How UX connects to politics

Let me define my terms first:

  • User Experience: the field of designing products (digital or physical, though usually applied to digital) that are easy to quickly understand, use, and remember how to use.
  • Politics: the broadest sense of the word, sorting out how to live in a world filled with other humans, and building durable agreements about how we should interact (e.g. laws, norms, treaties, wars, etc).

When you work in UX, software engineering, or any other discipline that makes things, it can feel far removed from the political world. Indeed many people come to these fields for precisely that reason. But I want to write this little note to remind myself of the ways that what I do for work does politics to and with other people.

  1. By providing or not providing affordances for what to do with our software, we direct how the public thinks about the subject matter of that software. Think of how Photoshop has changed the way society reasons about photography.
  2. By making software in certain categories, we train the public on what software is and ought to be for. Think of how the term "algorithm" has been popularly adopted to mean "social media recommendation feed".
  3. By making software more easy for certain kinds of people to use, we are providing the power that software confers onto those kinds of people. This is the political importance of accessibility in the broadest sense.