September 22, 2020

Is dismantling systemic oppression possible with design?

“Inequities exist by design, but only intentional acts can dismantle them.” Equity Centered Design takes on the difficult task of building designers to do this. The Creation Reaction’s Lab defines Equity-Centered Community Design as “a unique creative problem solving process based on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community.”

After diving more into this reading, I became fascinated with the main intention behind this force of design. There is work to be done in every sector, but this type of design focuses on public health and healthcare, education, government, and public service. Dismantling power structures seems like it is no easy job. But there are rules of respect and assumptions involved with this process, such as the note that prejudice and bias are learned through experience, people are not born with prejudice.

And it is impossible to understand every outcome that can occur within a product or process. There will always be intentional outcomes, and unintentional outcomes within every designer’s work. I keep wondering to myself- how can someone even possibly try to understand or test out every single one? Even the designer of Keurig Cups said that if he would’ve known the environmental damage his plastic single-use cups make on the earth every year, he never would have made them. (That one isn’t to hard to predict though, c’mon)

Something interesting my classmates and I were exploring the other day was the title of a “designer”. It seems odd that I can call myself a graphic designer simply because I have gained a degree, when there are people out there that are capable of creation and researching in the same manner as me; the one thing they lack is that piece of paper that officials says it. What about the people who spend hours on Canvas or Photoshop purely for pleasure? Or the students that choose to study something else such as Social Work and design as a freelancer through the internet? It doesn’t seem right to me that when I stumble on a designer’s Instagram, the first thing I consider is what design school they go to, or what university they study at. This is something new that I want to challenge and consider as I collaborate and move forward post graduation. I am sure that everyone I work with will come from all fields of degrees. I like how in the the Creative Reaction Lab’s ECCD Field Guide they touch on this topic, straight up defining what a designer is. They basically reiterated what the discussion with my classmates entailed, saying that a designer doesn’t have to have formal training or an official title. They defined it in their own words below:

“A designer is anyone who has agency to make a decision, however small, that will impact a group of people or the environment. Every decision we make has an impact on equity.”

I now have a newfound definition for what I consider myself, and anyone else who is willing to make decisions for the benefit of others. I feel empowered to consider myself to be a part of the design community (whether I have a degree in it or not) because we don’t settle for “the way things are”- we continuously innovate for impact and challenge outcomes. I wish more people thought this way.

Equity Centered Community Design by Creative Reaction Lab
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