Feminist Design Tool

Defensible decision making for interaction design and AI

This tool was created by Feminist Internet and Josie Young (see the license). I found it useful, so I reproduced it below. Also, I translated it into Spanish here.

The aim of the Feminist Design Tool is to deepen how you think about the values you will be embedding in your design as you create it, whether it’s a chatbot, an Artificial Intelligence-powered agent, or something else. The questions in this tool aim to make your design better (and more feminist!) by ensuring it doesn’t knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate biases or inequalities.

1. Getting Started

👨‍👨‍👧‍👦Stakeholders

The idea of ‘universal users’ has become very popular in interaction design. It means designing for ‘everyone’, which sounds good, but in practice it can mean that people with specific needs are overlooked in favour of mainstream groups. This is because designers don’t always consider the people who are not currently well served by mainstream products and services. If you solve for people who are not currently well served, you are more likely to design something that works for everyone. A good example of this is wheelchair ramps – they make buildings accessible to people who both use, and don’t use wheelchairs.

+ In addition, the term ‘user’ itself is problematic. It positions a person’s use of a product or service above other aspects of their lived reality, and doesn’t acknowledge their potential for active participation in the production of technologies. We prefer the term ‘stakeholders’, which emphasises the idea that we all have a stake in the technologies we use, and are active participants in constructing their social meaning and value. Alternatively, you can simply use ‘person’ or ‘people’!

Have you considered:

  1. Rather than design for a ‘universal user’, can you identify a stakeholder who is not currently well served, and who could benefit from your design? (Try not to make assumptions about what is beneficial, get good quality stakeholder research instead).
  2. What might be some of the specific needs, barriers, and problems that they face?
  3. What are their strengths and viewpoints?
  4. What different participatory methods do you have available so that your stakeholder can co-create or have direct input into the development of your design? Some examples of participatory methods include:
    • having a stakeholder from the community that you are designing for on your design team
    • ensuring community members agree you are addressing a relevant problem
    • ensuring that community members agree the choice of technology suits the solution they are seeking
    • co-creation design workshops, early and ongoing feedback, and testing

📐Arquitectura

La construcción de dispositivos conectados se lleva a cabo dentro de un ecosistema físico complejo de infraestructura física, hardware, software y trabajo humano. A menudo, este ecosistema está oculto y puede ser difícil rastrear la explotación o sus efectos negativos. Si bien no siempre es posible tener una arquitectura totalmente feminista, es importante considerar los pasos que puedes seguir para minimizar el daño y justificar tus elecciones.

Has considerado:

  1. ¿Qué tipo de arquitectura técnica y capacidades utilizarás? Por ejemplo, ¿los estás comprando directamente de empresas como Amazon o utilizando plataformas de código abierto? ¿Eres consciente de las implicaciones éticas y feministas de tu elección?
  2. ¿Cómo minimizarás la huella de carbono y climática de tu diseño? Por ejemplo, el uso excesivo de datos a través de cosas como la transmisión de video puede generar altas huellas de carbono.
  3. ¿Dónde podría existir mano de obra no remunerada o explotada en la cadena de producción/suministro de la tecnología que estás utilizando?
  4. ¿El impacto de la IA y la automatización en el servicio que tu diseño pretende proporcionar hará que algunos trabajos sean redundantes o de menor categoría?

💡Context

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered:

  1. Do you have a good understanding of the context your design will be part of and the power dynamics at play within it?
  2. Do you understand the opportunities and challenges for different stakeholders within this context?
  3. Who is not well served in this context and why?
  4. Does your design exacerbate problems that others are currently trying to solve in this context?

2. Taking a Step Back

💖Purpose

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered

  1. Does your design meet a meaningful human need or address an injustice?
  2. How will your design address the problem/s experienced by your stakeholder?
    You may want to think about your stakeholder in more detail to help you:
  3. What is the problem they’re trying to overcome?
  4. What obstacles prevent them overcoming the problem?

👁️Team bias

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have your team reflected on:

  1. Your values and position in society, individually and collectively?
  2. How your values and position might lead you to choose one option over another or hold a specific perspective on the world?
  3. How your values and position in society relate to the stakeholders your design seeks to engage?
  4. Are there additional perspectives you need to bring into the process? How might you do this?

3. Getting into the Detail

🤖Design & Representation

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered:

  1. What type of character will you give your design?
  2. How might your character choice reinforce any stereotypes?
  3. How will your character remind the stakeholder it’s a robot?
  4. Will you assign a gender to your character? Why? In what ways might this reinforce or challenge gender stereotypes? Have you considered a genderless
    design? What possibilities might this open up?
  5. In what ways might your choices prompt people to behave unethically or in a prejudiced way?

💬Conversational Design

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered:

  1. How can you get the design to speak with a feminist voice? What’s the tone of voice (physically and metaphorically)?
  2. What words should the design avoid (what could trigger or be upsetting?)
  3. Are there words specific to your stakeholder you need to ensure your design can understand?
  4. If it receives abuse, how will the design respond?
  5. What will your design say when it doesn’t understand?
  6. How will you get feedback about whether the conversation is appropriate for your stakeholders?
  7. Have you asked how the stakeholder would like to be addressed?

🗄️Data

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered:

  1. How will you collect and treat data through the development of your design?
  2. Are you aware of how bias might manifest itself in your training data?
  3. Are you aware of how bias might manifest itself in the AI techniques that power your design (like machine
    learning)?
  4. How could stakeholder-generated data and feedback be used to improve the design?
  5. Will the design learn from the stakeholder’s behaviour, and if so, are you assuming that the design will get it right?
  6. What mechanisms or features could make these assumptions visible to the stakeholder and empower them to change the assumptions if they want to?
  7. How will you protect stakeholder data?

📐Architecture

Building connected devices takes place within a complex, physical ecosystem of physical infrastructure, hardware, software, and human labour. Often this ecosystem is hidden, and it can be hard to track exploitation or its negative effects. While it’s not always possible to have a totally feminist architecture, it is important to consider
the steps you can take to minimise harm and justify your choices.

Have you considered:

  1. What type of technical architecture and capabilities you will use? For example, are you buying these directly from companies like Amazon or using open source platforms? Are you aware of the ethical and feminist implications of your choice?
  2. How will you minimise the carbon and climate footprint of your design? For example, excessive data use through things like video streaming can fuel high
    carbon footprints.
  3. Where might unpaid or exploited labour exist in the production/supply chain of the technology you’re using?
  4. Will the impact of AI and automation on the service your design aims to provide make some jobs redundant or lower status?

The idea of this tool is to go through the questions on each section and answer them as a team in the design process, you can use collaborative tools like Mural or Miro to develop the questions. I’m using it in a little project with some friends and we are enjoying the reflections derived from the guide. I hope you enjoy them too! 🤓

Una respuesta a “Feminist Design Tool”

  1. […] por Feminist Internet y Josie Young (ver la licencia). Me pareció muy útil, así que la reproduje aquí y la traduje al español a […]

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