Reifel, Z. S. (2021). Designing Towards Mutual Aid: Critical Feminist Methodologies For Creating New Tech. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14418/wes01.1.2456
Digital technology wields far-reaching power in shaping human behavior, impacting communities, and guiding social movements. However, digital product design processes often focus on profit-oriented solutions that serve privileged user-types. Even when designers take a “design for social good” stance, they are far from exempt from subconsciously creating products that reproduce systems of inequality, exclude marginalized users, and foster their own ingrained biases. This thesis project proposes a critical feminist methodology to yield ethically designed digital products. To achieve a justice-oriented approach to design, I apply feminist frameworks from many different areas—social science research methods, science and technology theory, disability justice studies, and posthumanist thought—onto design philosophy and practice. As a result, I determine the importance of understanding users, designers, and artifacts as situated in social, political, and cultural contexts. I also prioritize a community-centered epistemology for conducting user research and executing design processes. After establishing these theory-based methods, I have put my findings into practice through an original design project which aims to develop a digital tool around mutual aid ideologies. This process involves working with the local Middletown Mutual Aid community, conceptualizing a platform, creating app sketches, and building a clickable prototype. After determining inconsistent donation behavior and inadequate contribution tools to be core challenges in mutual aid work, I have produced a speculative design prototype for a social donation mobile app that allows users to donate to fundraisers that members of their community support.