Note — Apr 12, 2020

Design for Systems, Not Users

Seen in → No.121

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Alexis Lloyd with a good piece joining a growing number of voices drawing attention to the fact that user-centered design ends up being “a mirror for both radical individualism and capitalism.” This vision doesn’t mean to ignore the user, of course, but to consider systems and society at large in ever product and service.

In the past decades of relative prosperity, it has been easy to ignore or obfuscate this web of interconnectivity, and as a result we have built much of that seeming prosperity on the backs of fragile or exploitative systems. Those fissures, those inequalities, are now coming to light in an urgent way. […]

As a designer, I try to look at both the explicit and implicit choices being made in designing an experience. […]

[T]he user tends to be the person directly engaging with the software. But the digital experiences we create touch far more people than just the end user. They engage with entire, interconnected systems that are composed of many different participants, only some of whom are the “users” we typically design for. […]

Everything we make has secondary effects beyond the choices we explicitly make, so a systems-centered design (or society-centered design) practice tries to make that larger system visible. We can only change that which we can clearly see.