“Way too much political opinion”

In 2018 the politics have been in our face, tragedy after tragedy, farce after farce. Mass shootings by men motivated by racism and anti-Semitism in Louisville and Pittsburgh. Family separation camps at the border. Our president obsequiously bowing before Putin. The collision of Kavanaugh and #metoo. White nationalism getting platformed by high-powered politicians. The vilification of the trans community.

It’s exhausting. We’re under a denial-of-service attack by the politics of our time.

These times ask a lot of questions of design– and designers. Will we build the tools of fascism like IBM did? Developers and designers at Microsoft and Amazon are already asking those questions. Facebook faced an uproar when their legal counsel appeared to support Brett Kavanaugh. Whom are we choosing to support and empower in our design decisions? Can we act morally in a time of unspeakable cruelty?

Design, in the end, is political. Code is political. Every decision we make has economic, political, social, and environmental consequences. Human consequences. If we’re lucky, these choices are big and bold enough to improve the world. Most of the time, they’re neutral, banal choices. And then, every once in a while, we make a decision– or avoid a decision – that hurts our world and the people in it.

To complain about “way too much political opinion” is a position of privilege, one where you can pretend that you can live in an apolitical vacuum, one where you can close your eyes and not think about whether your tools were used to round up and separate refugee families at the border, one where you can pretend the very real fears of a creeping fascism don’t affect what you design because that fascism will harm you last (and may well help you first). It’s one where you can tell LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” despite the existential fears that a black man like James faces despite his income and status.

If you’re a developer or designer hanging on to this belief, question your blind spots. Ask yourself what the current political climate will do to benefit you. Ask how design and code could ever truly be neutral when every decision you make is tinged with the biases of your beliefs and upbringing.

Because the test may come soon when you really will face a decision that IS political. And you may not even know it. You may just roll with it, just follow orders, ship something horrible out of fear of ostracism or losing your job. You’ll rationalize it later, maybe even convince yourself you did the right thing. And still, people will hurt. The world will hurt. That stain will not wash off.

The problem isn’t “way too much political opinion.” The problem is we’re not talking about the politics of design and code enough.

(Editor’s note: We at The Interconnected stand with the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the African-American community, the LGBTQIA community, women, migrants, immigrants, and any other group facing fear, oppression, and hatred in this world right now. Solidarity.)

Author: Dylan Wilbanks

Dylan Wilbanks is a web roustabout, raconteur, and curmudgeon currently practicing as a user experience designer in Seattle. He’s spent nearly 20 years designing, building, and perfecting online experiences, and every once in a while does a good job. Occasionally, he speaks at conferences like SXSW and Webvisions. He created one of the first Twitter accounts used in higher education, but that was an accident, and he's really sorry about it.With Kyle Weems, he co-hosts Squirrel And Moose, a podcast about designing and building the web, when they remember to talk about it.He likes nectarines.You can read his tweets at @dylanw and learn more at dylanwilbanks.com.