Lena Groeger at ProPublica: “A few weeks ago, Snapchat released a new photo filter. It appeared alongside many of the other such face-altering filters that have become a signature of the service. But instead of surrounding your face with flower petals or giving you the nose and ears of a Dalmatian, the filter added slanted eyes, puffed cheeks and large front teeth. A number of Snapchat users decried the filter as racist, saying it mimicked a “yellowface” caricature of Asians. The company countered that they meant to represent anime characters and deleted the filter within a few hours.
“Snapchat is the prime example of what happens when you don’t have enough people of color building a product,” wrote Bay Area software engineer Katie Zhu in an essay she wrote about deleting the app and leaving the service. In a tech world that hires mostly white men, the absence of diverse voices means that companies can be blind to design decisions that are hurtful to their customers or discriminatory.A Snapchat spokesperson told ProPublica that the company has recently hired someone to lead their diversity recruiting efforts.
A Snapchat spokesperson told ProPublica that the company has recently hired someone to lead their diversity recruiting efforts.
But this isn’t just Snapchat’s problem. Discriminatory design and decision-making affects all aspects of our lives: from the quality of our health care and education to where we live to what scientific questions we choose to ask. It would be impossible to cover them all, so we’ll focus on the more tangible and visual design that humans interact with every day.
You can’t talk about discriminatory design without mentioning city planner Robert Moses, whose public works projects shaped huge swaths of New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s. The physical design of the environment is a powerful tool when it’s used to exclude and isolate specific groups of people. And Moses’ design choices have had lasting discriminatory effects that are still felt in modern New York.
A notorious example: Moses designed a number of Long Island Parkway overpasses to be so low that buses could not drive under them. This effectively blocked Long Island from the poor and people of color who tend to rely more heavily on public transportation. And the low bridges continue to wreak havoc in other ways: 64 collisions were recorded in 2014 alone (here’s a bad one).
The design of bus systems, railways, and other forms of public transportation has a history riddled with racial tensions and prejudiced policies. In the 1990s the Los Angeles’ Bus Riders Union went to court over the racial inequity they saw in the city’s public transportation system. The Union alleged that L.A.’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority spent “a disproportionately high share of its resources on commuter rail services, whose primary users were wealthy non-minorities, and a disproportionately low share on bus services, whose main patrons were low income and minority residents.” The landmark case was settled through a court-ordered consent decree that placed strict limits on transit funding and forced the MTA to invest over $2 billion in the bus system.
Of course, the design of a neighborhood is more than just infrastructure. Zoning laws and regulations that determine how land is used or what schools children go to have long been used as a tool to segregate communities. All too often, the end result of zoning is that low-income, often predominantly black and Latino communities are isolated from most of the resources and advantages of wealthy white communities….(More)”