inclusion, and social justice for
marginalized and disenfranchised
individuals. In this article, we
propose three principles—context,
self-reflection, and dissent—
that, when applied to design, can
ultimately improve the experience
of underserved populations whose
members engage in the design process.
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Sheena Erete is an assistant professor in
the College of Computing and Digital Media
at DePaul University. Her work focuses on
designing with underserved communities
to address issues such as violence, political
engagement, and S TEM education.
Aarti Israni is a user experience
researcher who applies UCD to address
social challenges faced by those in
underserved communities. She has a
master’s in human-computer interaction, and
experience in research and design.
Tawanna Dillahunt is an assistant
professor in the School of Information at
the University of Michigan. She designs,
implements, and evaluates socially innovative
technologies that aim to address challenges
faced by underserved populations, such as
unemployment and social isolation.
level of society for any combination
Understand and attend to
context. Existing literature has
highlighted the importance of
accounting for context in technology
design [ 3, 6]. The communities we
partner with are entangled in social,
cultural, and political histories
that impact their ability and
motivation to engage in research
and design. As our workshop
participants noted, members of
underserved communities may
initially be hesitant to participate
in research and design, and may
even be skeptical about the role of
research in their community due
to histories of marginalization.
Additionally, with limited
exposure to technology, members
may not feel that they have the
prerequisite skills or knowledge
needed to engage in design
research methods. As researchers,
it is essential that we understand
and attend to the surrounding
context of these communities. We
suggest that researchers go beyond
exploring the demographics and
the challenges faced by members
of underserved populations.
Instead, to understand their local
context, HCI researchers and
designers should consider design
methods, or even icebreaker
activities, that delicately expose
the various identities present, the
historical oppression that may
have been faced as a result of those
identities, and the resilient ways
in which members of underserved
communities have overcome
those challenges. For instance, in
one of our participatory design
sessions in a resource-constrained
Chicago neighborhood, we
asked residents to engage in a
mapping activity to identify
the environmental assets and
challenges in their community.
We then asked participants to
describe the history and context
of the assets and challenges
from their perspective (e.g., why
these were assets/challenges, the
stakeholders involved, the history
of local engagement with the assets/
challenges). While the use of a
mapping activity in participatory
design is not novel, it is an example
of how design methods can be
adapted to understand the context
and perspective of an underserved
population. By using an
intersectional approach, designers
can better understand when and
how such methods and activities can
appropriately engage all individuals.
Self-reflect, self-reflect, self-reflect. In the HCI community,
reflexivity has emerged as an
approach for researchers to
continually reflect on our identity,
values, assumptions, and all the
subtleties in our interactions with
participants that may impact
the design research experience
[ 8]. Workshop participants
acknowledged the impact of their
own biases to research processes, but
how frequently do we acknowledge
this in our work? Self-disclosing
information about aspects of our
identity and positionality, and
potential impacts to the design
research process, also helps
improve the transparency and
understandability of our research [ 6].
Attend to and disclose dissent.
It might be tempting to try to avoid
conflict during a research project.
However, conflict is likely to occur
when working with underserved
communities, particularly when
members have histories of fighting
for recognition of their interests
(e.g., power, economic equality)
[ 2, 8]. Attuning to these voices of
dissent and any tensions that may
occur during the design research
process helps to ensure everyone’s
interests are represented.
Disclosing information about
the tensions and conflicts that
occurred during a project and the
ways in which these adversities
were overcome can also help future
researchers in their attempts to
address similar adversities.
Using intersectionality to
understand the history of oppression
and discrimination among those who
have traditionally been underserved
can help us develop approaches to
design that support equity, diversity,
DOI: 10.1145/3194349 COPYRIGHT HELD B Y AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00