I caught up Mansi Gupta, founder of Unconform.
Mansi is a designer, researcher and is working to increase the dialogue regarding the intersection of women and design. She’s been exploring the short comings of Human Centered Design, and we chat openly about where and how she sees the problems.
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[00:00:00] As I read that there were light bulbs going on inside my head being like, oh, this is why the root barriers just continue to exist, even though the gender practice has been around for a long time, especially in social impact and design has been in there trying to make impact as well, and so I just started to then, Try to build something at that intersection.
[00:00:23] Hello and welcome to this is eight cd. My name is Gerry Scullion and I'm a designer educator, and I'm the host of This Is Hate CD based in the wonderful city of Dublin, Ireland. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and help. Move the dial forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems.
[00:00:42] I caught up recently with Mancy Gupta, founder of unformed based in Amsterdam. Mancy is a designer researcher and is working to increase the dialogue regarding the intersection of women and design that she's been exploring the shortcomings of human-centered. We chat openly about [00:01:00] where she sees and how she sees these problems.
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[00:01:23] There's other plans there on our website at this is h cd.com where you can get exclusive items too. And literally all the money goes directly towards hosting and editing and maintaining your website, which is now over 230 episodes. This is a great episode. Mancy was a fantastic guest. Let's jump straight in.
[00:01:41] Mancy, how's it going? A very warm welcome to, this is hcd. How are you? I'm doing well as well as I can on a great cold day in Amsterdam. I'm doing well. Thank you for having me. How are you doing? No worries. I'm doing okay. But look, maybe for our listeners, um, of the podcast, maybe tell us a little bit about yourself [00:02:00] and, and where you're coming from today.
[00:02:01] Uh, there's so many stories. Uh, which one should I tell? Uh, well, I guess a big part of it is, you know, I grew up in India. I'm from India. I live now in Amsterdam. Spent a lot of my life also living in the United States, and I've had many different, uh, experimental professional, I guess I've been in tech, I've been, um, in manufacturing, making shoes at some point in my life and selling shoes.
[00:02:30] Um, I was in design school and, and really a big chunk of my life was spent, you know, growing my design expertise in the social impact space. And I got to do a lot of cool work in India on women's focus projects such as reproductive healthcare and financial inclusion, which gave me a chance to really see a.
[00:02:51] Part of my country that I maybe would not have been able to experience otherwise. Um, and yeah, so that's kind of [00:03:00] where I'm coming from. And now I reside in Amsterdam and I think a lot about the intersection of women and design, and I drink a lot of chai and I go to pottery classes whenever I can to get away from all the mind based.
[00:03:15] Right. Well, there's, there's so much to unpack there. Um, maybe go back to the start. What did you study in university? Well, like a good Indian girl, I studied economics and computer science, double major. Dunno what I was trying to be either an engineer or a investment banker and ended up being neither of those, thankfully.
[00:03:34] Okay. That's good. You mentioned that you went to design school. Um, so tell us about that. Yeah, I went to, um, a design program at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and I really didn't know what I was getting into. Um, it was based on this pedagogy that everything is a product of design and I was the only person in my cohort without.
[00:03:57] You know, official design [00:04:00] experience, right? So I was used to being a really good student, and then I was dropped into this place where every, everyone knew a little bit about what was going on except for me. So I was just trying to, you know, Google things on the side and stay afloat. Um, but I, but I got to learn a lot and see how design could be applied in so many different facets.
[00:04:19] And that was a, a huge, um, data, huge role in, in where I am today. I know you're doing an awful lot of work in terms of pushing the practice of human centered design and just design generally as well. Um, maybe tell us a little bit more about where this all came from. Yeah. Um, thank you for asking that. I, I love human centered design and kind of the.
[00:04:45] The methods, the, the kind of flexibility it allows and how it forces us to be, feel the discomfort of being an ambiguity. But I'm really focusing now on looking at, [00:05:00] at my own methods with a critical lens. And this all came to be because as I was mentioning, I, I've. Uh, been, I got, I got to be on many women's folks projects when I was working in India in the social impact space, and I just kind of observed that regardless of the domain they were in, you know, healthcare, financial inclusion, a lot of the root barriers were very similar.
[00:05:21] We were constantly thinking about how can we increase the agency for a woman to feel that she can really speak up in. Spousal relationship, or we were thinking about her safety or we were thinking about her incentives. And so the, the root barriers were very similar, even if you were doing work in reproductive health or in financial inclusion.
[00:05:43] And so that just made me think about. How, or made me want to explore really what is at the intersection of women and design. And when I started to explore that, I realized that there isn't much really that's there. And around the same time I was [00:06:00] reading the book, invisible Women by Caroline CDO Perez, um, who was, you know, as.
