How might I design with responsibility?

Recognizing the impact of how we design.

I have been a “designer” for the last couple of years, where rolling out projects and meeting deadlines had become an integral part of my daily routine so much so that I forgot to zoom out and look at the bigger picture.

The pandemic allowed me to do this and I used this break to reflect and re-assess my approach towards the way I design.

I worked primarily in the digital space. The recent years have been mostly about removing friction in adoption and conversion. I learned to design to reduce cognitive load while I became aware of nuances that are easy to overlook when one loses sight of the users, my focus became — How can I improve upon this?

But did the user need any improvements? Was there a problem? How is the solution going to make a long-term difference? Will the improvement for ‘user A’ become a problem for ‘user B’? In all seriousness, I forgot to answer these questions.

So, what is responsible design anyway?

Now there we’re all on the same page, let us dive into what I want to write about: Navigating the issue of design ethics and inclusivity through my recent project. Recognizing the impact of how we design, through my learnings from the project.

My recent project was for family and what is ‘Good Help’ for them. This project was very different than most due to the sheer reason of it not coming with a set of problems or requirements, deliverables or, deadlines (apart from submissions) to be achieved. It came with an existing system and a bundle of data where we had to find our way to:

  1. Understand the system
  2. Provide a design solution vision

As generic as this sounds, the journey was equally challenging and eye-opening. Let me tell you how.

Designing with Ethicsa little more than just good intentions

Although Dark Patterns is the term used in the digital world, it resonated with me during this unit. One of the design considerations for the service concept revolved around a solution that involved co-design and co-creating alongside the family.

‘Families want to be seen through their strengths and not their risks’

-Quote from one of our Stakeholder Interview.

Online portals showcased that there is an immense amount of help available but, what it did not show was how can one navigate to it. The websites failed to display transparency in the process something that the user needs especially during emotional and uncertain situations. To mitigate this, we aimed for a concept where the power is in the pocket of the primary user, enabling them to make an informed choice (transparent and simple process) about how they want to be supported and creating tools that showed their strengths rather than problems by reflecting upon their positive experiences.

Inclusive Design — design beyond trends

As Microsoft explains, Inclusive Design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.

Inclusive design is all of that, but what I learned is, it lets people and their many abilities, limitations, and differences guide and shape its possibilities, conception, and implementation. But how can we ensure that the chosen service does not exclude certain groups of people?

While researching we saw barriers like digital literacy, digital poverty, language, and stigma. Which brings me to our next design consideration, how do we ensure that digital literacy and proficiency are not the basic requirements for essential services? and how do we make the interaction more human?

‘People who need help the most, are usually the last ones to ask for it. Make sure that the way you communicate with them has to be as approachable as possible, don’t make them feel intimidated.’

-Quote from one of our Stakeholder Interview

During ideation, it didn’t take long to think about a digital interface or an ice-breaking card game as a solution to ask questions informally. However, will a card game solve the purpose? Or will it portray an impression of a game while the user is going through a roller coaster of emotions? Will applying an informal methodology make it any different from the current method of formal assessment? Will it make them feel less overwhelmed? Will the solution cater to all types of users? But, who is our user? While we questioned our ideas, we came across an interesting talk by Idean, ‘Cards for Humanity’, an engagement activity for a conversation starter. The session helped us identify our primary and extreme users and whether the service concept/vision serves them equally. All these years, I was asked to narrow down on a target audience as you can’t design for all. When I was asked to think about extreme users (the last person who will use this service), I struggled. It made me realize that I was so used to thinking the obvious, looking at the obvious target segment, blindsiding the users who will come last (in client language — tertiary users whom we can target post MVP, which hardly happens).

Thinking systems first approach — take a wider lens

Most of my projects start with ‘Discovery’ which was the same here as well, except here, we were supposed to understand the existing system of seeking help as opposed to the user interview approach for most of the other projects.

We mapped the universe of stakeholders involved in the Help industry and studied how issues manifest for families, service providers, family workers, and even institutions like schools and health. Then, we traced connections, causes, intertwined topics and studied them to identify a lens.

Figure 01, is the map that we first created to understand the system where green circles are services, purple are user needs and the blue is access points. Once we connected the gigantic map we could see that ACCESSIBILITY of services is a problem and made that our lens and the start point of the discovery phase.

Figure -01 (Map we created to understand the system)

My learnings

Reality check

‘Question everything generally thought to be obvious’

– Dieter Rams

Take a step back to move forward

Co-create, Don’t Dictate

If I could learn one thing to help me on this project, what would that one thing be?

‘Many of us are temporarily able-bodied and will face new kinds of exclusion as we age’.


Another Lens, A research tool for conscientious creatives -

Inclusive design-

Idean — Cards for Humanity-

Design and Social responsibility by William Mangold-

Inclusive and Responsible Design — Where do I start-

Podcast — Responsible Design with Dr. Grirish Prabhu



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