Beth Altringer: I think it’s inter­est­ing to think about what if we start­ed every design and tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny, or every design and tech­nol­o­gy prod­uct that we’re cre­at­ing with three ques­tions. And the first ques­tion is what is real­ly desir­able about this thing? The sec­ond ques­tion is for whom—so, who are we real­ly design­ing for? And we do an okay job of ask­ing those first two ques­tions. But the third ques­tion is who we are not design­ing for.

I teach my stu­dents that design is ongo­ing risky decision-making. And what I mean by ongo­ing is that you nev­er real­ly get to stop ques­tion­ing the assump­tions that you’re mak­ing and that are under­ly­ing what it is that you’re creating—those fun­da­men­tal premis­es. Things change, you change, the mar­ket changes. And you have to have as part of your prac­tice an ongo­ing process of revis­it­ing those fun­da­men­tal assump­tions.

So, in the aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty we have these rig­or­ous stan­dards for the eth­i­cal reviews that we must go through before we even under­take research that we might pub­lish. And an exam­ple of that… So if you look at like— You might have seen Facebook’s emo­tion­al con­ta­gion study. And they came under a lot of crit­i­cism when peo­ple real­ized that they were manip­u­lat­ing the sort of emo­tion­al tenor of people’s feeds. And that is an exam­ple of a study that would’ve nev­er passed aca­d­e­m­ic eth­i­cal review boards. And what’s real­ly inter­est­ing is that in this pro­fes­sion­al population—the aca­d­e­m­ic population—we’ve decid­ed on a val­ue sys­tem in terms of what is eth­i­cal to do to peo­ple who are active par­tic­i­pants of a study, and peo­ple who are pas­sive par­tic­i­pants or non-par­tic­i­pants of a study. And in busi­ness, and par­tic­u­lar­ly in the tech com­mu­ni­ty, there’s a notable absence of a sim­i­lar review sys­tem.

And these types of deci­sions of who we design for and who we don’t design for, these are ulti­mate­ly val­ues deci­sions. They’re very messy. Like, there’s no answer about who we should and should not design for. The answer is to con­tin­ue to have that dia­logue and con­tin­ue to have the basic infor­ma­tion that we need to have that dialogue—for design­ers to have that dia­logue, for fun­ders to be part of that dia­logue, for young stu­dents fresh out of school decid­ing who to work for to be able to have that dia­logue, for con­sumers to be able to have that dia­logue about what val­ue sys­tems they want to sup­port with their busi­ness. We need that con­tin­u­ous ongo­ing ques­tion­ing of design assump­tions and deci­sions.


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