Creative Technology Design for Social Impact

Social impact and community development infused with creative artistic expression has always been important to me. From my work in organizing through critical spoken word poetry in undergrad to learning how to design interactive electronic art installations in graduate school, I am incredibly energized to learn and put forth new ideas on how to combine my passions. This October, I had the opportunity to share some of the work at the University of Kansas Digital Humanities Forum where I led a workshop discussion on incorporating technology and humanities research and theory for social impact.

I have led creative writing workshops before, so I was confident that I could do it, but I have to admit that this was a new experience for me. As an interdisciplinary scholar dancing between social science, technology, and creative design, it can be challenging sometimes to feel your work is validated but it is even more worthwhile when you can push through and communicate your ideas in a way diverse audiences can understand it.

My workshop focused on using technology as tools in social movement based research through sentiment analysis (thanks to the work by Ethan Reed), visualizing data using interactive maps, designing applications for actual liberation (as highlighted in Ruha Benjamin’s latest book), and using critical frameworks to design new principles for design with justice at the center. One of the most important classes I have taken in my graduate program has been my critical theory and contemporary media course where I learned to use critical perspectives to breakdown current technologies that raise serious ethical questions of racial and gender bias like facial recognition technology and natural language processing systems that don’t account for cultural context. These critical perspectives lead me to do user experience research because I realize how impactful it is to design technology that is inclusive and empowering to people.

The Digital Humanities Forum was a great experience for me to practice leading conversations on critical and creative design with a room full of people I have never met who all have different goals and projects of their own. I plan to continue organizing these kinds of spaces where we can discuss how to use technology in impactful ways and how to be critical of the technologies we use at the same time. During the conference, I also talked about my creative project that I created in my interaction design class and connected with others who have designed their own applications and video games with critical design in mind.

Using an Aurdino board, a distance sensor, and an LCD screen, I was able to design a product that not only worked (yay!) but that provoked those who would be interacting with it, the ability to embody the critical message I was trying to display. I was able to use my love of poetry, my questions and critique of biometric technology (with the sensors acting as a symbol for it), to discuss the historical and current invisibility and hyper-visibility of Black lives. What does it mean to be seen? How close do you need to be to a situation in order to “see” it and then do something about it? These were the kinds of questions I was asking in my design. I definitely plan to build on this design in the future and I hope to ask new kinds of questions with new forms of media.

What kind of #criticaldesign work are you working on? I would love to hear about it.

Workshop Materials

Workshop Reading List

Technology Design Worksheet