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UX design, citizen-engaged design work


We describe how UX design students become aware of citizen-engaged design work, and indicate the extent to which a progression toward social justice-focused design work might be possible in a single project cycle. Our study site is a sophomore-level UX design studio at a large Midwestern US university—part of a five-semester sequence in which students engage in a range of projects that address competence in user research, prototyping, and evaluation. The project cycle we focus on directly challenges the apolitical framing in most foundational UX methods literature, explicitly asking students to engage with issues of power disparities. We analyzed three years of digital civics-focused project work (2018 n=6 groups; 2019 n=7; 2020 n=8) undertaken by students in groups of five over a seven-week period, representing the work of 100 students over three years of this course offering. We analyzed the resulting data that supported the development of the "Frames for Justice Consciousness" model, mapping a range of trajectories of student engagement with social justice-focused design philosophies, highlighting cases where students were able to successfully “pivot” or re-frame the design situation in ways that were consistent with the digital civics philosophy of engagement, addressing goals of participation and advocacy, as well as cases where students tended to repeat common solutionist framings of work within an “apolitical” or product-focused human-centered philosophy. The model facilitates instructor reflection on differing student trajectories that may inform changes to the types of critique given or instructional scaffolds provided in social justice-informed design work.