How UX Design Can Benefit Social Justice, Mental Health and You

Photo of a young woman in a crowd of protesters marching together. She is wearing a COVID mask and holding up a cardboard sign with the hand painted message, “YOU CAN JAIL THE REVOLUTIONARY, BUT YOU CAN’T JAIL THE REVOLUTION”
photo courtesy of Clay Banks

I rarely respond to random surveys or provide voluntary feedback. My time, like yours, is so limited and fleeting that I’ve decided only an idiot would pour themselves into offering feedback to every organization asking for it after each “experience,” from customer service phone calls, to online shopping experiences, to mini golf adventures. I just don’t have enough hours in my day to provide yet another data point to another matrix of feedback.

So I surprised myself by offhandedly answering a poll that Designlab offered asking,

“Which non-tech related industries would you bring UX design into?”

on the “design-talk” Slack channel. Only a dozen people had responded, so I figured why not give a shout out to social justice and mental health. After all, right now in the U.S. throngs of people are being marginalized at least, slain at worst, and everyone is losing their mind in some mental health capacity during what looks to be a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know if social justice and mental health are “industries” per se, but those constructs seemed to explode from the tips of my fingers and appear on the screen with a life all their own. Moments later, I received a personal Slack message from Alexa, a Content Specialist at Designlab, (not to be confused with the AI virtual assistant tech developed by Amazon) saying she wanted to feature me in her blog on this topic.

My husband and I are taking this opportunity to reevaluate our lives after years of producing harder, faster, more. We plan to spend the next chapter of our lives doing even more deeply meaningful work. Not to say that being an ER nurse isn’t significant, or that UX design which enables life upgrades rather than solving for human pain isn’t important, but we plan to take ourselves and those we touch to another, higher level.

Next Alexa asked why I would bring UX design into mental health and/or social justice and what changes I would make. I chose mental health and social justice, or rather, they chose me, because these are two of the most grueling areas of our civilization at the moment, devastating lives. The change I would make is simply having a conversation about UX and the methodology of giving a fuck about others be what leads. I’m sorry. Compassion. Have compassion at the helm.

UX design, meaning “user-centric experience design” could help everything. By its very definition, anyone can understand why. According to Google’s top hit definition at the time of this writing it declares,

“UX design is the process of designing (digital or physical) products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. It’s about enhancing the experience that people have while interacting with your product, and making sure they find value in what you’re providing.”

Imagine that you are “your product.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if you/we/everyone were useful, easy to be around, and delightful to interact with? If we enhanced the experience that people had while interacting with us and found value in what we were providing? Sounds like a recipe to be a decent human being to me. How elevated our world would be if we were all like that (at least most of the time) having decency as our collective goal. I have a theory as to why decency got put on the chopping block, but what matters most is that we reinstate it.

Regarding social justice, we are beginning to see some progress. Black lives matter. EVERY life matters. ALL lives matter. I wish we could agree on this fundamental fact. With mental health, we are all going bat shit crazy due to greed and tribalism running the show, to greater and lesser extents and at different rates, but it is nonetheless happening. None of this is hopeless, but radical change in our individual and collective mindsets must transpire. Thankfully, compassionate people at every level are blowing the whistle on this tomfoolery. Ethicist, Tristan Harris is calling out Big Tech, and our collective social dilemma of despair. Delaney Ruston, MD, offers weekly solutions to help our Screenagers with the addiction, alienation, and depression spirals we are immersed in. Mitchell Levy just presented a TEDx talk called “We Are Losing Our Humanity and I’m Tired of Just Watching it Happen.” My kids’ school has an Equity Lab, headed by Tyneeta Canonge, offering insightful events to expand our ability to make sense of cultural differences and commonalities. My friend, Wendell Pryor, is excited to retire so he can finally work on his passion project called, “My Why” where he will help civic, business, and educational organizations understand their particular “why” as to what drives them, why it matters, and how to move forward with decency, credibility, unity…. and love, really.

All of us can make a difference. I was on the phone yesterday setting up an appointment for a design consultation with a sunroom builder. The customer service rep explained to me (“overshared” he coined it) that it was only his second day on the job, so he couldn’t answer all my questions. He then shared that he had worked for cell phone companies for years and he was tired of constantly getting yelled at by irate customers who had been misled, lied to, or somehow exploited by the cellular company. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore, and all he wanted was to work for a transparent, ethical company. If we all made that choice, what would tomorrow look like?

How might we….

photo courtesy of Ian Schneider

Meaningful Life Advocate, UX Designer, Educator, Performer, Mother