What’s our job here?
The other day I dropped in on a team of Cooper designers working on a challenging design problem. Shannon and Steve were in southern California teaching a Cooper U class. They discovered a new automated toll road in Los Angeles that uses wireless transponders in each car instead of having toll booths. The problem is what to do when someone gets on the toll road without a transponder. Currently, the driver is liable for a costly penalty unless he goes to a hard-to-use website and pays.
The staff expected me to do some clever interaction design to make that website easier to use. But I saw a different, more important design problem here. The real issue is that Los Angeles, like almost every other American city, lacks effective public transportation. ️Inexpensive, abundant transport would eliminate the need for so many cars, highways, and congestion. With fewer vehicles, toll collecting would become easier and, more likely, unnecessary.
You might think that advocating for public transportation was not part of the problem, and I should stick to just website design. I understand that concern, and eventually we have to deliver to the client what they have asked for. ️But at another level, it is our responsibility as citizens to take a stance for what is correct in the larger civic arena. If we don’t do it, who will?
As software eats the world, more and more public policy and private behavior is dictated by software, rather than the other way around. As tech practitioners, we have become responsible for a million different fields of endeavor. Software designers and developers are all alchemists and we have transformational power. We can spin lead into gold for our masters, or we can take responsibility for the quality of our world, and spin our lives into a better, healthier, more sustainable place.
️Such choices are becoming commonplace in the tech world. Practitioners like us designed and wrote the software that let VW cheat on its emissions tests. ️What would you say if your boss offered you a big bonus to write voting machine software that cheated?
I told our young designers that if we are not losing an occasional client due to our high mindedness and moral purity, then we are not high minded and morally pure enough.