[00:06:06] As I read that there were light bulbs going on inside my head being like, oh, this is why the root barriers just continue to exist, even though the gender practice has been around for a long time, especially in social impact and design has been in there trying to make impact as well, and so, I just started to then, you know, try to build something in that at that intersection.
[00:06:28] And I began to reach out to gender practitioners around the world because I also felt that designers, there needs to be more of a bridge with the design space, with all of the other practices that I've been around for many, many years. Um, and I started to wonder what us as design professionals can learn from gender practitioners and the work that they've been doing with and for women around the world.
[00:06:49] Um, just. What were those, uh, gender, gender practitioners saying and how come it's taken till 2022 for these [00:07:00] conversations to surface? Um, I'm sure that these conversations are happening around the globe, but maybe they haven't found the kind of. Platforms. I mean, I'm still trying to bring many of the gender practitioners work into light and amplify the work that they're doing.
[00:07:19] Um, but often I think it's just seen as separated from, from the design space. And so, um, they basically, it. Gender practitioners have been thinking about this for a long time, but designers are, us as human centered designers are always going in with this blank slate instead of, you know, really having learned from them and then going in with those mindsets.
[00:07:44] And I think that there is just a lot, um, that we can. Uh, go in with feeling equipped, um, on, on some of these, on some of the, on some of the work that we're doing. Okay. You're gonna have to help me on some of these things because, uh, I'm as guilty as others [00:08:00] by the, by the sounds of it. Is it a case that intergenerationally or maybe we're just conditioned, um, societally to, um, dis invest or dis kind of whatever I wanna say.
[00:08:15] Place an emphasis on women in design is, well, what's holding this back? And, and if so, can you tell? Um, I think partially what's holding us back is that we called a practice human centered, and we expected it to be human centered without actually realizing our own biases and, um, expecting it to be human centered because we called it that.
[00:08:40] Um, and so, We are more likely to be overlooking so many different types of minoritized groups, um, unless we do the active work of bringing those lenses in. And now with the rise of inclusive design, we are hearing more and more about this. You know, we're hearing the importance of having diverse design [00:09:00] teams and diverse user groups.
[00:09:02] Uh, but I honestly see that as a baseline. I feel like that is just where we get started. Yeah. Um, but beyond, I think we have a lot to learn about the groups that we've been excluding, um, and go into our research and our design processes. With a broader lens, honestly, um, so much, so many of our projects and success metrics are scoped, um, from such a one dimensional lens.
[00:09:29] We're not necessarily thinking about, um, really what the users might be. Interested in and how we can kind of really build holistically. So what I mean by that is, you know, you might have a project that's scoped for to build X feature and X program, but there are cons, needs of women that have been consistently overlooked for years.
[00:09:51] You know, safety continues to be something that is overlooked and is more important for women. I wish every project [00:10:00] included the lens of safety no matter what it was building, just so we knew that it was part of the, the things that we're thinking about and just so we could like actively ensure that we're not excluding us because we are so used to excluding it.
[00:10:13] Are you able to talk anecdotally about, uh, examples? Like the, the one that comes to mind is the crash test on me, which, um, I think it was an Invisible Woman. Was that in that book? Yeah, it was. Yeah. Maybe for any listeners who, who don't know, maybe you, you're happy to tell us that story. And if you've got other ones to build on it as well.
[00:10:30] Yeah. So the story with the crash dust test dummy is that, um, most cars when they are put through safety tests, uh, they use human dummies to try to see how the airbags or how safe the car is, if. The car is involved in an accident, but, um, most cars are testing with only male bodies, and when they do try to test for female bodies, they use a small male dummy instead of actually having created [00:11:00] a female body dummy.
[00:11:01] Um, what this means is that over time research has shown that women are 17% more likely to die in a car crash. Um, and so this is the kind of you. Lethal, you know, uh, experiences we are creating or circumstances where women are really put at a disadvantage. But, you know, if you think about it beyond that, like I always think about how ride sharing apps were, uh, originally they were released without safety and sos features, even though.
[00:11:33] So sexual harassment and harassment has been around for a long time. Um, it took for the cases to be reported before those features were rolled out. So we're consistently overlooking these things. Um, and you know, the car, the car example continues onwards. You know, you think about the seatbelt, all the women are complaining about the seatbelt shaving against their neck and it being uncomfortable.
