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Today’s UX designers have failed to act in the best interest of users. To right the ship, the next generation has to make three significant changes, writes Mike Monteiro.

long Read

A year ago, I was in the audience at a gathering of designers in San Francisco. There were four designers on stage, and two of them worked for me. I was there to support them. The topic of design responsibility came up, possibly brought up by one of my designers; I honestly don’t remember the details. What I do remember is that at some point in the discussion I raised my hand and suggested, to this group of designers, that modern design problems were very complex. And we ought to need a license to solve them.


About half the room turned to me in unison and screamed “NO,” as if I’d just suggested something absurd, such as borrowing $10 million to develop a smart salt shaker. ( Statement Clutch Dots and Dashes V by VIDA VIDA HcMIAXH
. That happened.)

“How many of you would go to an unlicensed doctor?” I asked. And the room got very quiet.

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(And before you weigh in on the condition of today’s health care and education, which I grant are very problematic, let me just add that it’s not the level of service that we typically take umbrage with, but rather our difficulty in accessing and then affording those services, which tend to be quite good.)

Turns out we like it when our professional services are licensed. In fact, if you’ve ever had occasion to use lawyers, I’m sure you’ve been comforted knowing they’ve passed the bar. Their certification will be neatly framed right behind their heads. Not to mention that even the cafeterias of Silicon Valley’s most disruptive companies have to hang health department grade sheets where diners can see them. So while you take a break from fighting against regulations that keep passenger vehicles safe, you can avail yourself of that burger, which you know is safe thanks to the regulations inspired by the muckraking work of Upton Sinclair. A journalist. Or in libertarian parlance — the media.

Turns out we enjoy regulations. When they’re in our interest.


This roomful of designers, however, is quite taken aback by the idea that our industry, an industry that now regularly designs devices that go inside human bodies, or control our medication, or is writing logic for putting driverless tractor trailers on the street, should need professional licensing.

“Who’ll decide who gets licensed?” they ask.

I’m confident that if other professions have figured this out we can figure this out as well. We can even look to their examples. The last runner off the blocks can generally find his way by following the asses in front.

Yesterday I sat down for coffee with a colleague who teaches design at the local art school. “How goes it with the new crop of kids?” I ask him.

“Good! You know, they’re surprising me. They’re asking about things like sustainability, working in civic organizations, and ethics.”

“This is new?”


“Yeah. Up until recently they wanted to know about startups, funding, and money.”

“There’s hope.”

“There is.”

And that’s when I decided that we — and by we I mean those of us currently drawing paychecks for professional design services — are design’s lost generation. We are the -era Michael J. Fox of the design lineage. Raised by hippies. Consumed by greed. Ruled by the hand of the market. And nourished by the last drops of sour milk from the withered old teat of capitalism gone rabid. Living where America ends — Silicon Valley.

We are slouching toward Sand Hill Road. We are slouching toward another round of funding. We are slouching toward market share. We are slouching toward entrepreneurship. And ultimately, we are slouching toward irrelevance. If we are lucky. Because the longer we stick around, the more we’re leaving for the next generation to clean up. And we’ve given them quite a bit of job security as it is.

We are slouching because we were born without spines. When society desperately needed us to be born with them.


The Center Did Not Hold

There are two words every designer needs to feel comfortable saying: “no” and “why.” Those words are the foundation of what we do. They’re the foundation of building an ethical framework. If we cannot ask “why?” we lose the ability to judge whether the work we’re doing is ethical. If we cannot say “no” we lose the ability to stand and fight. We lose the ability to help shape the thing we’re responsible for shaping.

Victor Papanek, who attempted to gift us spines in , referred to designers as gatekeepers. He reminded us of our power, our agency, and our responsibility. He reminded us that labor without counsel is not design. We have a skill set that people need in order to get things made, and that skill set includes an inquiring mind and a strong spine. We need to be more than a pair of hands. And we certainly can’t become the hands of unethical men.

We are gatekeepers, and we vote on what makes it through the gate with our labor and our counsel. We are responsible for what makes it through that gate, and out into the world. What passes through carries our seal of approval. It carries our name. We are the defense against monsters. Sure, everyone remembers the monster, but they call it by his maker’s name. And the worst of what we create will outlive us.

There’s no longer room in Silicon Valley to ask why. Designers are tasked with moving fast and breaking things. “How” has become more important than “why.” How fast can we make this? How can we grab the most market share? How can we beat our competitors to market?

Today’s designers have spent their careers learning how to work faster and faster and faster. And while there’s certainly something to be said for speed, excessive speed tends to blur one’s purpose. To get products through that gate before anyone noticed what they were and how foul they smelled. Because we broke some things. It’s one thing to break a database, but when that database holds the keys to interpersonal relationships, the database isn’t the only thing that breaks.

