Samantha Zhang on Crafting Design Systems for Big Data

Tailoring design for one dataset is easy — designing a system that works for all datasets is much more difficult. As we enter this era of big data, we face a critical challenge: how do we create more robust, scalable designs that can adapt to different content inputs and edge cases?

That’s exactly the kind of system that we’ve been building at Graphiq — a system that powers more than 10 billion embeddable visualizations on 700 topics, generating more than 300 million impressions per month on the websites of some of the world’s largest publishers. Read More

Lisa Katayama: The Power of Stories in a Complex World

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Photo credit: Tomo Saito

I have always believed in the power of stories to transform the world. Throughout my life, this has showed up in many different ways.


Stories help us make sense of the world.

Before I knew how to speak, I distinctly remember knowing in my head that the universe was much bigger than what I had access to from my limited view as a human baby. I was convinced that my parents lived in an alternate reality while I napped, that this life they had created—with me the infant and all the complexities that came with raising me—was a type of fiction. I used to try to stay awake for as long as I could in an attempt to catch a glimpse of their other world. Read More

Samantha Hankins: ‘But Wait, Is Your Last Name Filipino?’

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I’ve never met my dad and to this day I’ve never seen a photo of him or even discussed him with my mom. From what I’ve gathered, my mom and dad were married, and they were divorced before I was born. I know this because we both still have his last name, Hankins.

My mom was a single parent, and we lived with my aunt and my uncle in an affluent, predominantly white suburb of Chicago. She struggled with the cultural differences between the Philippines and America and therefore prioritized making sure I had a connection to our Filipino heritage. I grew up learning how to speak Visayan, spending summers in Cebu, and making friends and learning traditional Filipino dances with kids whose parents were also in the Chicago Filipino doctors’ association. Through and through I was raised 100% Filipino. Read More

Hajj Flemings: What Is Human Brand Design?

Do truly original ideas exist in the world of business? I am not so sure the next mobile app, restaurant, or service is providing a really unique experience in the marketplace that doesn’t already exist, especially with everyone proclaiming that their idea is the Uber of ‘X.’ In his classic book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen notes that sustainable innovation focuses on incremental improvement, while disruptive innovation focuses on meeting unmet needs by identifying niche opportunities. Most organizations and business owners strive to keep their customers happy by tweaking what already exists.

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Catt Small on Designing an Inclusive Workplace Culture

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In 2013, I wrote a lengthy rant about culture in tech workplaces. It was a symptom of larger problems I was experiencing at the time—I was a woman of color drowning in a tech bro’s paradise. Constant rumors and bullying caused people to form cliques; alcohol was the only escape most employees had from the hostility. It was impossible for me to be productive, and I wanted to understand why.
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Caroline Sinders on Ethical Product Design for Machine Learning

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Photo by Alannah Farrell

For the past two years, I’ve worked as a machine learning design researcher. Machine learning is programming that learns from user inputs and adapts and improves over time. It’s my humble belief that machine learning and artificial intelligence is going to radically change product design. From the implementation of chat bots to natural language processing implemented to study users’ behaviors and conversational patterns, to analytics APIs designed to study and predict behavior, to computer vision software created to predict crimes and recognize human emotions. In fact, everything I just mentioned already exists. But implementing these algorithms is one thing — how do we design, ethically, using machine learning, and how do we create products that use all of the positive attributes of machine learning without surveilling and harming our users? Can ethical product design exist for machine learning?

I believe firmly that it can. However, machine learning needs to be treated not as a new, out-of-the-box software implementation that has been QAed, tested, and is ready for deployment with few new changes or rollouts. It needs to be treated as highly experimental software. Read More

Fatimah Kabba on The Other Unicorn Skill: Writing

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Photo credit: Aundre Larrow

This is an extended post based on ideas I suggested and compiled for the 2017 Design in Tech Report, “More than Design: Code is not the only Unicorn Skill:” (pg. 27)


In a world fascinated by the unicorn designer that is a coding savant, I want to call on designers to pay closer attention to something else: words.

The case for writing in design has been made by people far more articulate than myself, a few of whom I highlighted in the Design in Tech Report released at SXSW. It’s a perspective I think is worthy of continual discussion and one I don’t often see being advocated for by designers themselves, so I’d like to raise a few more points. Read More

Ash Huang: How Much Poison Is Acceptable in Our Technology?

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Photo credit: Helena Price

For an industry that complains about the inconvenience of waiting for a cab, doing laundry, or picking up takeout, we sure build a lot of suffering into our apps.

Virtual reality initially caused motion sickness in women because the equipment was developed and tested primarily by men. Interracial couples try to take photos together and fail because their phone’s white balance can’t capture both dark and light skin tones. People struggling with mental health issues, violence, or other trauma try to get help from Siri and Alexa but we’re only recently seeing that considered. All these stories and more, underscored by a rampant and constant harassment of women, people of color, people disabilities, those of Muslim and Jewish faiths, and LGBTQA—and tech’s bewilderment on how to help. Read More