in the app? Wouldn’t you start with the racist neo-segregation created by the gentrification that Airbnb enables in the first place? Would you ask your product team at Niche to consider the possibility that the core of their product is based on race-based cognitive distortions, red-lining, inequitable school funding formulas, and over-policing?

Design is inherently political because you’ve already made a choice about what to design and who it’s for. So, if any of this isn’t ok with you, we’re probably not meant to work together. Keep scrolling. I’m glad you found this and saved your time. The time we have on earth is short, and we have to be responsible for and live with the outputs and major professional products we leave behind.