Notes from the Internet Freedom Festival
I really enjoyed my time at the Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia, Spain. I was inspired and humbled to meet so many talented people as part of a global event about internet freedom. From powerful conversations about privilege to UX design jam sessions, it was a great week. With more than 600 people registered and 160+ sessions, there was more terrific discussion than I could be part of, but here are some themes that stuck with me.
Designing With and Designing For
IFF is the most global event I've attended, with people from 43+ countries. It was an eye-opening exposure to what the global internet is like in 2016, and how much work is needed to make it better. I'm a practitioner of Human-Centered Design who believes that empathy should be the foundation for building technology, and some of my most memorable discussions were about privilege, power, and my own biases. From observations on white-knighting, the minimization of lived experiences, and more, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the distinction between designing with people by involving them as partners versus designing for people in ways that are disrespectful and take away agency. I'm looking forward to listening and learning more. Thank you to the people who challenged me and encouraged me to grow.
Data, Algorithms, & You
As an example of this, Tara Adiseshan's Designing Participatory Algorithmic Decision-Making Processes challenged me to think more broadly about structural discrimination, and how dangerous the myth of "neutral data" is in an era when algorithms determine so much of our experiences – pricing, credit scores, and more. There is a powerful design opportunity to give people agency to understand what data about them is collected and how to participate in the outcomes. Check out the Algorithm Club, a Twitter book club, for more.
Continuing the theme of data and algorithms, Sarah Gold and Ian Hutchinson from Projects By If's session You and Your Data turned out to be the boldest empathy exercise I encountered at IFF, encouraging empathy for advertisers and people who make their money from advertising revenue. This participatory discussion imagined the internet after adblockers. I'm interested to see their examples of data permissions work as a case study of how policy, user experience, and data agency intersect.
Building Better UX
Huge thanks everyone who participated in the UI and Usability Jam, a workshop connecting the a community of people working to improve the design and usability of internet freedom tools. If you haven't seen these Resources for UX Self-Education, take a look. My biggest inspiration came from appreciating how the well-known user onboarding challenge of empty states – or the initial state of the interface before there's activity to display – is an opportunity for techno-activists to attract people to their movement. Triggered by Stingray Mapping and Whereat.io’s use of location information in compelling ways, I got excited about how "demo mode," or using an app soley for the purpose to showing features, is an opportunity to reinforce the values that lead people to download the app in the first place. Special thanks to Bridget Sheerin for pushing my thinking about radars and other dynamic interfaces for communicating location tracking.
I was also glad to see more sessions about the craft of UX. Thanks to our Fellow Gus Andrews for a great session focused on tools and feedback, and to Sajolida for the Tor configuration in Tails feedback session.
Finally, inspired by An Xiao Mina's Multilingual Design session, I've been thinking more about majority and minority languages, and what a more linguistically inclusive internet would be like. As a first step, I'm working to follow more people on Twitter who Tweet in languages other than English.
I came away from the Festival energized by the vibrant and passionate community and fired up to make the internet a better place.