• 99% Invisible, EPISODE 363;
I tend to find a lot of common territory between politics and design. If you’ve just started reading this blog, or if you’ve never met me, I’m sure that fact will become familiar to you quickly. In my view, a designer and a legislator should have much the same priorities when going about their job. Designers and legislators alike should use their power, resources, and expertise to solve problems and provide for those whose voices don’t get adequate airtime. Each should take great care to learn from the people who need their support and apply that knowledge to take action. Neither should show too much loyalty to the solutions that rest safely within the confines of their intuition. 
And while it’s important not to paint with too broad a brush, history would suggest that those tenants haven’t been followed very well in either profession. In a capitalist society dominated by bottom lines, aiming for an established average yields great results for shareholders and resoundingly poor experiences for those on the ragged edges whose lives don’t fall within the bell curve. 
Your car is a fitting example of this: that coveted five-star crash test rating probably doesn’t translate well to you. Auto companies have long used test dummies based on fiftieth-percentile men to design and collect data about their products. Women typically have to sit closer to the steering wheel to reach the pedals, making the vehicle more difficult to drive and dramatically increasing the chances that a woman in a car crash is seriously injured. Moreover, seatbelts aren’t designed to accommodate breasts nor pregnant bellies. When pushed to use female dummies, car companies in the US and the EU finally caved — and scaled down the male model.
Parallels exist all across American politics. Our healthcare policy reflects the unfortunate imbalance of power within our politics — that those who have the most to lose from inequitable policy have little representation at the negotiating table. Millions of people would be — or already are — brought to ruin by the skyrocketing prescription drug prices and insurance rates that line the pockets of already-rich executives. Still, much of the ongoing debate centers around whether taxes might go up for people who can comfortably afford an increase rather than the stark reality that many people ration their insulin or turn to GoFundMe to chip away at their medical debt.
What we sorely need in both cases are bold exercises in empathy. Designers at Ideo took to self-administering fake injections and waxing off their chest hair to understand the experiences of those in intensive wound care — and practitioners in every profession should follow their example. We are best defined as a species by how we provide for those most on the margins. Right now, the scores aren’t very positive.
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