Can we talk about politics and design at the same time?

Last week I wrote about How to prevent valueless design in social web sites. My main point was that most of the value people get from the sites comes over time from the interactions with other people, not from the sublimity of the visual design.

In that post, I used an analogy that pissed people off. I used the analogy that great-looking interfaces can at times be like a public speech out of touch with an audience…solidly executed but sending the wrong message…

Last week I wrote about How to prevent valueless design in social web sites. My main point was that most of the value people get from the sites comes over time from the interactions with other people, not from the sublimity of the visual design.

In that post, I used an analogy that pissed people off. I used the analogy that great-looking interfaces can at times be like a public speech out of touch with an audience…solidly executed but sending the wrong message.

I used our beloved President Bush as a public speaker who delivers solid speeches, but often says things that just don’t agree with the facts on the ground. I don’t think I need to go into the number of ways that this has or might happen.

(Update: Please feel free to substitute your favorite politician or speechmaker here…I’m only using Bush because his SOTU address is so fresh in my mind, and I’ve felt for a long time that he’s sending the wrong message…but most politicians do this at one point or another…of any stripe)

This completely angered a few people, who emailed me directly and said “How dare you mix design and politics! You #$%ing &@$% *^%#!!!!!

Now, I don’t know if these people were simply angered that I called out our President in such a fashion, or they really believe that design and politics shall not meet.

This reminded me of an interesting article at Core77: Is Design Political?. It’s a deep article, and one that is worth getting through if only to have a bunch more questions to answer. One of the choice quotes is this:

“Crucially, good user-centred designers look at a problem from the point of view of the user, not the priorities of system, institution or organisation. You could say that user-centred design is a political standpoint in itself.”

Obviously, the author of the piece, Jennie Winhall, has little problem discussing the two. But is it right to do so?

My question is: Why not?

Why can’t we talk about politics and design at the same time?

Published: February 13th, 2007

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