Postcolonial Design Conversations

in design

There’s been some controversy lately in the design blogoworld!

Bruce Nussbaum asks the hard questions in Fast Company with Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?

And naturally, the humanitarian designers respond. And then while the imperialists argue with each other, some designers who are not native to wealthy colonizing countries laugh at us.

Design Observer has a collection of responses.

As one might infer from my paper on Interaction Design Activism, this kind of conversation is near and dear to my heart, though the paper is not entirely in the same vein. For one thing, it’s kind of difficult to find traditional interaction design projects that will meaningfully impact the lives of people who live in places without, say, a reliable electric grid. I wrote the paper thinking of the kind of situation I expect to be in: an interaction designer with a day job where they don’t have a lot of control over choosing projects, looking for alternative ways to advance their insidious do-gooder agenda. In any case, I’ve only ever been able to deal productively with my own desires for change in a local way, as a committed member of a particular community.

And as a white American who grew up in an affluent suburb, who’s only left the US to visit Canada and western Europe, I don’t have much to contribute to the globalism of this conversation. I do know a few things, though. The first is that nobody actually needs more Nice White Ladies, in whatever form. The second is that the best thing to do in my position is shut up and listen. And so, I’ve added some more designers to my google reader.

This also seems like an appropriate time to recommend my current offline reading, an anthology of postcolonial science fiction and fantasy.