Redesign Democracy: Dare to Think Big

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Why are you in UX? It probably isn’t to get rich. Yes, there is plenty of money in being a UX professional today. If you’re competent, you should be enjoying a very nice lifestyle. But we do this not for money–being on the business side would be far better at achieving that goal. We do it for creative reasons, expressive reasons, quality of life reasons, perhaps even altruistic reasons.

Yet, despite the broader motivations we share for choosing our vocation, we are rarely the community that spawns big ideas. It is more likely to be the capitalist, the marketer, or even the philosopher. But, why? I’ve lived in these communities, too–a dot-com CEO for a few years, an advertising executive for a few years, working in university to a philosophy Ph.D.–and I can tell you the paragons of those communities are no smarter than the paragons of our own. Yes, they may have more ambition and audacity and expectation of being big, but they are no better suited to develop big ideas or make radical change in the world than we are. I say this as someone who has been in all of these worlds and continues to choose to associate with the UX community as opposed to the others.

As a group, we are creative. We are open-minded. We try to create solutions that solve problems in the best possible way, and we do so for people. Practical solutions. Ideas based in real-world application and context. As the U.S. Congress has a historically low approval rate, as Antarctica melts into the oceans, as ISIS beheads innocents, and Russia maneuvers to swallow up the Ukraine, we need better solutions.

Why not us? I would argue we are uniquely able to provide the critical solutions to move humanity forward, solutions that synthesize technology with a concern for and understanding of the human condition.

However, user experience is typically focused on the “things” within the world. Yes, sure, with a focus on how people interrelate with those things but even when we are looking at “ecosystems” of experiences, they generally relate to ideas, structures, and systems that other people have imagined. We may deliver the existing idea in a better way, but it is not something that spawned from our mind.

Like many people in the United States, I have become increasingly disenchanted with our political system. As our population grows our legislature does not keep pace, meaning that each of us are farther and farther removed from the decisions being made for us in the Federal government. Ours is supposed to be a government of self-representation, but our dwindling connection to those decision makers only reinforces a plutocracy–a government for the wealthy–where she who has the most money, wins. The Congressional approval rate is now under 10%, a stunning indictment on the current system. This is happening against a backdrop where personal computing technologies are removing the old barriers that required an abstracted form of representational government in the first place. The situation is simply begging for a change.

This week I released my proposal to Redesign Democracy.

It is audacious in its charter and sure to be squashed by people who have significant monetary incentive to keep the current, crooked, hopelessly out-of-date model in place. But frankly, my friends, I don’t give a damn. I want to make the world better. I will make the world better, and these ideas will be some part of that in ways small or larger. You can develop solutions that make the world better, too. You just need to think bigger, take on some of those challenges, and have the courage to throw it out there into and against systems that will surely resist it.

Let’s stop tolerating the things that suck. We are explorers, creators, change makers. We don’t need Ph.D.s or splashy titles or high profit companies to make the world better; we just need to build the damn things.

I published Redesign Democracy in an honest effort to propose a better path that could actually be implemented and make the world much better. But there is a second reason:

I want to inspire you to create even better things. To dare. To dream. To put it all out there, whatever.

The worst thing you do is get a few people to think differently. The best? If your idea is good, and your timing is right, and you get a little lucky, you just might change the whole, entire, wonderful world that we share with over seven billion others.

What about the world would you like to see changed, and how might we be a catalyst to change it? Please share your ideas in the comments, below.


  1. Hello Dirk,
    This is the most inspiring article I’ve read recently. I totally agree that we have to think bigger to make real things (the daily lives we’re living) change. UX shouldn’t be limited in redesigning platform UI, materials, products, etc., it might be a key to change how people think and what they take into action, and therefore, to make their lives better.

    Back to your idea of Redesigning Democracy, I’ve discovered that the algorithm of social network is decreasing the chance that people of different perspectives to communicate and understand each other. It’s really bad for democracy when people only stay in the field where they can get supports and not trying to convey their idea to others. (I think some awful policies were made due to the same reason – check “Spiral of Silence” )

    To think further, knowing the motivation and how people processing information might play an important role in re-designing democracy. UX specialists, Psychologists, Sociologists and Anthropologists, speak out and share how you think about it.
    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” But it’s always the right time to make some changes.

  2. YouTube a man called Jaques Fresco, he has already designed a new societal structure and planetary resource based economy. He has designed the Venus Project, truly incredible man. Take the time to watch his videos and educate yourself on his philosophy and you will appreciate a whole new ideology and outlook on not only design, but the mechanisms of how the world works.

  3. An excellent post that helps us introspect what exactly we are doing in the larger scheme of things in the world. When we plan wireframes or an experience, we try to make it easier to the ‘user’. Ultimately, a happy user spread happiness at home, at work, and in one’s community; so we are solving problems not only for a business or its audience; it is for the common benefit of the community and the world.
    As regards redesigning democracy, I recall reading an excellent take on ‘reengineering democracy’ by Efraín María Martresa, few years back. EM proposed voting on issues, rather than voting for people, which to me made a lot of sense. I think that a few UX practices already help us to vote on subjects or issues, and not really on user-entities. Good to get a refreshing perspective via this post here!

  4. Great topic, Dirk. Although – you referenced an interesting number: 58% of U.S. adults own a smartphone. How would the rest of the 40% do the ‘mobile’ voting you proposed? People who need assistance? People who can’t afford a mobile phone/plan? What exactly is wrong with the concept of electing a representative? And don’t politicians already have different backgrounds?

  5. While I’m willing to believe that UX designers may be better placed than, say, hair dresses or sex workers to re-design the democratic system, I’m not immediately sure what qualifies us beyond some capacity to think on behalf of others.

    Be that as it may – I think Dirk’s call to action raises a very important point about design. The most successful designs (let’s use the old iPod, iPhone examples, or maybe Model T Ford) tend not to be singularities that completely replace the incumbent way of doing things. They are essentially increments. Small, but significant, changes from which much bigger things then grow.

    So with my designer hat on, and having read Dirk’s proposal for a new system based on direct democracy, I’d be inclined to think that there would be a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Lawrence Lessig and others have identified political corruption as being the root of most of the problem. They are working toward the single-minded goal of removing money where it shouldn’t be in US politics. That seems to me to a good pragmatic first step, not the wholesale disbandment of elected representatives and the handing of smart phones to citizens with orders to take over their work. Mind you, it’s fun to imagine the amazing (and almost certainly very bloody) revolution that would needed to get us to that point!

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