The Design Rehab is a learning opportunity for designers to create socially responsible and inclusive products that have a positive impact on users’ wellbeing.
Microsoft partnered with Emily Carr University for a 6-week student fellowship program. The brief was to create a ‘what if’ experience for the future state of a more responsible and respectful technology: If we could start over, would we do things differently? What would we design within a truly open and human-centred design?
The Design Rehab
The Design Rehab is an open-source library that prioritize design thinking, critical theory, and intersectionality to promote inclusion, resilience and sustainability in designing systems, services and products. Our primary user group is designers and the people connected to the design processes (engineers, developers, writers, researchers..etc) but can be applied to anyone who uses design thinking in their own practice. The courses are separated into three categories of design:
Designing Contexts and Environments
Before designing objects and experiences, we have to think about the context they’ll reside in.
These courses challenge the designer to think outside their own reality. It is encouraged that designers move past their own assumptions and create scenarios to build better futures of our world that benefit a greater majority.
All designers have a common understanding that design is for humans. However, it is not always the case for the wellbeing of humans.
The Design Rehab is expanding on what it means to be human in the 21st century and be accountable for the things we put out in the world as designers.
Designing for Non-humans
There is a certain limitation with human-centred design when we talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning and other non-human beings. We have to extend our thinking over to beyond human-centric to solve the problems of experiential futures we create.
We wanted to investigate how much of our design education is taught through a Western/Euro-centric lens. A lot of design history, computing and UX highlighted in design pedagogies are from and by white males - who have the highest form of power and privileges. Achieving wellness in tech in the long term requires prioritizing education. It is essential to dissect how education systems have been colonized and disabled us to fully engage with the unprivileged majority.
Most designers know not to outright regard themselves as saviors, but there’s still an unarticulated gap in our current design education system: acknowledging the role of power we have as designer.
How we design is as important, if not more, than what we design.
In the early stages of this project, we conducted secondary research on how technology has impacted the following worldviews:
Education and meaningful learning
Data and privacy
Ethics and tech addiction
Socioeconomics and screen time
Fine art and the meaning of creativity
Government regulation and technologies
Economic theory and inequality in the market
Society and the tech issues of our time
Discourse among research topics and sharing of research insights led eight student fellows to form two groups of four to explore the topics of ‘Education As Wellness’ and ‘Economic Theory & Ecological Regeneration As Wellness.’ My team worked under the ‘Education as Wellness’ topic where the outcome was The Design Rehab.
Science Fiction has always been an inspiration for design. However, it has been the primary source of our designs in the 21st century including operating systems and artificial intelligence. When we start to rely on what has already been thought of, we are unable to expand on ideas that don’t exist. Preconditioned notions of reality forecloses our imagination of possible futures. In order to design a better future, we have to let go of our assumptions and current precedents on what our reality looks like and design outside the box.
A ‘better future’ refers to an era that respects people’s time, attention and agency. A better future would put humans in the centre of design in order to achieve overall wellness. Reaching overall wellness means bringing more empathy and understanding of intersectional identities and power privileges.
How might we open up passageways for intersectional identities, give access to diverse narratives, ideas, and gain overall wellness that is informed by the education we gain?
Microsoft told us not to think like them when designing the metaOS. I immediately gravitated towards this being an experience rather than a product or a device. I was more infatuated by the idea of power privileges between designers and users. First, I thought about why Microsoft needs an experience like this. Then I thought about what needs to be done before designing such a powerful computing experience like a meta OS. That is when the first rehabilitation for design/designers idea was born.
I’ve always been drawn to the speculative side of design. When Microsoft asked us to create a ‘what if’ experience, I knew the project was right up my alley. During this 6 weeks, I was reading articles on cyborg anthropology by Amber Case, Ian McEwan’s historical fiction titled Machines Like Me, Yuval Noah Harari’s HomoDeus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s book on critical design Speculate Everything, collection of critical design articles titled Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design, and analyzing sci-fi video games like Becoming Human: Detroit and Portal2.
Designing The Design Rehab
Critical design both as a theory and a tool can help us identify possible utopias and dystopias that are caused by our design choices. New design systems and structures are needed for marginalized communities to feel heard. Thus, processes of future-proofing ideas for inclusivity can be placed into regular design practices. ‘The Design Rehab’ challenges contemporary design systems and creates discourse through interactive courses, workshops, group activities, and or field trips. Agency is brought back to the user when designers are able to incorporate critical thinking into decision-making processes.
Outcomes from these courses would equip designers to apply learnings to create socially responsible and inclusive products that have a positive impact on users’ wellbeing. It aims to help create safe spaces to bring awareness to designers on how Western design education can set rigid restrictions on how tech continues to colonize developing areas in the world.
The visual language for the courses were based on old risograph prints and collages. We wanted to have a tangible quality to the images that would represent each course in a subliminal way. I designed the visuals by using both scans of craft materials and digital photography in Photoshop.
Outcomes from these courses can manifest as speculative design projects, toolkits, workshops, field trips, journaling, retreats, lectures, apps…etc. We know everyone learns in different ways and open The Design Rehab courses to interpretation. Below are examples of the different outcomes.
We decided to do our final presentation as a workshop to show the visitors how helpful The Design Rehab can be after testing it on our own. We had 18 people attend the presentation and they were separated into groups of three.
The workshops we facilitated were two liberating structures exercises called TRIZ and Troika. They were great for individuals to identify any challenges they are facing in their professional life, like a design project, or in their personal life, like working towards a healthy lifestyle.
Participants varied from educators, students, designers and admins. Even though the groups were quite diverse, participants mentioned how easy it was for them to communicate and expand on their challenges in a low-pressure way.
We received both verbal and written feedback after our presentation. Participants mentioned how easy it was to communicate with strangers through these workshops no matter what the topic was.
There was a general consensus that The Design Rehab should be a community of design thinkers applying these courses and submitting their own interpretations for everyone to see and learn. This would be what makes The Design Rehab itself a metaOS. The implementation of it could also go beyond tech and be applied to every industry.