[00:11:55] That means we don't want to wear the seatbelt, or we might be wearing the seatbelt in a 50% [00:12:00] kind of way. And that is just all adding to. Dangerous situations in the, uh, example of the seatbelt. Mm-hmm. , how, how is that, um, not designing for women in that sense? Because you could have a small man who fits the, I guess, the, the kind of percentile quadrant in, uh, the ergonomics for, for seatbelt wearing.
[00:12:22] What is it about the fact that, and, and also the des the, the ride sharing. I'm sure, and this is a huge assumption here, but there, there was women at some point amongst the, those ideas being generated. It wasn't a case that was just a, an organization full of a hundred percent men. What was holding that back and how did those ideas get through?
[00:12:43] Are you saying, are you saying it's a, it's a framework, is it, um, a psychological, uh, blockage? Where do you see the, the problem originate? Origin. Um, honestly, I don't think it's that they actively overlook something. It's [00:13:00] that we are just, we are just kind of oblivious to, um, to some of these things that we're used to overlooking.
[00:13:07] Yeah. So we are used to our status quo and you know, funny enough that as I started to do this research and you know, I've put together. A list of themes such as safety and trust that, um, are really becoming more and more present in my work that I bring into the projects that I work on. But when I was putting together that list, I was like, I'm not thinking about this.
[00:13:24] I am a woman. Yeah. Who's had a lot of these experiences. And also when I share my tools with, um, with my communities, the women in that, in those, in those, um, workshops and in my projects are feeling like, oh, I have felt this, but I haven't necessarily put words to this and therefore it hasn't emerged in the work that I'm doing.
[00:13:45] So we're just kind of stuck in our status quo, and as a result, the way that we've approached these solutions has been in a very reactive way. Yeah. And I think that we can start to be more proactive about it, and that's how we will start to move beyond that [00:14:00] very baseline definition of inclusive design, of having diverse user groups and diverse teams into just being more proactive and active and intentional in, in what we've been overlooking in the past.
[00:14:11] So is it a case that teams that who, who aren't in, don't have a diverse or representative number of people amongst the team are guilty of? Not designing for women or is it a case of something else? Um, that's a great question and um, I don't know the right answer, but I feel like it's gonna be a multi-pronged one.
[00:14:34] So I think my personal feeling is that, uh, so far, you know, as with the rise of DEI and with the rise of inclusive design, there has been this push on having more. Teams that are doing this work, which I think we cannot, we cannot do this work without the, the teams having very diverse lived experiences.
[00:14:57] Hmm. At the same time, I do think that our tools [00:15:00] need to be updated because if we are just leaning on those with minoritized lived experiences to kind of lead the change, then, then they're having to do a lot of that work themselves and we need to share that burden and. Even when we have a diverse team, we need for, for people to understand each other's lived experiences more.
[00:15:21] And I think our tools can help us get there so that doesn't feel like, you know, oh, I'm like the diverse member of the team and I'm having to lead the change, or I'm the woman on the team and I'm having to speak up for women all the time. Rather helping everyone start to do that. And I think our tools can help us get there.
[00:15:36] Yeah. Whenever I'm researching, um, and we're recruiting for people, um, to be part of the study, I'll always insist on 50 50. Um, what are the gaps there in my thinking that other listeners can, um, maybe, uh, benefit from your insights? [00:16:00] Yeah. Um, well, intersectionality is a huge piece that we cannot overlook. So 50 50 is a great place to start, but I think it's important to understand that, you know, there's no group that's a monolith that has the same experience.
[00:16:18] So I think there's a lot of tools out there that are starting to look. Intersectionality beyond gender, sex, sexuality, um, race, socioeconomic class. Yeah. Uh, but also into faith and maybe differently abled bodies, but also into body sizes because there's also that that is, you know, part of it. So I think that those, um, sort of, uh, the definitions of intersectionality are also growing, but I think.
[00:16:50] Uh, also kind of important to remember is that in, in design school, we used to learn about, you know, the extreme case or the edge case or the stress [00:17:00] case. Yeah. And I really don't like those words anymore because we know that if we design for the extreme case, uh, quote unquote, that we're then automatically designing for.
[00:17:13] What is the average case? Yeah. Um, and so it's funny that like women are being seen as a minority , um, or seen as the extreme case. And I always turn around and say, well, women are not a minority, but they're minoritized. So I think that's also a good way to look at. You know who's minoritized in X experience and that's how you can contextualize some of this work as well and really start to bring those conversations front and center rather than the kind of the average, what is considered the average user.
[00:17:46] Yeah, and I mean, On the, any of the talks that you're giving, it's designed for women. Mm-hmm. . Um, and my next question is around the trans community. Um, if you have the lens [00:18:00] of gender as being man, woman, in terms of your revised framework, I guess, like how do you cater towards the trans community? Yeah. Um, thank you for asking this question.