Along with speed, we’ve had to deal with the amphetamine of scale. Everything needs to be faster and bigger. How big it can get, how far it can go. “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool?” You know the rest of the line. When we move fast and break things and those things get bigger and bigger, the rubble falls everywhere.


Facebook claims to have 2 billion users. (What percentage of those users are Russian bots is currently up for debate.) But 1% of 2 billion is 20 million. When you’re moving fast and breaking things (this is Facebook’s internal motto, by the way), 1% is well within the acceptable breaking point for rolling out new work. Yet it contains 20 million people. They have names. They have faces. Technology companies call these people edge cases, because they live at the margins. They are, by definition, the marginalized.

Let me introduce you to one of them: Bobbi Duncan was “accidentally” outed by Facebook when she was a college freshman. When Bobbi got to college she joined a queer organization with a Facebook group page. When the chorus director added her to the group, a notification that she’d joined The Queer Chorus at UT-Austin was added to her feed. Where her parents saw it. Bobbi had very meticulously made her way through Facebook’s byzantine privacy settings to make sure nothing about her sexuality was visible to her parents. But unbeknownst to her (and the vast majority of Facebook’s users), Facebook, which moves fast, had made a decision that group privacy settings should override personal privacy settings. Bobbi was Womens Tiger Women Scarf Eleven Paris 6HZLeaRGUR
. Facebook broke things.

A year later I gave a talk at Facebook. I told Bobbi’s story, which was public at this point. An engineer in the audience screamed out, “It was the chorus director’s fault, not ours.” And that somehow manages to be the scariest part of this whole story. We’re putting the people who need us most at risk, and we’re not seeing our responsibility. And to this I must both ask why and say no.

We’re killing people. And the only no I hear from the design community is about the need for licensing. If “why” and “no” are at the center of who we are, and they must be, the center has not held.

We need to slow. The. Fuck. Down. And pay attention to what we’re actually designing. We’re releasing new things into the world faster than Trump is causing scandals.

Why We Failed: The First Reason

“I want to do the right thing, but I’m afraid I’ll lose my job.”


“Must be nice to afford to take a stand.”*

“I have rent to pay.”

“If you’re telling people how to work then you’re the fascist!”

I’ve heard variations on all of these phrases thrown at me from designers I’ve spoken to all over the world. Sometimes they’re apologetic about it. Sometimes they’re angry. Sometimes they’re looking for absolution, which I’m not in a position to give. But mostly they feel tired and beaten down.

Yes. You will sometimes lose your job for doing the right thing. But the question I want you to ask yourself is why you’re open to doing the wrong thing to your job. Without resorting to the level of comparing you to guards at Japanese internment camps, I’d argue there are paychecks not worth earning. An ethical framework needs to be independent of pay scale. If it’s wrong to build databases for keeping track of immigrants at $12 an hour, it’s wrong to build them at $200 an hour, or however much Palantir pays its employees. Money doesn’t make wrong right. A gilded cage is still a cage.

You’ll have many jobs in your life. The fear of losing a job is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Fear makes it less likely that you’ll question and challenge the things you need to question and challenge. Which means you’re not doing your job anyway.


The first part of doing this job right is to do it right. And the lost generation of designers doesn’t want to do it right. They found themselves standing before a gate, and rather then seeing themselves as gatekeepers they decided they were bellhops.

We failed because we looked at our paychecks, saw Mark Zuckerberg’s signature, and forgot the person we actually worked for was Bobbi Duncan.

Why We Failed: The Second Reason

I also hear from plenty of people who attempted to do the job right and hit their head against the wall time after time. (If it makes you feel better feel free to put yourself in this second group.) These were the people who looked for backup and didn’t find it. Whether it was backup from within their organization, or the backup of a professional service that protects the integrity of the craft.

Let me tell you a story. My family and I drove out to Sequoia National Park a few years ago. We stopped for dinner at a diner on the way. There was an elderly couple sitting next to us. He was wearing one of those navy caps with a picture of the battleship he’d served on. When their check arrived the old man wasn’t happy with the total. He called the waitress over and informed her the check didn’t reflect the early bird price. She smiled, and in her best voice, told him they’d been seated just a few minutes too late to get the early bird price. At which point Joe, and I know his name was Joe because his wife was telling Joe not to make a scene, reaches for his wallet, pulls out his AARP card and sits it on the check. That was the end of the argument.

No one fucks with the AARP. Because the AARP looks out for its old people and it will fuck your shit up. Had that waitress not given Joe the early bird price I’m pretty sure a platoon of AARP lawyers would’ve parachuted into the diner. Joe ended up paying the early bird price because Joe had the power of a professional organization behind him.


Imagine this same situation playing out with a designer standing up for the solidity of her work. Imagine the power of a professional organization having our back. We’ve never had that. Possibly the AIGA came closest, but closest isn’t even the right word because it contains the word close. So every designer out there fighting the good fight is doing it with the knowledge that she’s going at it alone.

