Dark UX Patterns and Racial Oppression

I love the UX and product design community, composed of people who love black turtlenecks, Macbooks, chunky glasses, all of us filled with the confidence that good design can change the world. It is because I love this community that I also need to call all of us out for the quiet part UX design and Information Architecture plays into both racial and socioeconomic oppression.

Every year I end up paying for TurboTax because I can’t figure out how to navigate through any of the free software…..and I’m literally someone with a degree in Information Science and Design. Paying $180 dollars for the software is annoying for me, but for families in poverty this is over a week’s worth of food. In parts of the government that every American needs to touch, they should have equal access to great design.

The ads I get on Google shape the opportunities I’m aware of, which lets me further amass privileged social networks. We don’t just put people into boxes; we help them put themselves into boxes.

Payday loan sites make it purposefully confusing what their terms are, which capture people who might have low financial literacy into continual cycles of poverty. We might be just designing the size of boxes, the colors of warnings on screens, the navigational flow through an app. But even though our tools are lines and boxes, pixels and bits, we need to acknowledge how they still slowly put people into shackles.

It has continuously been acknowledged that minorities who whiten their names on resumes are more likely to get call-backs. Healthcare algorithms provide less service to Black people. Many of us wrote these algorithms. And if we might want to say a developer did that, not us, it was at the very least a product manager that created the assumptions of these algorithms that were shaped by white experiences.

A lot of you are probably working at big tech companies thinking about what font is the most readable on small versus large screens. I can’t help but wonder what the incredible impact to millions would be if we turned our attention to problems like the process for filling out Section 8 housing vouchers or the U.S.’s Unemployment website.

If we really want to be change-makers for good, we need to acknowledge the ways in which we subtly perpetuate unjust systems. Then we need to take charge of radically reshaping the future for good.

This means:

  • Having designers of a multitude of different backgrounds

We are a new field, but now is the time to show that we can quickly address systemic problems in our field and work to build better.

Interaction Writer and CEO of Adjacent