lifting the curtain on
ethical theater

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Ethics has become a buzzword in the design industry. But what happens when our dedication to ethical “best practices” is nothing more than a performance, a way to spotlight our goodness while masking harm?

If we truly want to challenge the status quo, we need to lift the curtain on ethical theater.

There is plenty to critique — but there is plenty to hope for too. 

Let's lean into both together.

Alba Villamil

Critique is a signal of hope.

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Design professionals have significant power. Whether it’s scoping projects or crafting a narrative of our users’ lives, we have the ability to influence the outcomes of those we design for. Some of us are starting to challenge this asymmetry but how do visible acts of sharing power inevitably concentrate it? This panel brings together researchers and designers who are reimagining what power looks like and how it can transform. 

Possible Panel Discussion Questions:

+ What are the dangers of sharing power?

+ How do our ethical best practices erase others’ power?

+ How do we transfer real material power?

#1: Hoarding Power

3 thought-provoking panels

With American Sign Language Interpreters and CART Services for Each Panel

Justin is a researcher, strategist, and community knowledge gardener. His work focuses on everyday technology in places like call centers, living rooms, neighborhoods, and data centers. He has worked with early stage startups, established companies, and community organizations to plant the seeds of collaborative research and innovation processes for imagining better futures.

Meet the Panelists

Justin Threlkeld

he/him | Twitter: @justinthrelkeld

Alina is the User Experience Research Lead for Citi's Racial Equity in Design and Data Initiative. Her research uses intersectional and participatory methodologies to examine the experience and use of power in a variety of contexts including digital product development and Latina sorority politics. Alina also earned her PhD in Latin American and Latino Studies and Sociology.  

Meet the Panelists

Dr. Alina I'vette Fernandez

she/they | Twitter: @alinaivette2

Dr. Pierce Otlhogile-Gordon is an innovation catalyst, researcher, facilitator, and evaluator, impassioned by the space between transformation and liberation.

As the Director of the Equity Innovation studio at Think Rubix, a Black-led social innovation consultancy. Dr. Gordon serves as a shepherd for Equity Innovation to shape our collective future.

He’s taught courses in design, evaluation, international development, and equity across four continents, co-designed partnerships, products, and services with local and international changemakers to support social change, and researched the complexity, evaluation, and emergence of design and innovation across the world.

Meet the Panelists

Dr. Pierce Otlhogile-Gordon

he/him | Twitter: @otlhogilegordon

One of the central tenets of design is “you are not your user.” To counteract “bias”, design teams have begun hiring teams that better reflect the diversity of the users they design for. How then do design professionals who have lived experience negotiate their expertise with the communities they represent? This panel brings together researchers and designers who practice and reevaluate their craft through identity. 

Possible Panel Discussion Questions:

+ What’s the role of autobiography in design?

+ What are the unspoken challenges of researching your own community?

+ How can reflexivity become performative?

#2: Biased Identities

Calvin Liang is a PhD Candidate of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington where he studies human-computer interaction and queer health through community-based participatory research. His dissertation focuses on building online sex education resources for and with transgender and gender-expansive youth.

Meet the Panelists

Calvin Liang

HE/HIM | Twitter: @cal_liang

Dr. Diana Albarrán González is a Native Latin American design researcher and craftivist from Mexico. She is a Lecturer in the Design programmes at the Creative Arts and Industry faculty at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. In collaboration with Mayan weavers, her PhD research proposes a Buen Vivir-Centric Design model towards a fair-dignified life, based on collective well-being, textiles, crafts-design-arts, embodiment and creativity. With more than 18 years of international experience, she seeks to address challenges in a variety of contexts through a meaningful sense of culture, diversity awareness and sensitivity.

Meet the Panelists

Dr. Diana Albarrán González


Jennifer is a writer and educator, currently serving as Visiting Assistant Professor at Parsons School of Design. She recently co-edited The Black Experience in Design with Anne Berry and Kelly Walters. In 2021, she served as Guest Editor for a special issue on design and policing for the Design Museum magazine.

Meet the Panelists

Jennifer Rittner

she/her | Twitter: @jenrittner

Recognizing the historical harms of research, design professionals are beginning to formalize ethics within their organizations. Protocol checklists, ethical review boards–all of these practices represent a cultural shift in better caring for participants. However, this shift can be just as destructive as the past. This panel brings together researchers who are challenging the ways traditional research formalizes care and harms those who were meant to be protected. 

Possible Panel Discussion Questions:

+ How can we distinguish care from paternalism?

+ What is the relationship between accountability and compromise?

+ What are the limits of Western ethical models?

#3: Weaponizing Care

Chelsea Johnson is a Senior User Experience Researcher at LinkedIn, helping to lead the company's understanding of trust. Chelsea transitioned from academic research into UX research after graduating with her PhD in sociology in hopes of applying her focus on intersectionality to products that impact people's lives at scale. Outside of work, Chelsea is also co-founder of CLC Collective, a public sociology organization that published the first children's book about the Black feminist concept of intersectionality, IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All. 

Dr. Chelsea Johnson

she/her | linkedin

 Iris Xie (they/them/theirs) is a disabled, neurodivergent, queer trans nonbinary 2nd generation Chinese American multi-discipline writer, artist, and designer from the Bay Area, and is a MFA Candidate in Design at the University of California, Davis. Iris designs interactive installations that use lyric games, visual poetry, and stim objects that explore neurodivergence and invisible disabilities through the framework of rest, crip technoscience, and disability justice. Iris is also a member of the Critical Design Lab and centering work on disability culture, crip technoscience, and access, and is also the UX Writing/Content Design Lead at Oppia. They are also a research assistant at QT Labs at LGBTQIA Resource Center, University of California, Davis, and works on dissemination strategies to highlight queer and trans grad student and professional staff experiences.

Iris Xie

they/them | Twitter: @irisxie

Meet the Panelists

We donate 25% of our live-event proceeds to Timnit Gebru's non-profit Distributed AI Research Institute🔥

The Distributed AI Research Institute is a space for independent, community-rooted AI research, free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence.


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3 recordings of thought-provoking panels with practical insights, key quotes, transcripts, and main takeaways

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