An article came through my feeds yesterday that really struck a chord for a bunch of reasons. It’s hard not to just paste the whole piece here. In “Shut Up and Listen.”, a fellow Seattlite tied together a whole bunch of related strands into great essay.
His jumping off point was the recent Black Lives Matter protest which interrupted a Bernie Sanders speech here in town. As one of the two women who took the action quickly noted, the mostly white crowd did not acquit themselves well, booing the protesters and interrupting a moment of silence for Michael Brown. It was not exactly a moment of solidarity from a crowd that surely considered itself “liberal” and even “progressive.”
What does this have to do with tech you ask? Well, it mirrors many of the responses to under-represented people calling attention to the lack of diversity in the tech industry:
Women, people of color, and sexual minorities complain they don’t feel safe at conferences and don’t trust conferences with their safety. They are pushing for “codes of conduct” to be standard around the industry. Male conference runners and attendees react by saying codes of conduct won’t work — often while appearing to belittle the very real concerns of a plurality of conference attendees.
Those people in power—who admittedly look a lot like me much of the time—do not listen, and this flies in the face of the totally accepted rule #1 of user experience:
As designers we’re taught, repeatedly, to listen to the users’ complaints about your work, because they are the voice of someone struggling with what you’ve designed.
We’re taught that when people approach us with a solution, we should talk to them and draw the problem out of them before agreeing with their solution.
We’re taught that when people say rude or negative things to us in critiques, they may be speaking out of their own exasperation and lack of control; it’s not necessarily a comment on us, and we shouldn’t take it personally.
Listen to your users. Believe them. Be an ally.
So listen when clients express frustration with your work. Listen when consultants come to you with a problem in your working relationship. Listen when employees say something about your organization you don’t want to hear. Listen to every attendee at your meetups and events (and make a Code of Conduct to hold people to high standards).
Listen to, understand, analyze, and incorporate what your “users” say, whoever your “users” are in a situation. Everything and everyone will be better for it.