Equity-Centered Design

Education Technology for All
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Challenge

While COVID-19 brought on an onslaught of digital transformation in education, school materials have been moving towards the digital for a while now. 2017 was the last year in which a greater percentage of total K-12 district spending on resources went to print (53%), while in 2019, digital resources accounted for 58% of total resource spending (see the Learning Counsel for more info). At the same time, white students now make up a minority of U.S. public school students, creating an even greater urgency around creating class materials that are designed to support increasingly diverse classrooms. Though the overall goal of education technology has been to improve outcomes and experiences for students, not all edtech products are created equal, with many overlooking the systemic inequities that distribute the opportunities to learn and grow unevenly across the classroom.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation K-12 education team has been working for many years towards one central goal: “Significantly improve educational outcomes for Black and Latino students and students who are experiencing poverty.” The foundation came to Intentional Futures because they wanted to understand the relationship between tech learning products and equity. In response, iF developed an intentional learning session about different inclusive approaches to technology design.

To help guide the foundation’s work in serving Black, Latino, and students impacted by poverty, iF created an intentional learning session on how equity-centered approaches to design can increase the usability and value of edtech for students from underrepresented populations. The session included the historic limitations in product design, and the main players in the field who have been and are currently innovating new methodologies explicitly designed to center socio-economic equity.

Guided by Experts

As with many of our learning sessions, we began this process by surveying the design field for the various products and design teams who were working on equitable design. What we found was a diverse, rich field of designers and developers, many of whom shared values or methods, but who had their own take on how to design for equity in education products. In talking with them, we realized it wouldn’t be enough just to showcase different products: we had to first clearly establish the socioeconomic context that has made equity-centered design necessary, and demonstrate the ways in which inequality is often unconsciously reproduced or reinforced in even the most well-intentioned design processes.

Working in close dialogue with experts in the field, we decided to orient this learning session less exclusively on products, and craft a learning session that would answer the following four questions:

  • What is the larger socio-economic context in which the design field exists, and how does that manifest in education technology specifically?
  • How do systemic inequalities manifest in design, even within well-intentioned or human-centered design processes?
  • What are some of the most prominent methodologies and processes that have emerged in education technology design to center and serve marginalized students?
  • Who are the practitioners and product-developers doing this work? Who should philanthropists and designers in education look to? Who are the exemplars lighting the way?

With these questions in mind, we also wanted to make sure the learning session served as an introductory platform both to the methods and the different designers and developers already advancing equity in the design field.

What We Made

The excitement during and after the learning session was so tremendous, we realized we had the opportunity at iF to amplify the work of equity-centered designers even further. So we created the Equity-Centered Design booklet, a compact, introductory overview of the foundations of equity-centered design, and a few different methodologies and organizations today that are helping advancing equity.

The booklet covers:

  • Systemic oppression: Definitions and manifestations in product design
  • Human-centered design: Its promise and enduring risks
  • 5 methodologies of equity-centered design: And how they mitigate the risks of HCD
  • Tools & additional resources: For problem-solvers and designers at any organization to start centering equity in their projects and processes.

This booklet was made available to all the learning session participants, many of whom have reported continuing to refer back to it in their work to this day. You can download it here.

Going Further

While iF’s booklet offers a concise overview of equity-centered design, we’re forever indebted to the experts and practitioners who have been advancing and expanding the field for many years now. While this list is by no means comprehensive, if you’re interested in going deeper into equity, equity in education, equity centered design, or learning more about how to bring those concepts and practices into your work, we highly recommend exploring the work or getting in touch with any or all of of the following organizations:

228 Accelerator

An organization that fuels the scaling of radical and transformative ideas in schools, organizations, and communities.

Connected Learning Lab

An organized research unit out of UC Irvine that researches, designs, & mobilizes learning technologies in equitable, innovative, and learner-centered way.

Creative Reaction Lab

A civic and social organization that trains Black and Latinx youth to become the next generation of civic leaders addressing racial inequities in our cities, leading to social, cultural, and economic growth for both cultures.

The Design Justice Network

An international community of people and organizations who are committed to rethinking design processes so that they center people who are too often marginalized by design.

Equity Literacy Institute

The Equity Literacy Institute offers equity training and assistance for schools, school districts, and other educational organizations. Offers resources, scholarship, and workshops to help individuals become threats to race, class and other inequities in their spheres of influence.

GIFT—Grassroots Institute for Fundraising

A multiracial organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building.

Greater Good Studio

A strategic design firm focused on advancing equity. We do this by creating human-centered programs, tools and experiences, and by teaching design to changemakers in organizations and communities.

Inclusive Design Research Centre

An international community of open source developers, designers, researchers, educators and co-designers who work together to proactively ensure that emerging technology and practices are designed inclusively.

National Equity Project

A leadership and systems change organization committed to increasing the capacity of people to achieve thriving, self-determining, educated, and just communities.

Project Inkblot

A team of designers and futurists who partner with companies to build equitable products, services and content using their trademark Design for Diversity™(D4D) framework.

Stanford d.school

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, commonly known as the d.school, is a design thinking institute based in Stanford University.

UW KidsTeam

An intergenerational design team where adults partner with children to design new technology for children.

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