University of Houston
2019 South District Graduate Student Merit Award Winner
Kristi Bartlett grew up in the Denver area and got her undergraduate degree in civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. She decided to pursue industrial design after having some bad experiences using medical devices and believing that she could develop the skills to make better ones herself. She was excited to join the Master’s program at University of Houston so that she could study right next door to the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world. Her favorite part of design is engaging with real-world users during the design process.
How will you use design to change the world?
I don’t only want to use design to change the world, I want to change design to change the world. Women make up only 10-15 percent of industrial designers (source: Innovation Magazine) and 11 percent of engineers (source: National Society of Professional Engineers), and the numbers for people of color, especially women of color, are extremely low as well. We often talk about these statistics as if it would just be nicer if things were more equal in these professions, but what we’re not talking about how these realities are actually impacting the world. I believe that the under-representation of women and people of color in design actually manifests in the products designers create. For example, Apple first released their HealthKit with seemingly everything but a period tracker, a feature that many women thought to be essential. An MIT study found that Microsoft’s facial recognition software could identify white male faces with up to 99% accuracy, but misidentified black female faces 35% of the time (source: http://news.mit.edu/2018/study-finds-gender-skin-type-bias-artificial-intelligence-systems-0212).
I’m pretty sure these products were intended to be designed for everyone, but in reality they were not for everyone. How would these designs have been implemented differently by diverse teams? Would more diverse design teams have been able to avoid these problems and created better products, or, would more diverse teams be designing different technologies entirely, having done needs-finding in different pockets of society? Even teams that lack diversity can be intentional in the way they undergo their research and development, and seek to include more diverse groups of people in their research cohort. I want to change the way we design so that the technologies we design serve society more equitably, thus changing design to change the world.