A hard look in the mirror: language, structure, and privilege in IA

2019 Talk


As information architects, we deal in categorising information and using language to give meaning to the categories we create. This shapes the world around us: the categories we create determine what is deemed possible/impossible, real/unreal, natural/unnatural. Our work normalises certain ways of living while obscuring or even invalidating others.

Inspired by critical discourse studies, a discipline that concerns itself with the way in which language (re)produces social power, this talk addresses the way in which our work as designers and information architects shapes realities that, frankly, can be quite exclusive. In particular, I want to draw attention to the role that our own often privileged experience plays in this.

While there has been much stir in the design industry to address inequality—one must only look to the recent surge in articles and talks about ethics, inclusivity, or accessibility—little attention has been paid to our own role and position, and to how our own privilege can shape the solutions that we, often with the best of intentions, put forth. With this talk, I invite all of us to take a hard look in the mirror, and to consider the ways in which we often unknowingly and unconsciously recreate social power structures through our work. Ultimately, I aim to offer a starting point for a framework that we can use to understand our own privilege, assess how it impacts our work and find ways to change and alleviate (unconscious) negative impact.