Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

UX for Civilization

What does civilization mean to you?

Civilization is supposed to be the pinnacle of human social development. That we work together in a coordinated effort to achieve the common goal of human progress. Anthropologists, tasked with being at the forefront of this understanding often reiterate Ruth Benedict’s words, as she declared that the purpose of anthropology was to make the world safe for human differences.


Let’s think about this in terms of UX Design. If society is something individuals have to interface with, and the pillars and constructs that we use as the rules/laws for our society were implemented at a time when the concerns of the majority of the users were not being considered, then you have poor UX, right? Unfortunately, just as with a web page, users can get used to poor UX and complain when it’s updated. Sometimes, we know it’s because it really just is poor UX, but more often it’s people having a negative reaction to change, because they often approve over time as they get used to it.

We also have people who act as friction in society, that act as a kind of error prevention, slowing civilization down from changing too fast. In political science, this is what we would refer to ideologically as conservatism. For more on designing friction into your UX, click here.

A bit about me. I went to school for anthropology because my father was a relatively intelligent man with a 7th grade education from West Virginia who regularly used the n-word in conversation. My mother was a relatively intelligent woman with a high school education from metro Detroit who told me that there’s good and bad in everyone. My father was an alcoholic and for all but 6 months of my life (not the first 6 months either) my parents were separated, but they never divorced because my father wanted my mother to be able to stay on his insurance, because even with all the hate he had in his heart, he was still capable of love.

I was the only boy, raised by 3 older sisters and a single mom. I picked up their mannerisms. I’m still often presumed to be homosexual because of it. This was compounded as a young child of 6 when, at the height of the crack epidemic, with a literal crack house at the end of my block, my mother packed us up and moved us from Lincoln Park to a farm in the Irish Hills, in a little village called Brooklyn, MI.

So this is the nexus I was enculturated into. I’m a straight, white man with ties to both rural and urban America, both through my parents as well as my own personal experience. Who was often ridiculed as gay in school, who grew up around both blatantly racist people and people like my mother and older sisters, who weren’t political activists or anything, but I’d like to think they were/are feminists. I was aware at a young age, about how the women in families often kept secrets from the men to spare them the overreaction. During Christine Blassey-Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, stories from women who never told the men in their lives of their own sexual assault was a painful reminder.

But I digress, my ultimate point is that civilization is a phenomenon that we all have a responsibility to. And although civilization is a more convoluted mess than that of a web page or mobile application, it still deserves to be just as user-friendly. And that is something we all have a responsibility to, because we’re all at the same time users of the product, and on it’s design team.

With that said, I invite you to read this post on Civilization Interface from Maxim Grozny, a UX Designer, who talks about building interfaces to satisfy the multicultural/civilizational needs of the diverse array of users for products in today’s global market.

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His argument however is geared more towards product design, whereas my argument is that policy and legislation is the product. Or take Nate Baldwin from Adobe and his post on, “Why we need design thinking in politics,” as he writes:

I work within the realm of user-centered design and its benefits are very familiar to me. Design Thinking is a scientific, human-centered, and empathetic process that yields the best designed solutions. It gets us to a platform of understanding the people and their problems; with firm understanding and empathy, along with continuous innovation, we can create the best solutions.

In any event, it goes to show that research is key and the design process is ongoing. So let’s get to it. As I am just shifting my gaze from more traditional anthropology to step into the role of an UX Designer, I don’t have any products to design, but I am just as invested in our society and the success of human civilization as most people, and I am feeling the call to action given the current resurgence of Strong Man politics and the subsequent rise in Nationalism. For more on this topic, here is a direct link to download a pdf published by the UNESCO Education Sector titled: Global Citizenship Education and the Rise of Nationalist Perspectives.

Perception is reality because it has real implications.

In sum, think about what civilization, what society, what being a human means to you. Understand that you are not the typical user of civilization, no matter how typical you may seem in relation to those around you. For as small as the world has become due to technology, we are becoming ever more isolated into our own little pockets, see: tribalism – which skew our perceptions of the world we live in and make us think we are being empirical in our assertions of fake news and disinformation. Perception is reality because it has real implications. Design thinking and designing for the user then becomes paramount in leading the charge to break this cycle, because if we can learn to design in order to improve the experience of those different than us, we can make the world safe for human difference.

Featured Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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