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Education As Wellness: The Design Rehab

Design research on exploring ways to facilitate and enable inclusive design thinking for building resilient and sustainable futures in big tech
About

Microsoft partnered up with Emily Carr University to lead eight student fellows in envisioning a meta open system as a research project. Student fellows were tasked with designing an experience that allows people to imagine a future open system. 

The following worldviews were considered:
• Education and meaningful learning
• Data and privacy
• Ethics and tech addiction
• Socioeconomics and screen time
• Fine art and the meaning of creativity
• Government regulation and technologies
• Economic theory and inequality in the market
• Society and the tech issues of our time

After secondary research and sharing of insights, this led to 2 groups of 4 to lead two different topics. My team led the topic of ‘Education As Wellness’ and created ‘The Design Rehab’ as a final outcome for this meta OS experience.

*Edit: Our ideas were featured on FastCompany.

Timeline
July - August 2019 (6 weeks)
My Roles
Project Management
Project Coordinator
Art Direction
UX Strategist
Content Strategist
Lead Writer
UX Designer
UX Researcher
Team
3 UX Designers
1 Communication Designer
My Roles

I was one of the three UX designers on this project, but my role expanded and involved the following:
a) Project management:
• Managing our project timeline
• Prioritizing focus and to-do lists
• Coordinating our weekly team meetings and agendas

b) UX Strategy:
• Strategic advisor for concept development
• Art direction
• Building our brand identity and accessibility guidelines

c) UX Designer:
• Visual developer (built the website and its layouts)
• Lead writer (wrote the prospectus)
• Content strategy
• User testing workshops, activities, outcomes

Problem Space

It is crucial to dissect why and how much of our design education is being taught through a Western, Euro-centric lens. Notably, a lot of design history highlighted in design pedagogies are from and by white males—who have the highest form of power and privileges.

Does receiving access to these perspectives in the current design education canon continue to colonize countries outside of the USA through Big Tech?

Source: The Fascinating History of UX Design: A Definitive Timeline by Emily Stevens

Shortage of diverse and intersectional perspectives in the current design canon as valuable knowledge has led to the reinforcement of colonization through tech.

There is an opportunity space for focused education on power privileges, lived experiences, and intersectional identities to address this issue.

How much of contemporary education is inherently excluding or dismissing diverse perspectives and ideologies?

Source: Photo of an excerpt from an Asian History textbook from the Phillipines: Twitter Source

Strategy

Achieving wellness in tech in the long term requires prioritizing educational methods and materials. It is essential to dissect how education systems have been colonized and disable us to fully engage with the unprivileged majority. 

Reaching overall wellness means bringing more empathy and understanding, of intersectional identities and power privileges.

How might we open up passageways for intersectional identities, give access to diverse narratives, ideas, and gain overall wellness that is informed by the education we gain?

Exploration of Design Solutions

We had 3 major presentations throughout the course of 6 weeks to gather feedback and develop our concepts.

To begin, my team and I participated in individual generative thinking to gather potential ideas for a meta OS experience. We then did a midterm presentation to Microsoft HQ, followed by a final presentation at Emily Carr University.

Iteration A:
How can Big Tech help create and empower more inclusive education?

Through generative thinking, I created a concept that involved an AI that could assist with storytelling processes, and help others be more inclusive in their school work.

There is an opportunity space for a meta OS that can offer students a space to question and learn about intersectional identities within language and communication through storytelling. One that brings the potential to empower individuals to have and continue to create safe spaces for vulnerability, lower egos, and boost learning morale in educational settings.

Iteration B:
What would breaking the current design canon look like?

Critical design both as a theory and a tool can help us identify possible utopias and dystopias that are caused by our design choices. New design systems and structures are needed for marginalized communities to feel heard. Thus, processes of future-proofing ideas for inclusivity can be placed into regular design practices.

‘Design Rehab’ challenges contemporary design systems and created discourse through interactive courses, workshops, group activities, and or field trips. Agency is brought back to the user when designers are able to incorporate critical thinking into decision-making processes. It would bring forth different levels of accountability onto creators and choosers.

