How UX Allies Can Support Black Lives Matters

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When I first published the newsletter focusing on Black Lives Matters, I had one unsubscriber write in: “Stop spreading lies about systemic racism. Stick to UX.”

I thought that was interesting coming from someone trying to transition into user experience – a field that prides itself on empathy and understanding others.

We’re in the business of human-centered design, and that includes all humans. It’s obvious that our society is not inclusive nor equal, and it’s in need of radical redesign.

So yes, I will stick to UX. #BlackLivesMatter

You can support Black Lives Matter, the NAACP or these Black nonprofits rated on Guidestar.

I’m personally a supporter of the bail funds like The Bail Project and National Bail Out, which directly address problems in our justice and prison systems.

There’s no right form of support. Some protest, some donate, some have important, uncomfortable conversations on social media. Any form of support is critical in this moment in history.

Starting at the end of May 2020, America saw the rise of a huge civil movement sparked by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless other Black lives.

Now what you came for – specifically for UX designers and students, there’s a bunch of unique ways to we contribute to equality in ways small and large.


✐ Help black owned businesses & startups with UX design

We can support black businesses by buying through them, or reaching out to help them with UX. Here are some useful directories:

Consider donating any skills that a small business might need. That might be design, copy, marketing materials, setting up an email list, logos and all things tech.


🌅 Equal representation in the images you use

In American media, white faces are the norm. In ads, TV roles, Barbie dolls, and yes – websites and apps.

As designers, it’s easy to fall into this inherent bias. That’s why photo series that flip the script are so surprising to see. The next time you’re designing with images, consider representing people of color.

Beyond searching on Unsplash or Pexels, here are diverse image resources you can use in your designs:


👐🏾 Practice inclusion in user research

From Liwordson via Nappy.co

If you’re conducting user research or testing, make sure your selection criteria for test participants is representative of all users, especially Black and minority communities.

How white is your UX practice?“, a paper by Imperial College students, who bravely reflected on how they had “failed to get a representative sample of our diverse student population.”

Other corners of academia acknowledge the Under-representation of minority ethnic groups in research (study), such as this one example:

“Minority populations are much less likely than their white counterparts to be included in studies on environmentally related diseases, even those that disproportionately affect minority communities.”

Working in UX design means we work in technology. And technology scales. Addressing inherent biases upfront and establishing an inclusive research practice decreases the chances of scaling our biases.


📊 Use design to explain social concepts and civil rights phenomena

The current civil rights movement and media cycle are rife with misunderstanding.

  • Black Lives Matters vs All Lives Matters (and Blue Lives Matters, to a lesser extent)
  • Resistance to the idea that systemic racism exists
  • Misreading the movement to defund the police
  • The focus on violent protests and looting vs peaceful demonstration

And don’t even get me started on conspiracy theories that add noise – not substance – to the conversation.

Few of us are sociology majors and race relation experts. But there’s still an opportunity to leverage design to illustrate and explain broken systems (hello user flows and information design?)

We need more cartoons like this and videos like this.

BLM All Lives Matter House on Fire Analogy by Chainsawsuit

The domains of graphic design and art lie tangential to UX, but it’s a skillset that can be leveraged by the design community to simplify otherwise thorny concepts.

If you are able to showcase systemic racism through UX tools like user flows, journey maps and cognitive biases, please reach out to me at [email protected] I’d love to highlight and share your work.


💼 Where you work matters the most

When it comes to personal influence, where you work will have the most impact. For a wider lens on how you can use your career to help solve the world’s problems, check out this great resource from 80,000 Hours.

Working somewhere? Research if your company has any corporate gift matching programs for donating to nonprofits. If your company does not currently support civil rights non-profits, you can petition and/or suggest one.

If you’re looking for a job, consider targeting the companies that you’d feel good about working at.

Check out some sources of great jobs:

Side note: During this search, I discovered a neat startup called Promise, which focuses on America’s criminal justice system and reducing incarceration rates. So neat.

Join or start the Diversity & Inclusion team at your company

One of the best ways to leverage existing corporate resources is to join or start a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) organization at your company.

Here are some ways D&I organizations can influence company culture:

  • Hiring practices to be more inclusive
  • Company participation & representation in communities like AfroTech or People of Color in Tech.
  • Creating a safe space to talk about race

If your company already has a D&I committee, just showing up and listening in can be a powerful start. Invite your other teammates to join if they haven’t already.

If there’s no existing D&I committee, ask your leadership why. See if they’re open to sponsoring time and funds for the creation of such a committee – it can literally startup with you a few coworkers and a couple events.

Although it sucks to have to use statistics to “prove” the value of diversity, but there are statistics and resources that can make the case easier to sell.

In the same sense, good luck going out to make everyone in your city anti-racist or care about a certain movement.

Push for junior level designers and UX internships

Blacks are Latinos are underrepresented in tech. The combination of the increasing barrier of entry in tech with an incumbent workforce that lacks diversity (think who’s already in mid/senior roles), and you get a hiring pipeline that’s not optimized for underrepresented populations.

“In Silicon Valley for blacks and Hispanics, the basic problem is getting in the door. The problem with Asian Americans in Silicon Valley is upper mobility to management. You need different strategies for each race, and you can’t just throw it in as a diversity program, because not all diversity programs are apt for all the races or genders.”

From nonprofit Ascend via TechRepublic article.

If you have a hand in the hiring process, suggest internships. Consider blazing the trail by volunteering yourself to be a mentor or internship coordinator. This can be a powerful way to lower the barrier of entry for underrepresented folx in tech.


🪓 Looking for projects? Hack for social change

Those looking to break into UX have a great win-win opportunity if they apply their efforts to designing for social impact. Here are some resources to get started:

In LA and other cities, organizations like HackForLA organize tech-focused solutions to civic problems.

If you’re curious about this, search on “hack for [your city name]” or explore the keyword “Govtech” (government tech) for ways to help.

And lest you’re hungry for more resources, check out the extensive list of resources at AIGA’s Design for Good page.


Am I missing anything? Got a valuable resource that supports the civil rights movement and diversity in tech? Please let me know in the comments.

About the Author

oz

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Oz first started UX Beginner was a way to document his own journey to become a UX designer. Now the site helps thousands of professionals transition into the user experience field with UX career resources, articles and courses.

2 Comments on “How UX Allies Can Support Black Lives Matters”

  1. By sharing these cartoons and videos you still spread lies and manipulations. Stick to UX, please.

  2. I think what’s missing in the article is making design education accessible to younger Black audiences as well. I’ve been helping run a STEM coding camp at UWW for many years where I teach design and on average about 1 of 20 girls is Black. When I finally put together content for high schoolers of camps I’ve run in the past, I was initially going to just make it printable and available as a resource for UWW’s virtual tech camp this year (physical camp was shut down due to COVID-19). But lately everything that has been going on has fueled me to actually hold the design camp independent of UWW. So I’ve started youthxdesign.org – a 3-day camp from July 8-10 that’s free with receipt of donation to the Equal Justice Initiative and completely free to all Black high school students. Please check it out and share. Thanks!

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