It’s time to address the Black Lives Matter movement in UX (and a post like this should’ve been written long before now). Accessibility for all and inclusivity for all has always been a huge part of my passion for user research. Undoubtedly, this extends to people of all races, religions, backgrounds, genders and sexualities. As a white person, there are always unconscious biases in my work, and despite always striving to educate myself more about marginalised groups in society, there will always be more that I can do to check my privilege.
I’ve put together a few useful things that you can be doing/thinking about in the UX profession to help support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and if anyone has any questions or comments please do get in touch. It’s really important to me that I am always checking how I speak about these topics, as ultimately they ARE difficult conversations because (if we are white) they confront us with the reality of our privilege. The only way that you can truly check your privilege is to do whatever you can to be anti-racist. It is not enough to be complicit and silent, we must be standing up for this if change is to occur as a result.
Engage on a personal level
This is a more general approach to how you can support the movement. References to items below will be provided at the end of this article:
- Donate to organisations that support the movement
- Show support at protests and demonstrations – vote in a meaningful way
- Educate yourself to the lives and hardships that POC (people of colour) face through books, voices and TV shows by black creatives
- Do not ask POC to explain the Black Lives Matter movement – as someone who is privileged, you must take this upon yourself to do your own research. POC do not owe anything to you by explaining – this only perpetuates the ‘YOU vs THEM’ attitude
- Check your privilege: who are you and what makes you privileged? Write in brackets what you are not privileged in versus what you are so you can see the aspects you need to educate yourself on. E.g. for me, I am a white, middle class, cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied (state-educated) (woman). The only privileges I do not have are to do with my educational background and my sex. It is my duty to inform myself on the other areas.
Check your process
When you are conducting user research, is anything about your process potentially isolating POC from being included? You might need to think carefully about this.
For example, are you recruiting in areas frequented by POC as much as white people, or are there biases in this? Who is your recruitment process isolating and what can you do to ensure that these people are not isolated?
What steps can you take to make it easier and safer for POC to come forward to take part in research? Are the incentives you are offering showing a bias to the kind of people you want to take part? There are so many elements to a UX process that you need to take a step back and consider whether they are truly inclusive. This is especially important for more impromptu studies such as guerrilla testing – is the location that you are choosing to recruit participants from isolating people in particular?
If possible, have a diverse team as well as diverse participants. You can have considerations made by people in the planning process rather than it coming too late. Make sure that everyone has an equal weighting in the planning process of research, and that all voices are heard and listened to.
Check your product
Have you designed a product made for users, or for your ‘ideal’ user (who research shows will probably be 25-30 years old, white, male, able-bodied)? Some examples of these things that have taken way too long to be diversified include ‘nude’ coloured plasters (always in a white/pink shade, which isn’t ‘nude’ for POC) and even more recently, PPE that might not be built for different face shapes and structures associated with POC. You are privileged if society is designed for you, and it is our responsibility as designers to ensure that we take steps to redesign society so that it is inclusive of all and that whiteness is no longer standard.
Consider the society your product is in
In the meantime to change, we cannot alter the way that our products might be used in society. We must think harder about contexts of use, and how this might differ for POC compared to white people.
An example I can think of is how newer car designs often have more concealed compartments for style and safety (so you can’t see valuables). Now, POC are often treated as more threatening by police forces, due to institutionalised racism. As a result of this, they are more likely to be pulled over for minor driving offences, and if asked to show ID, they may have to reach inside a glovebox to do this. This can be read by police as them reaching for a gun, something that is not often considered for white drivers. If carrying ID in a car is a common norm, maintaining space for this that isn’t concealed could be the difference between a black life lost and an inconvenience to someone’s day. This is an extreme example, but I think it shows the importance of considering how the environment a product is used in can differ due to racism that exists in society.
IMPORTANT! References to learn more:
Please do your own research and share this consistently. Have conversations with your family and friends and actively be anti-racist in your personal and professional life. It’s okay to get things wrong and have to change or delete what you have previously said, but you will never improve your way of thinking unless you try to have these conversations. Be open to criticism (and related to this, if anyone reading has further criticism about this post or anything else I share on platforms, I welcome any and all discussions).
Organisations/direct action to support #BLM:
Link to document with UK initiatives, templates for letters to MPs, live petitions:
Books/poetry to educate yourself:
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ : Reni Eddo-Lodge
‘Me and White Supremacy’: Layla F Saad
‘Girl, Woman, Other’ : Bernardine Evaristo
‘Such A Fun Age’ : Kiley Reid
‘An American Marriage’ : Tayari Jones
‘Americanah’: Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
‘The New Jim Crow’: Michelle Alexander
‘The Hate U Give’ : Angie Thomas
TV shows to educate yourself (N= Netflix, R= rentals):
American Son (N)
Dear White People (N)
When They See Us (N)
Just Mercy (R)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (R)
Voices to follow:
Instagram: @rachel.cargle; @askapoc; @sassy_latte
Names: Mona Chalabi; Munroe Bergdorf, Candice Braithwaite