Listening Is Free: Mule at SF Design Week

Photo courtesy of Brennan Marie

The theme of SF Design Week 2017 was “Question Everything,” and since we at Mule love questions we were happy to join a couple of lively panels to tackle the tough ones. Mule and Intercom co-hosted a panel on design and diverse identities featuring myself, fellow Mule designer Michael, Ana Arriola, Aniyia Williams, Beth Dean, and Michelle Pujals.

The panel spoke about the ways our identities as designers and creators intersect with our other identities: women, people of color, LGBTQ people. Michelle spoke about how her isolated religious upbringing encouraged her curiosity about and empathy for other people. Ana talked about her role as a mentor in the industry, while Michael shared how important it was for him to show youth of color what success could look like for them. Beth and I commiserated over our ambivalence about working in tech in the Bay Area, when “Queers Hate Techies.” Aniyia reflected on her work as a black founder and the importance of building a supportive and accountable company culture.

The theme of accountability came up again in our conversation about how companies can address tech and design’s diversity problem. If companies want to appeal to diverse job candidates, they need to be accountable to the people they hire.

Aniyia talked about the way black tech workers know from their social networks which companies will support them and which will be more like a sequel to Get Out. Ana shared how meeting other trans engineers at a potential company influenced her decision to work there. And personally, as a gay guy, I feel accountable for using my privilege as a white, cisgender man to make room at the table when less privileged folks aren’t being represented or listened to.

But as Aniyia pointed out, anyone who wants to improve their workplace’s culture can start by using this simple, free tool. “It doesn’t cost you anything to listen and acknowledge someone’s struggle.”

The next day, I joined 11 other designers for another panel, this one hosted by the OutCast Agency, where we debated important questions facing our industry. I argued that designers have to hold themselves accountable for the political impact of their work because both design and politics are about creating systems that affect people’s lives. I summarize why and how designers should embrace this responsibility on Medium.

Thanks to everyone who made both panels a success by showing up, sharing your thoughts online, and, of course, listening. Let’s keep the questions coming!