Design for Society: “Design Requires Courage”


At a lecture on design for society, Jennifer Pahlka, the author of “Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better,” shared stories of her quest for more user-centric thinking and processes in the policy world.

By Adelaide Zollinger

Apr 24, 2023

Jennifer Pahlka, founder and former executive director of Code for America who also served as US Deputy Chief Technology Officer and helped found the United States Digital Service, was at MIT to share stories of designing for society at the Design Across Scales course.

Jennifer Pahlka
Photo: Adelaide Zollinger

Regardless of the policy — unemployment benefits, healthcare, sustainability and environment — she highlighted how doing things in a way that is technically legally accurate can be very different from doing things in a way that is best for users, which can result in complex and multiple challenges.

By sharing insights into her professional experience working with government, she showed that a constant cycle of renewal and redesign is needed in order to create cultural shifts. Her thought-provoking questions may show paths forward:

Do we need to do exactly what the statute says, or do what it intends? Are we starving government by design, or are we starving government of design? By sometimes fighting for more policy, aren’t we missing out on implementation?

She concluded: “We need fundamental reframing. Design requires courage. Design is a choice we must make in order to scale and implement.”

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Apr 24, 2023