The Designer’s Burden – UX Planet
Part 1: What should we be doing? Should we be doing this?
As part of a workshop to explore how to design for and with the youth in the rural community, I had briefly spent time with an NGO situated in a village in Udaipur. They worked towards women empowerment and shaping young minds. Following my time there, I was asked several questions on the role I played in the workshop, how the workshop shaped my learning, etc. Among all the doubts and queries, one question which put me in a fix was from a friend who questioned
“How can one determine their way of life is not good or happy enough? Why do their lives need fixing or you? “
Few of the young women from the village with whom I had the chance to interact with was content or settled in their circumstances and were not driven to pursue education or other interests. They seemed content with their married lives and the life they are endowed. This made me think, did we have the designer’s burden”— a moral obligation to encourage a way of life deemed right through our standards. In other words, how do we determine what values and ways of life are ultimately good, proper or desirable? (Tunstall, 2010)
What helped me articulate my response was to connect with Appudarai’s paper “Capacity to Aspire”. As he mentions, in certain communities, the social structure defines women’s priorities and places them in an oppressed position inhibiting aspirations. The women regrettably find the need to confine to it, believing it to be the social norm. Understanding this social structure helps to determine if the way of life is good or detrimental. The lack of aspiration because of the continuing and accepted oppression further deprives women from holding important positions in the society and is the unfortunate reality of the world we live in (Appudarai, 2004).
Aspiration is a navigational capacity that can lead to future achievements. In most families, the girl was not one to have aspirations because of her place in the social structure (Appudarai, 2004). For example, an adolescent girl I interacted with was prevented from pursuing higher studies, because as per her family it wasn’t right for a woman to study or travel away from home to pursue work or other interests.
We have to understand that traditions and culture can hinder personal and societal development. Also, don’t make the mistake and think that such power hierarchies are found only within rural communities. Such power inequalities and practices continue to co-exist in many communities, work spaces and other social structures. The skill is in to identify it and break our own understandings around what is the norm.
At times we must imbibe the cultures and design within and around it. Steer away from developing the “designer’s burden” like attitude and attempt to fix what is not broken. Otherwise, we must work against it and ensure that through research, design and policy-making , build a new culture of aspiration for the oppressed. This is where I recognize the need for designers to act and bring in the much required social innovation.
Upcoming Article : Part 2: How to build aspirations? (or something around those lines)
Tunstall, Elizabeth. 2010. “Decolonizing Design Innovation: Design Anthropology, Critical Anthropology and Indigenous Knowledge.”
Appudarai, Arjun. 2004. “The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition”