Unintended results of design decisions

I was sitting in front of a bunch of people with a microphone in my hand. It was so weird. Have you ever noticed that having a microphone in your hand just feels extremely odd? I don't know about you, but it always makes me feel self-conscious.

So anyway, I was sitting in this bar stool type chair, silently ordering my legs to stop jittering, and trying to act like it was no big deal that I had a microphone in my hand – I tried not to look at it, that seemed to help.

I was glad not to be alone, I had someone sitting beside me and across from me. I was part of a panel, you see, and our seats were angled in a way that we could see each other, the screen, and the audience.

I checked in with myself and found that I wasn't that nervous. Usually when I find myself in front of an audience, I can feel the blood pounding in my head and I have to make a conscious effort not to breathe too loudly. This was even more suprising because I had absolutely no prepared speech or talking points and everything was going to be on the spot. But not being alone on the stage was seriously helping. I felt the blood pounding in my arms instead of my head – so that was an improvement.

The panel was hosted by Calgary UX and it was on unintended results of design decisions. All of us (the panelists) had received the slide deck the night before, so we had a chance to acquaint ourselves with what we would be discussing.

Honestly, it was a fantastic discussion. I had a lot of fun. Did I feel like sometimes I rambled way too much and couldn't make my point succinctly? Yes. Did I have the deer-in-headlights look on my face many times? Yup. But my voice wasn't shaky, I was able to meet the eyes of people in the audience without freaking out, and eventually I stopped having to breathe consciously.

The panel consisted of myself and three other ridiculously smart people who had way more awesome points to make than me. I loved having a discussion with them.

My absolute favourite part of the whole event, however, was when people in the audience started chiming in. THAT was when I started to really enjoy myself.

Here are some comments that stood out to me (paraphrased) in the discussion – and some thoughts I've had about them:

"It's obvious that all of you are Canadian. In the States, this conversation would have taken a very different direction."

– a general comment during the discussion

I am fascinated by this comment. A lot of the times, we don't tend to think of Americans as being all that different from us here in Canada. Sure, their politics is insane, they elected a madman, and their drink sizes (and other fast food sizes) are insanely huge. But overall, day to day, we don't think our neighbours to the south are that much different.

Yet, the politics of your country affects how you think. The services available to you influence what you think is correct. The educational priorities of your country shape your worldview.

Canada prides itself on multiculturalism (what that means, how it works, and what its results are, is an entirely different discussion), United States wants everyone to assimilate.

Canada has universal health care (although I wish they'd bring dental back in Alberta), United States seems to struggle with the very concept.

In Canada, we learn French alongside English until at least grade 9 (on average), to my knowledge Spanish isn't afforded that priviledge in school curriculums in the United States.

Even the damn cliche of saying sorry too much (it's a very real thing) affects how we think.

Very often the discussion ended up in a place where someone was saying that the creators of products need to be more responsible and care more about the effects their products have on consumers. Maybe this is in part because we are Canadians and we have a lot more services available to us through the government?

It's a thought.


another comment during the discussion

Oof. That video above is a black hand not being sensed by a soap dispenser, but as soon as something white came in the sensor's view, it dispensed soap. There were a few more examples of this where technology didn't respond to certain types of bodies and skin colours. And this was called 'benign'.

Microaggressions are very real in our world. No, this is not people being too sensitive, this is not people making a big deal out of nothing. This is 'death by a thousand cuts'. For those people who don't experience a lot of microaggressions, this is not a big deal. A soap dispenser not sensing your hand may cause momentary annoyance. But if this happens after having to deal with many other subtle or non-subtle actions that force you to feel like you don't belong? Ooof. Benign, my ass.

"I wouldn't work in a job that requires me to do morally wrong things, I'd leave and find something better."

a comment while discussing the responsibilities designers have when asked to do morally corrupt things

One word: privilege! That's your privilege speaking! Most people in this world cannot do this. And no, I don't just mean people who live in developing countries. This is true for tons of people right here in Canada and other Western countries.

To be fair, the follow up idea to this thought was: If more and more people began to refuse jobs that required them to do morally corrupt things, eventually things would change.

In theory, this is correct. In practice, this is correct too. It's just really fucking hard. Everyone has made morally corrupt choices in their lives in service of another priority. We've been in positions where we had to choose between shitty and shittier. That sucks.

Some people have the privilege to choose between moral and immoral, quite often. But that's a privilege – one not afforded to many.

But saying that is maybe a bit of a cop out. In every situation you have the ability to make the less morally corrupt decision – and in the ideal world, that's the decision you'd make. But once again, it's really fucking hard. And not enough people do it.

"Your comments really made me think."

comment directed at me

A number of people said that to me after the discussion was over. Honestly speaking, I had no idea how to react. I thanked them and told them I appreciate it. I didn't feel like I had contributed anything particularly thought-provoking. But maybe I did. Some people certainly thought so.

I don't think of myself as a dumb inept person or anything. But feeling like an imposter – a too-young-doesn't-have-enough-experience imposter – is a feeling I struggle with regularly. So maybe, that's something I need to work on.