Systems inherit the values of their designers
Systems inherit the values of their designers.
I used to write occasionally on Medium, and was fairly active. As Medium slowly monetised their platform, there has been a mass of people - particularly technologists - moving away from Medium in favour of reinvigorating their own private websites and blogs. Same.
I spend a lot of my time thinking, reading and writing. About design, ethics, psychology, equality, society and the state of technology. I think about how these systems and ideas intersect and overlap. I think about the direction society has come from, where we are now and our potential trajectories forward.
I also spend a fair amount of time on personal introspection. A large part of my passion in the design and technology spaces is around diversity and inclusion. One of the bricks vital to strengthening diverse and inclusive workplaces is visibility. Yes - that old chestnut - if you can see it, you can be it. For those who can and want to be visible and outspoken, do. That’s part of the reason why I share my story and experiences - as a message to others out there like me that it is possible to thrive in the face of some of life’s adversities.
Where we are now as a society is not an accident. All of the systems that make up our society were intentionally built. These systems were built by those who were in positions of power. Most of those systems were built by those people, for other people like them. Some other systems were built by those same people, to keep other people down so that they may stay up.
With the emergence of the internet and the saturation of connectivity across the globe, different types of people and parts of society are able to communicate with one another. They are able to hear one another stories, struggles and realities. These biased and unequal systems become obvious in plain sight, and we can no longer deny that they are not made by all of us, for all of us. They are made for the privileged to sustain the status quo. The status quo being that the ‘default’ human is a middle-class, white, cisgendered, heterosexual male who is neurotypical and of able body.
We have an opportunity and responsibility as technologists to steer the system of technology, a still developing frontier for human interaction via machine, in a direction that differs from the systems passed. Those systems that are built on archaic and oppressive ideals. There is no reason why we should repeat these patterns. This is not a call to arms for cisgendered, heterosexual, able bodied, neurotypical white men and women to DESIGN FOR others like heroic saviours of humanity. This is a moment for every technologist and creative person to call out issues rather than perpetuate them because they serve some of us.
The environments of people are not visible for the most part and hardly the subject of design. They are mostly influenced by organisational and institutional factors. Changing those is a political task’
— Lucis Burckhardt, 1970
Systems are intentionally designed. Systems both shape and inherit the values of their designers - designers who are part of society. Our systems have inherited flawed, outdated and biased values. Influencing and changing those values to create better systems going forward is a political task. As designers and technologists, we stand at the gateway of a new system that will shape society. Let’s redesign our values, and the values of our systems.