Design Eats the World



My latest design column looks at intentional design and why it's changing the world. 

In 2011, a famous venture capitalist wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "Why software is eating the world,"  which claimed that nearly every field of human endeavor is now being understood in terms of code. While that is well taken, the relative lack of consideration given to human values in the ones and noughts increasingly invites us to think about intentional change more seriously. With the phrase "design thinking" being thrown around everywhere and the five most valuable companies putting substantial weight behind the design of their products, I think that it's design that's increasingly eating the world.
So, my column has the following aims:
a) Exploring the idea of "design as intentional change" through the lens of contemporary issues that matter to UW students.
b) Forwarding the idea first forwarded by Steve Jobs that "design" isn't just what it looks like, but how it functions. Also, questioning that premise. 
c) Educating readers (mostly students) to look at intentional changes around them and look at them from a design lens. 

Extracts from the articles are given below. 

Design Eats the World: Designing Against Abuse in the Age of Twitter

 Illustration by Amelia Shull

Illustration by Amelia Shull

First published on April 6, 2017

[NOTE: This piece was first published as part of a column called “Design Eats the World” in The Daily of the University of Washington HERE.]

Twitter has been through a lot, as have its users. From its roots as a revolutionary social media platform to a legacy product that both the President and your aunt use, it’s become the archetype of rapid-fire online democracy. As the platform has grown in influence, with close to 320 million active users in 2016, several massive incidents of abuse have dented the platform’s image. While Twitter’s design as a platform for allowing free speech is intact, its design against abuse and harassment has historically been poor. I suspect this is because it has consistently designed reactively rather than proactively. 

Harassment on social media isn’t new or unique. From the cyberbullying of children on Facebook and Instagram to large-scale harassment campaigns against people like Leslie Jones, abuse and harassment has grown with these companies. The number of instances and the scale of both major and minor abuses of these platforms have increasingly taken center stage in discussions about social media. 

Design Eats the World: The Politics of Typography

 Illustration by Chloe Yeo

Illustration by Chloe Yeo

Most of us don’t think much about fonts. We usually just go for the default fonts on our Google Docs and avoid Comic Sans for fear of ridicule. But whether we like it or not, typography has a massive effect on our everyday lives. And by extension, it has a large effect on our politics as well. 

I’ve written about design and politics before. I briefly mentioned Donald Trump’s business typography and how it was sneered at by elite designers, but what was he trying to convey? On his current website, Trump uses a font called Trajan, a capitals only typeface whose serifs (the little foot-like protrusions on the ends of letters) are inspired by Roman columns

It’s meant to convey a sense of authority by alluding to a part of European history widely associated with grandeur. The effect is complete when the font is put beside the Trump Network’s faux-heraldic shield. This association with fiat is strong enough that Trajan is also used for the logo of political drama “The West Wing.” 

Design Eats the World: Death to shitty assignment prompts

Published February 23rd, 2016

[NOTE: This piece was first published as part of a column called “Design Eats the World” in The Daily of the University of Washington HERE.]

If you’re a university student, it’s likely you’ve witnessed a shitty assignment prompt at least once. Anecdotally, we are used to whining about tight deadlines and the lack of free time. However, as someone who has studied at the UW in three different schools across two degree levels, I’ve faced my share of really frustrating assignment prompts. It’s quite likely that bad assignment prompts are hurting Huskies’ learning experiences and grades.


Design Eats the World: How “bad” design gave Donald Trump the presidency

 Illustration by Arunabh Satpathy

Illustration by Arunabh Satpathy

Published Feb 9, 2017

The 2016 election was unique in many ways. A combative New York billionaire who openly talked about grabbing women by the genitals became President. A woman came closer to the presidency than ever before. Statistics were proven to be worse than damn lies. And the meme economy (NASDANQ?) flexed its considerable political muscles for the first time.

President Trump’s election also challenged the design community. Despite being derided as “bad” by experts, Trump’s design sensibility achieved virality and iconic status. It also subverted the idea of design as highly thought-out, intentional change.

Don Norman, a widely-regarded expert in design, wrote about communication between the designer and the user.

“Sometimes this conversation is accidental,” Norman wrote. “But in the hands of good designers, the communication is intentional.”

Design Eats the World: Refiltered bubbles

 Illustration by Ben Celsi

Illustration by Ben Celsi

Published Jan 26, 2017

NOTE: This column is written for The Daily of the University of Washington, and was originally published HERE.

The filter bubble and its effect on the election has been well documented by now. Donald Trump had a massive turnout at the general election in November, much to the surprise of coastal liberals.
In the turbulence of its wake, the election brought up several pertinent questions about media consumption today. Why are Americans so balkanized? What are the causes? How could the internet simultaneously be so open and still obscure the massive support for Trump? 
Designing ourselves out of the filter bubble has become crucial.

Design Eats the World: ‘Fourth Place’ coffee shops

Laptop Man (Public domain)

Published Jan 12, 2017
NOTE: This column is written for The Daily of the University of Washington, and was originally published HERE.

Historically, coffee shops and other spaces where people could meet were the only “internet” we had. They were places where people could meet and exchange ideas at a relatively brisk pace. Though today the internet has connected people in new and exciting ways, there is still something to be said for meeting in person. Dates, meetings, and music festivals continue to thrive because of the benefits of real human contact. However, I think coffee shops have changed drastically in many ways because of the addition of one design element: Wi-Fi access.