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Research & Design Strategy

What does equity mean in design?

March 29, 2018

Our world is in flux. We are all aware of this.

As designers, it’s helpful to step back and consider our role in shaping our rapidly emerging future. I came across some work by Stanford d.School - K12 Lab Equity-Centered Design on “Equity Design for Education” and it really struck a chord with me. It resonated because it made me stop and think about how I as an individual can either reinforce our current culture and assumptions or change them. It gave me pause to consider my role, how I impact that structure in ways both small and large.

A few words about d.school’s work I learned that in spring 2016, a group at Stanford started exploring the intersection of design thinking and diversity, inclusion and equity. They reached out to the National Equity Project and equityXdesign to help develop an equity consciousness practice for education.

“Any system produces what it was designed to produce.” Of course, it does. However, this seemingly simple statement has a lot of power when I stopped to think about it in terms of education. What is our education system actually designed to produce? Consumers? Good citizens? Excellent test takers? It also has a lot of power when we stop and think of it in terms of our design work.

What exactly is our design work “producing” not in the material sense but in the social and cultural sense? What systems of thought are we purposefully or unconsciously supporting or undermining? I am quite familiar with the word diversity, but I had to take some time to consider the word equity. How is equity different from diversity?

When I dug into the concept of equity, several definitions came up, but the one that spoke most clearly to me is the following: “Equity means every child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.” It takes into consideration the individual and how we start in different spots and aim at different directions but should all have the chance to reach our potential.

Any system produces what it was designed to produce.

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