Design Leader Insights - Reality Canty on Advice for UX designers for designing equitable experiences

January 16, 2023


Alex Smith: Hey Real thanks so much for joining the show today.

Reality Canty: Peace Alex, great to be here.

Alex Smith: To get started, can you give the audience a little bit of background and context on your past history in UX design?

Reality Canty: So right now identify as a Design Researcher with knowledge of self. I have a training a doctorate in cognitive psychology applied in the learning sciences where, you know, initially a lot of my work was focused on building learning experiences and learning technologies that promote certain forms of reasoning. Today at Google, I lead work in the area of equity design on a team called equity engineering. Prior to that, I've done work in privacy, I was at Airbnb where I led work in the areas of trust and offline risk. Before that, AT&T their design technology team in Dallas, we were essentially charged with integrating design thinking in every facet of this 150 year old company. Before that, I had a design research studio, that was really that really grew out of my desire to want to move into industry, but needing to develop more contextual inquiry ethnographic skill set. And so I was able to handpick problems that enabled me to build up that strength by partnering with junior designers, junior researchers to scale. And then before that, I had started an app development company that was aimed at promoting social learning for toddlers, we call that Name Games, won a few awards.So I was pretty proud about that.

Alex Smith: I think one of the questions I have is around equity and building equitable experiences or designing them.How should the design teams be thinking about this?

Reality Canty: What the space of accessibility really is, comes out of the recognition that trying to design for everyone taking a universal approach can be problematic, and that we actually need to focus on particular groups of the human experience in order to develop technologies, methods, frameworks that most adequately enable design to address some of the challenges and the needs, the ones the expectations of that part of the human experience. What we're finding now is that there are opportunities for us to think even beyond accessibility, about what people who have different experiences as human beings, ways that we can build technologies and ensure that our technologies are reliably predicting equitable experiences for a number of different people.

Alex Smith: How can designers begin to get out of their remote desk in whatever city they're in and actually go into these people's shoes and kind of live their experience before designing the product?

Reality Canty: Go in their shoes and live the experience. There's nothing like that. And when we think about design, we should be thinking that ultimately, the goal is to get in the shoes and live the experience. And all other methodologies that outside of that should be trying to get us as close as we can to being in the shoes and living the experience.  What we need is, we need a prioritization a way to prioritize the needs.  And so when we think about who we're designing for, it's thinking about what are some of the tasks that need to be achieved in a process and in a journey? How that journey is situated within a broader system?  And raising questions. And part of this question asking comes from building an awareness, building a disposition for identifying variability and where people may be disproportionately impacted in negative ways. Right? And so I think our typical tools, the general, we have these you know, I would generalize specialist tools generalizing to generalizable tools. Are those tools that enable us to survive and do our work wherever we go. Whatever company we're working for, whatever agency, whatever challenges we're facing, but increasingly, there's an opportunity for people to develop more specialized skills and specialized skills, those that come with lenses that enable us to think about, think about the opportunities we have to design for not, it's not even designing for, but designing with and being influenced and valuing people with different experiences. 

Alex Smith: So Real, I think, you know, some smaller teams might not have as many designers or researchers dedicated to this effort, but it doesn't mean that this isn't something they should still be aspiring to do and be doing with product iterations. How should teams be thinking about that?

Reality Canty: Yeah, that is a tough question. I think, for us, it's not about getting everything, every equity consideration into the product. It really much is where we are this really much is about acknowledging the shortcomings in what we know. And inviting as many perspectives as many approaches now.Like early on, we need many approaches, there is no one right way. We don't know that yet. In fact, we're full of descriptive descriptions around what some of the challenges are descriptions around what some of the challenges are. Descriptions around inequities. We don't know anything about processes that reliably predict equitable experiences. And so I think what we need to do is we need more, we need more learning experiences, that help to build the sort of dispositions, promote dispositions, habits of mind, you know, what, some people call the these two eyes, you know, another lens, these other lenses, ways of looking viewing the world. We should always be thinking that this isn't a service of the business. Where there's opportunity, I think, is that we can start with people who have been historically disempowered. It's okay to start there. And I think that is just a matter of courage on the account of teams, that says, you know, what, it is okay to actually go in to a particular community to realize that people are not as different as we think they are. This person, what we learned from this particular group may actually probably is most likely going to align with what we learned from the broader dominant groups. And we're going to pick something else up that's new. I think that's where the exploratory part comes from, I think for companies, it might help to identify  what kind of foundational research can be conducted. That can be useful for the product space, that a company is focused on a product spaces, the verticals that a particular company is focused on, begin to get some insights and different ways of thinking around these different identities, way that people are identifying themselves around the product, right, that's another important, I want to make this other important distinction that, you know, this work is not about demographic is a part of, and it's a significant part of our identity. But there are other factors, there are other facets of our identities that are also important, particularly when we consider them and in the context of a product space of using a product. And we should be thinking about what is just some variability how do people differ along some dimensions other than strictly notice phenotype? Or maybe it's, you know, culture. Thinking about what are some of those other key facets that we can begin to ask questions raise questions about for our products? 

Alex Smith: Love that. Do you have any, where would you point designers or anyone looking to learn more? Any resources?

Reality Canty: Okay, so this Indigenous Methodologies is, is a great place to start. Also, the Speculative design is another is another space. I love the Indigenous space Latinx, Apple futurist, speculative spaces, this low tech, this radical indigenism, but also in other other places historically. So I'm always looking for doing comparative like investigations. Because it's important for us to tell stories in this work, even as we describe the different identities that we're designing for, or even shifting people in that frame of thought, and reasoning around who it is that we design for. Part of that requires exposing ourselves to the stories of the people, stories of the world, because then that more than anything more than us learning about the people, it helps to remind us of how limited we are in our current knowledge system. Right? And how little we actually know. And it's that limitation in knowledge that should promote the curiosity that's necessary in order to do this work. It is good design anyways, always has a tinge of curiosity should actually sit at the core of who it is that we are as designers, right?

Alex Smith: Yep. 100% 100%. Well Real thanks so much for being on the show today. This was awesome.

Reality Canty: Thanks for having me, Alex. Thank you Fuego UX.