“Education requires a process of ‘not knowing’, of having to ask significant questions to find out”
(Bolton, Gillie. 2001)
Reflective Practice in Design
Our fast-paced working culture isn’t conducive to reflective practice. It’s the norm to charge ahead and ‘get things done’. Whereas reflectivity is seen as ‘soft and fluffy’ or a waste of professional time. However the act of growing as a professional and learning new skills requires adapting and being open to change, which requires a focus on process rather than static knowledge.
Reflection asks us to take a look at our learnt behaviors and fixed beliefs and perceive them as unfamiliar and open to change. This deep questioning can sometimes feel like a process of loss of an element that makes up a part of who you are (Bolton, Gillie. 2001)
As Designers it’s of upmost importance that we’re able to critically evaluate our work from a perspective other than our own. It’s essential that we perceive the way in which our behaviors are culturally determined and observe the social structures that influence our ways of being so that we can design inclusive and progressive products.
“Design, even when it’s well-meaning can be discriminatory” (Design Justice Network.2020). DJN encourage designers to reflect on their position in the matrix of domination; a term developed in the 1990s by Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins to describe the interlocking systems of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.
BIPOC professionals have long been sharing their perspectives on this imbalance, as we’ve seen in the Netflix Documentary Coded Bias. The documentary follows Joy Buolamwini, a black computer scientist at MIT Media Lab who discovered that most facial recognition systems she encountered didn’t recognise her face. This documentary confirms the following truth: designers and developers can cause harm and exclude a large part of the population by only considering their perspective in the creation process. (Jha, Aditya Mani. 2021)
Another example of discriminatory design was recently unpacked when visually impaired users complained when rail websites switched to black and white to mark Prince Philip’s death. A bizzare homage gone wrong, this move brought to light accessibility issues on several rail websites, which rely on colour-contrast for usability. This points to badly designed higherarchy in use of type and layout and an oversight of the basic necessity to consider people with visual impairments in the design process. (Storer, Rhi. 2021)
Personal learnings & development
There are many facets to being a reflective practitioner, though I’m familiar with questioning my own behaviors and place in society, the practice of reflective writing in a professional context is new and I find it challenging. In this piece alone, I found it hard to narrow down my research learnings to make a direct point. Though it’s very important to me that my design work is accessible and does no harm, I know that I’m guilty of focusing on aesthetics and that I can be prone to cutting corners in market research and testing stages. It’s important for me that my design work stands out and is fun to look at, whereas I decided to study UX because I know that I need to focus more on strategy, research and functionality to make effective and impactful digital products. In light of this, I’ve come up with some challenge questions that I will apply to each stage of my project, which are inspired by the SCAMPER rapid ideation technique:
- What could be substituted to make it even more visually accessible?
- Can you adapt this product to a different cultural context?
- What about this product could be difficult to use?
- What could be eliminated to simplify this?
- Is the target audience you? Step back and view it from another angle.
STORER, Rhi. 2021 ‘Visually Impaired Users Complain After Rail Webites go Grayscale’. The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/12/visually-impaired-users-complain-rail-websites-greyscale-prince-philip [accessed 27th June 2021].
JHA, Aditya Mani . 2021. ‘Coded Bias Review’. First Post [online]. Available at: https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/coded-bias-review-remarkable-documentary-on-netflix-examines-racist-facets-of-facial-recognition-systems-9500351.html. [accessed 27th June 2021].
Design Justice Network. 2020. ‘If We Want Design to be a Tool for Liberation..’ Aiga Eye on Design [online]. Available at: ‘https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/for-design-to-truly-be-a-tool-for-liberation-were-going-to-need-more-than-just-good-intentions. [accessed 27th June 2021].
BOLTON, Gillie. 2001. ‘Reflective Practice’. Sage Publishing. Available through Google Books.
Fig 1: Gezallian, Inga. 2018. Unsplash. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/Wnler_kasvc