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Challenging the Lies Protected by User-Friendly Design

GIBSON, Michael R.
The University of North Texas, Department of Design

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The arguments that shape this piece are rooted in what the author feels have become an urgent social, economic and political necessity: the need to critically interrogate so-called “user-friendly” approaches to designing computerized, information delivery systems from a decolonial perspective. Over a third of the world’s population now relies on their daily interactions with these systems to guide their perceptions of and subsequent behaviors within their worlds. These kinds of interactive systems include smartphone apps, interactive kiosks, automated payment stations in retail settings, social media platforms, and a vast amalgam of websites. The user-friendly approaches that inform the design decision-making that guides the development and design of these systems now directly and indirectly affects how we construct societal and cultural norms, how we make political and economic decisions, and how and why we shape our personal aspirations, regardless of whether they perpetuate imperialistic, capitalistic, nationalistic or modernist ideals. This paper will argue for new ways to define and implement user friendly approaches to designing interactive experiences by 1) deploying knowledge constructed from engaging in the operation of design-led learning experiences in diversely populated middle-school and university classrooms in north Texas, and by 2) drawing from the author’s extensive, collaboratively informed, experientially gained knowledge in this area.

Keywords: user friendliness, designing futures, human-centered design, interaction design

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About the Author(s)

Michael R. Gibson is a Full Professor of visual communication design who teaches, engages in scholarship and research, and administrates graduate programs within The University of North Texas’ Department of Design. After spending 19 years studying design, practicing it professionally, studying it again at the graduate level and then teaching it at the university level, Professor Gibson and his family made a socio-culturally guided decision to leave the American midwest in 1998 to return to his native Texas. They chose to immerse themselves in an urban area—the so-called “metroplex” of Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton—populated and critically informed by an ethnically, racially, socially, and culturally diverse array of people and the bases of knowledge that inform them. His experiences as a design educator and researcher have taught him that collaboratively engaging in inclusive design processes can help people construct knowledge-cum-understandings that forge and sustain connections between social perceptions, practices and behaviors. The work he has undertaken over the past two decades—to affect changes in design education, children’s heathcare and education, and how people interact with computerized, information delivery systems—is underpinned by ideas that strive to re-construct and challenge capitalistic, nationalistic and modernist ideologies and methodologies.

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