Iteration C:
Educational content and material that emphasizes critical theory and intersectionality in design thinking!

‘The Design Rehab’ is an open source library of workshops, readings, and activities, that prioritize critical theory and intersectionality in design thinking to decolonize current design education.

Insights

• We were advised to steer away from a more product-centric idea and focus more on an overall meta OS idea that could be applied to multiple products.

• There is a big opportunity space in bringing intersectionality forward in Big Tech. Specifically in examining how education impacts our knowledge, biases, and assumptions that continue to shape ongoing systemic issues.

This feedback helped us identify a clearer objective and created design principles to guide us in our process of developing concepts.

Insights

• Peer support groups offer a place that brings people together to be around each other's experiences as a way of healing. Parallel to ‘Design Rehab’ courses—diverse educational content and materials should structure ways to provide safe spaces for designers to relearn and heal.

• The educational value becomes learning how to listen to lived experiences with empathy before strategizing and designing new futures.

Final Presentation: Workshop Run Through

To show the audience how helpful a tool like this could be when designing frameworks and structures, we wanted to do some user testing by running one of the workshops.

We facilitated a workshop from 'Future-Proofing Alternate Realities' which involved TRIZ. We curated the TRIZ workshop to meet the needs and scalability of our space since we didn't know how many people were going to attend, and ratio of designers to non-designers there was going to be.

Participants mentioned how it initiated low-pressure thinking and generative thinking/communicating because of the way that it was generated and facilitated.

Insights

• Feedback highlighted the variety of conversation topics that were brought up from personal life to professional life and how relatable and easy it was to talk about these things with strangers in this different workshop structure.

• This brought up many verbal conversations on how this could also be applied to multiple frameworks outside of pedagogical ones such as decision making, start ups, and community building.

The learner would use a combination of their own intuition and existing knowledge to go through situations. By creating tools and experiences to help them envision how their decisions are impacting the world, this can help them better understand how their lifestyle choices are affecting their future.

Outcomes from these courses would equip designers to apply learnings from intersectional identities beyond Western pedagogies. It aims to help create safe spaces to bring awareness to designers on how Western design education and mindsets can create and set rigid restrictions on how tech already continues to colonize areas around the world.

Below are some of the outcomes we've put together to assist with these courses.

Impact for Microsoft

• Microsoft adopting ‘The Design Rehab’ would create a precedent for the tech world regarding adaptability. 

• Microsoft could benefit from the investment and refinement of ‘The Design Rehab’ to activate discussions and utilize ‘The Design Rehab’ materials and takeaways to apply cultivated knowledge into their regular practices.

• With the investment in this, there are future opportunities to tackle other intersectional identities that are often neglected, or not represented often.

Identifies bottlenecks in design education and design systems that are preventing sustainable empowerment towards a range of diverse users and their lived experiences.

Next Steps

• Continue to refine website, courses, and user test the more interactive pieces/outcomes.

• Think about taking these ideas and presenting them as a talk for conferences, companies, and or teams about inclusive design.

Lessons Learned

1. Project management
Being a project manager for our team required finding ways to create systems and structures for everyone on the team to utilize their strengths, learn new things, and grow into the designer they aspire to be. With a short timeline and working in agile, it was challenging and rewarding to learn to adjust and help lift up others where they would like to be as a designer.

2. Team communication

Transparency was key with our communication methods. It was important for each of us to consistently update each other with individual efforts on how the project was being moved forward. With such complex topics, we understood the importance of doing daily stand-ups to check in with each other about our process, decision making, and problem solving.

3. Importance of scalability and accessible language
With a topic that challenges heavy systemic issues including colonialism, intersectionality, and power privileges, it was crucial to simplify these complex subjects into accessible knowledge. We wanted to strive for quality, but simplifying language just enough for people from multiple industries to see the value of our project was important.

We facilitated a mini graduation ceremony for the workshop participants at the end!!!