Why We Failed: The Third Reason

The history of UX design is, until very, very, recently, the history of design as defined by other fields. Our field was defined first by engineers because, let’s be fair, they’re the ones who invented the internet. And their definition of design — the people in the bunny hats who make the colors — is still widely accepted by a large majority of designers working in the field today. It’s the easy path. You sit in the corner, listening to on your big expensive DJ headphones, picking colors and collecting checks.

We’ve spent the last 20 years proving our legitimacy to engineers who thought we were a waste of time. Until they realized we could magnify their power exponentially.

We let other people define the job. We complained when we were told what to do. We complained when we told what to do. We became proficient in eye-rolling. (Be honest. You proved my point by rolling your eyes at that last sentence.) We fought for a seat at the table, and once we started getting that seat, we found out a lot of designers didn’t it.

I’m a little unfair when I say that designers haven’t fought. We’ve fought to have other people define us. We’ve fought to have other people define our responsibilities. We’ve fought to give away our agency. And we’ve fought not to have a seat at the table. We were all too happy to dribbble away our time while decisions were being made around us. (.)

A few months ago, Jared Spool, who’s been doing yeoman’s work for design for the better part of 40 years, tweeted this out:


Everything in that tweet is correct. Everyone who influences the final thing, be it a product or a service, is designing. And yet, if you click through and look at the replies, you’ll see the evisceration of Jared Spool in defensive bite-sized little vitriolic thoughts still covered with the spittle of ego. And, even more sadly, it quickly turns into a discussion of titles. We are happy to give away all the responsibilities that come with the job, but don’t take our titles. I have seen designers argue for a week with a new employer about what their title will be, without sparing one breath to ask about their responsibilities.

Design is a verb. An act. Anyone is free to pick up the ball and run with it. And if you’re not doing the job you’re being paid to do, you can’t be upset when someone else starts doing it. You cannot design. What a professional designer brings to the act is intention. But for that, the designer needs to behave intentionally. Designers are dead. Long live design.

You just rolled your eyes. You should’ve thrown an elbow.

We Are The Children Of Capitalism’s Last Gasp

We are all working in a system that measures success financially. We are about how much money a movie makes on opening weekend (go !), we pay attention to music climbing up the charts, and Jack Dorsey’s leadership was finally vindicated when Twitter posted their first profit-making quarter .

The first sentence of that linked Mashable article is chilling: “It turns out cutting back, focusing, and maybe a little Donald Trump can help make money.”

Anyone who influences what the design becomes is the designer.

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Despite widespread impressions, the notion of cultural policy is not self-evident and it is not a transhistorical category of political activity. It dates to the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Only at this time was “culture instituted as a category of public policy.” Leather Accent Tag INFINITE GARDEN TAG by VIDA VIDA hT59BWs
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Previously, the very idea of cultural policy was an oxymoron, given the conflicted relationship between artists and intellectuals on the one hand and the state on the other.

During the first decades of the Third Republic, art was perceived as partaking in a logic that was incompatible with money and power. The independence of the artistic field was constructed in the existence of an antagonism between artists and bourgeois, between culture and the state: coming closer to an institution is seen as a step toward academicism. From the period after World War One through to the Fourth Republic, no specific ministry was charged with artistic and cultural questions, which fell under several different branches of the state (foreign affairs, youth and sports, justice, army). Even the Popular Front government spoke of a “leisure policy,” and granted cultural issues to an “undersecretary of sports and leisure,” who was placed under the authority of the minister of national education.

The liberation saw the emergence of a large movement of education and popular culture (“Work and Culture,” “People and Culture”), but it was an act not of the state, but of militants and intellectuals, who often had been involved with the resistance movement. Their goal was clear: “Give back culture to the people and the people to culture” and bring forth a “CULTURE COMMON TO AN ENTIRE PEOPLE: common to intellectuals, managers, and the masses.” [11] Cited by Dubois, Politique, 133. The capital letters... Mens Silk Pocket Square Kiwi by VIDA VIDA EZS1VfTl

The Fourth Republic had an “artistic policy” through its “undersecretary for fine arts,” under the education ministry. It also created the foundation for a theater policy, led by the tireless Jeanne Laurent, deputy director of performance and music until 1952.

It was not until February 1959 when the ministry of cultural affairs was created, having been custom made for André Malraux, that the state truly concerned itself with “cultural policy” for the first time. [12] The first article of the decree of July 24, 1959, written... [12] And Malraux insisted on the absolute novelty of his undertaking, which he did not at all wish to see assimilated to an “administrative problem of leisure” Ties On Sale Graphite Melange Viscose 2017 one size Roda Graphite Melange Ties On Sale 2017 RmzSCxm
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or to “the former office of fine arts,” Silk Square Scarf Dutchy 1 by VIDA VIDA NXl7r
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which he denounced as archaic.

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