Reflecting back on this semester, I feel I have learnt how powerful the field of design is. Designers decide major social practices, behavioral patterns and create a huge impact on human life. And with this power, designers have huge responsibilities. The responsibilities include, making their designs accessible for all, making the designs sustainable, making sure that the design is not biased towards any particular social group and that technology isn’t leading to any harmful practices or behaviours. Design also has the power to create systems and practices which will heal the Earth, empower communities and change the unjust systems.Considering all this, I really appreciate the initiative of Design Justice Network. The idea of centering the normally marginalized people in the design process, can bring a radical change in the society. I also found their principles really useful, which could be applied to any design process to make sure the design is just for everybody.
The class exercise seemed really helpful in understanding our privileges. Considering my identity, something which has impacted me is that my first language isn’t English. My first language is Marathi. Due to the colonization of language, English is the language which is understood almost worldwide. Inability of being proficient in english is equal to loss of opportunities and your opinions can go unheard. I wonder, why have we created a world which isn’t really accessible to a person who cannot understand english. An expression is judged by the quality of language ( usually English) in which it is expressed. I really appreciate the design of this course, which allows students to express themselves in whichever language they feel comfortable. I think this is a step towards decolonizing design studies. Considering privileges, I could also think of the education I received, which I always took for granted. I cannot say confidently, if I would have access to higher education if I was from a rural village in India. And then my gender would also play a role in my access to higher education. Rural people prefer educating their sons over daughters.
I reflected on how the recent racist incidents have affected cultures of organizations. Organizations have started talking more about diversity and inclusivity and showing support to anti-racism movements. But thinking of policies of inclusion at work places, would adding diversity in the organization actually empower the marginalized communities? Adding race to the list of differences targeted in a diversity strategy won’t eradicate systemic racism. I could relate the practice of adding diversity to the caste reservation system in India. It might give some representation to the underrepresented communities, but at the end it doesn’t bring equality. Why do the marginalized communities have to be included by the non-marginalized ones? It still says that the world belongs to the white man and he can include others in it as well. Why can’t people from different communities come together and help in reshaping institutions and reformulating practices.
I resonated with Ruha Benjamin’s argument of racial and gender bias in technology. I had seen an example of employee face detection software which couldn’t detect the faces of black people, while it correctly detected white people. Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, thinks that facial recognition software has problems recognizing black faces because its algorithms are usually written by white engineers who dominate the technology sector. As the coder constructs the algorithms, they focus on facial features that may be more visible in one race, but not another. Though the software is built to improve its accuracy with machine learning algorithms, the training data sets are mainly composed of white faces and hence it doesn’t help much. Further, as I was researching on the design of voice assistants, I realized how voice assistants convey gender. Majority of the famous voice assistants have female names and default female voices. It sends a signal that women are obliging and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button. The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone. In many communities, this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are submissive and tolerant of poor treatment.
Something I would want to say at the end is that design has the ability to distribute power correctly in a society. Till now, the powerful class, either powerful physically, economically or politically, has designed systems, social institutions and practices which obviously favor the powerful. We can see the same in the histories of different countries. If a design can make parkways in Long Island inaccessible for the black community, then design also has the power to make it right and I feel that this can be achieved through collaboration of different communities.