/ sensemaking

The challenges of democracy are like the challenges of doing user-centered design

Here follow some propositions making parallels between the two and why there is a case for governance and politics to draw from the toolkits of user/human centered design.

(And, to a smaller degree, why design practitioners can learn from the larger patterns of governance and politics in the world today to make their work more grounded, ethical, and inclusive.)

In what follows, I am going to be using the words "users" and "designers" rather broadly. In your practice it may be more appropriate to use, for instance "stakeholder", "beneficiary", "customer", "citizen" and so on; and to use "manager", "administrator", "planner", and so on instead of "designer".

This article is not claiming that the user-customer relationship is like the citizen relationship.

We can think about the parallel challenges in two categories from design discourse; I'm using these two categories because it seems to be that framing governance in terms of design is the more interesting move for me. One could argue for the opposite framing might be useful for people in governance, but I don't know enough political science to suggest categories.

Designing

  1. Sampling users is a challenge (both completeness and representativeness)
  2. Users are often wrong about what they want
  3. Users often want things that the designers don't know to ask them about
  4. It is often hard to get the right kind of ongoing feedback
  5. Design criteria are often unclear
  6. What is good for some people can be bad for others; finding resolutions or compromises is hard
  7. Many practitioners severely misunderstand the degree to which systems shape behavior
  8. Adding in a layer of context, history, or foresight can drastically change the desirability of a solution

Managing Design

  1. There are competing narratives on what counts as a good result
  2. There are competing narratives on what counts as good process
  3. There are competing narratives on what counts as evidence
  4. These narratives are held by users as well
  5. The narratives of good design held by users are used as evidence by various camps of designers to further their own agendas and narratives
  6. There are bad actors in play
  7. Some people benefit significantly from poor outcomes (as measured from a systemic perspective), and will work towards ensuring poor outcomes
  8. There are many practitioners with poor training claiming the same titles and roles as those with good training
  9. Many organizations do not understand how to purchase and use design
  10. Planning methodologies are often maladjusted to the nature of the design challenge
  11. Success metrics are often missing, misleading, or prone to misinterpretation
  12. When adversarial and/or decision-making dynamics dominate, design processes fail
  13. When organizations create low-risk/high safety spaces to explore questions and decisions, the quality of design improves.
  14. Corollary: people who are able to take risks safely are able to do better design, and thus occasionally also "succeed"
  15. Design is scuppered when it encounters people who lack a sense of possibility; the opposite is also true
  16. A lack of understanding or skill at the leadership level is a hard ceiling for growth
  17. Deep social structures limit the amount of good that design can accomplish

(Work in Progress: I will keep updating this post as parallels occur to me. A future version of this post will create sub-categories and a proper descriptive narrative.)

You may be tempted to #notall in response. Please don't: I am aware that my statements are not universally true.

Much of this is probably obvious to experience design practitioners and practice theorists. I am merely collecting these ideas in this form in case there is some value to seeing them as a whole.