Design Justice

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Sasha Costanza-Chock:

"Design Justice, an emergent concept that is being developed in large part through the efforts of folks connected to the Allied Media Conference, is a normative and pragmatic proposal for a liberatory approach to the design of digital technologies, products, services, and systems. Design justice proponents might argue that we have an ethical imperative to systematically advance democratic participation in all stages of the digital technology design process, and especially to center historically marginalized communities in this process, based on principles of democratic inclusion and social justice. At the same time, design that follows these principles can produce products and systems that work better for all of us, in the long run. We need to ask a series of questions about how the design of digital technologies currently works, and about how we want it to work. We need to raise questions of accountability (who gets to do design? how do we move towards community control of design processes?), values (what values do we encode and reproduce in the objects and systems that we design?), discourse (What stories do we tell about how things are designed? How do we scope design challenges, and frame design problems?), sites (Where do we do design? How do we make design sites accessible to those who will be most impacted by design processes? What design sites are privileged and what sites are ignored or marginalized?), political economy (who profits from, and what social relationships are reproduced by, design?), and pedagogy (how do we teach and learn design justice skills and practices?) At the same time, we have to document innovative community-led digital design practices, each grounded in the specificity of a particular social movement. There is a growing community of designers, technologists, and engaged scholars who work hand in hand with community based organizations, through iterative stages of project ideation, design, testing, evaluation, launch, and stewardship; we invite you, the reader, to participate in these communities. Let’s work towards design justice in theory, practice, and pedagogy." ( )


Design Justice: An Introduction and conclusions

Sasha Costanza-Chock:

"Design Justice might initially be seen as part of a long turn towards the theory and practice of User Centered Design, as well as the more recent advance of value driven design, both increasingly popular within industry. These shifts are important and have had the practical outcome of producing products that better respond to user needs, and that are designed with affordances that fit the values of design teams.

However, they don’t satisfy the normative or ethical goals of aligning design with larger struggles to overturn the intersectional matrix of domination (along lines of race, class, gender identity and sexual orientation, disability, immigration status, and more), in part because these approaches are too easily appropriated as extractive mechanisms by oppressive institutions and systems. Design justice goes further than previous proposals since it not only argues for equity in employment in the design professions and for the intentional inclusion of values in decisions about the affordances of designed objects and systems, it also insists on community participation, leadership, and accountability throughout the design process, as well as community ownership of digital technologies and of the narratives about them.


By default, digital technologies are designed in ways that reproduce existing forms of structural inequality. Only through conscious and coordinated intervention can we bend the arc of digital technology development towards justice. There are many mechanisms at work in this process: designers, intended benificiaries, scope, values, discourse, sites, governance, and other aspects of the development, deployment, and use of digital technology are all structured by race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability, geography, and other intersecting axes of inequality. Power reproduces itself through the stories about technology design that we center (design discourse); who we pay to design and develop digital technologies (employment inequity); the imagined ‘end users’ for whom we design the majority of digital technologies (design benificiaries); the affordances, features, presets, intentional and unintentional biases that we encode into digital technologies (encoded values); the inclusion and exclusion of various kinds of people from the places and spaces where we design digital technologies (design sites); the allocation of decisionmaking power over the digital technologies in our lives (governance), and more. There is also a growing community of design justice practitioners: people, organizations, and networks that already work on a daily basis to realize design justice principles in practice. This zine includes the principles of design justice as developed through the Design Justice Network Gathering at Allied Media Conference. Those principles are a living document, and we hope to continue to develop them together. We might also explore how to evaluate design according to those principles, and we urge the reader to consider how these principles might apply to their own work. Let’s build theory, practice, and pedagogy of Design Justice together!" ( )

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