Abstractions: Let Us Now Praise Ordinary People

The last session I went to before the evening keynote on the first day was Mike Monteiro’s talk entitled “Let us now praise ordinary people” (doesn’t look like slides have been posted from this talk yet). Now i’m gonna be honest, the first five minutes, I wasn’t really sure where this talk was going. To me, it seemed a little rant and a little annoyed. The opening premise was that there are tons of resources, presentations, ideas, and talks about how to change the world. Everyone wants to change the world but you need to go deeper than that and ask how and for who?

That’s when the talk actually started to get deeper. He was speaking from the perspective of a designer and saying that designers could change the world but the world isn’t changed by people who apply to do it, it’s changed by people who just want to live their ordinary lives. He also put the onus on the audience and said that we can change the world because we don’t have an option… we don’t get to opt out.

He then went a bit into how to do this. (I’m pretty sure there are three steps in this process, but I only seem to have notes for two so you’ll have to just be on the lookout for the slides to be posted to get that third vital part). First, get ignorant about your place in the world. What he means by this is that empathy is important but empathy only allows for those who have time to feel it. Design a system where you could be on the other side of the results and it would be okay. So, for example, he talked about AirBnB. AirBnB is great for the people on the good side of it but if you place yourself on the other side of it… the people who are getting evicted because a landlord can make more money if the place is an AirBnB rental, would you be happy? Would that be ok? Probably not. So when you design systems, you want to keep that other piece in mind as well. Second, look like the world. You don’t want to assume how people would behave in a situation, hire them to design it. You see examples of this all the time… a male designer is trying to figure out how to design something for women… how about ask a woman to design it? People are more informed about themselves than others. Ultimately, your role in the world is to leave it in a better state than you found it (this actually might be the third point, but I didn’t note it in my notes). We need to change what we design, how we design, and who designs.

He closed by talking about how important it is to think critically. think critically about how you spend your time, about how the world works, etc. He ended by saying that we need to remember that we are ordinary people and that it is our job to help and elevate one another.

The talk was definitely funny and to the point and in the end, I think the story that was told was excellent and it definitely was perception-shifting. I’m glad I decided not to leave and see where he was going with his opening.

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