[00:18:12] So, My lens is not gender binary. Um, and cause you have designing for women. Yes. The binary lens. Well, this is why I say women, and I don't say gender because I started with women and to be radically transparent in a time of walk, washing and bucketing. Yeah. Um, we want to ize. Anyone else's experience. But, you know, I've chosen to start with women and that's why I see women centric at the moment to be very, very transparent.
[00:18:43] Um, I found that, um, a lot of what I'm, you know, so I'm, I'm really focusing on women cuz I wanted to, this was, this was my starting point. I feel like we need to better understand the experiences of many, many minoritized groups and [00:19:00] women are a huge group. They're intersectional as well. Um, and it is not, In an effort to exclude someone else or to say that I believe in the gender binary, it's quite the opposite.
[00:19:10] It's just to be really transparent and say, I'm here, here, I'm starting here, and let's see where it takes me. Um, but what I've also found is that a lot of the things I'm advocating for to be embedded into our, into our research and design projects is applicable to many people. You know, women safety is applicable to trans folks and LGBTQ folks and men as well.
[00:19:33] You know, um, all of these things are actually applicable to other groups as well, but to, in an effort to be really transparent. That's why I say women centric instead of saying, you know, gender lens, when I haven't done that research yet, I un I understand. So you say you haven't done that research yet. If there are members of the trans community that want.
[00:19:55] Connect with you to, to give their perspectives on this. Is that something that you're open to? [00:20:00]Absolutely. Yes. Uh, I would love to learn, um, and, and see what I can build into, into the methodology. And I will say that mine is only one inclusive design methodology. There's so many different ways to be inclusive and there's so many toolkits out there that are doing this work, and mine is only one way and it.
[00:20:22] And it's got blind spots and I, it will always have blind spots. So that's also something that I keep very much in mind. Um, and to see it as a work in progress to continue iterating on it, to make it better, better, um, that's, that's how I'm able to do this work every day. One of the questions that you have, um, I think it's on your website actually, um, where at the start of our re project, you say, what about women?
[00:20:47] Mm-hmm. , what do you think the typical responses are amongst design teams when that's presented to them at the start of a project? So if they're saying, okay, here's a brief, we're gonna design a new, [00:21:00] um, I dunno, we're gonna design a new fitness app, um, and it's gonna be for users. That's the language that a lot of tech companies use.
[00:21:09] And then, um, the, the one person in the team who wants to surface some stuff says, well, what about women? I wanna do some sort of role play here. So I think there's gonna be listeners out there that may feel that, okay, well I do include women. I do, I do think that, and I wanna challenge that. I wanna, I wanna see, um, how, how they can actually learn from these conversation to bring it back to their organizations.
[00:21:35] I could imagine a range of different, Responses coming up here. I think with the ones that are more committed to inclusive design and are thinking about this actively, I think that those teams would get really excited to explore what it would mean to design from a women centric lens or from an other minority group centric lens.
[00:21:56] Mm-hmm. . Um, but I think the ones that [00:22:00] are a little bit more in the early awareness stages, um, they could fall into, uh, very. Stereotypical masculinity and femininity traps being like, okay, yeah, we're designing a fitness app. Um, what about women? Yeah, maybe we can put in some things about menstruation. Um, and so the, you know, and that's a great starting point, but often thinking about women gets siloed into what we expect to be connected to women, which is often fashion, beauty, reproductive health, kind of, those are the main buckets.
[00:22:36] And what I, my hope is with this question, um, my hope is to take people to be thinking about all these other things we've talked about today, which is not just reproductive health, but to think about women's, even if it's reproductive health, to think about, um, it not just with the lens of menstruation and pregnancy, but to be talking about endometriosis and.
[00:22:58] And postpartum [00:23:00] depression, which is all part of the journey. And then we can go further into the overall healthcare journey, which in which also women have been minoritized. The history of hysteria being misdiagnosed with hysteria or being misdiagnosed when they're having heart attacks. All of those are part, are part of how women have been overlooked problems.
[00:23:16] Yeah. Um, so that is my hope. But I can imagine that could they kind of like fall into the traps of, oh, this is what women think about fitness and it's about, you know, uh, weight watchers and losing weight and, you know, they're just making these like broad assumptions about what women want. So are, are these, are these, um, Blind spots in, uh, designers and just generally people's, um, consciousness.
[00:23:45] Um, and what, what can they do about, like, it's one thing to talk about inclusion and, you know, bringing it back into the workplace and, and how we work. Um, I, I believe 99% of designers listening to this will have the intent that they want to [00:24:00] design better, they want to do better. They wanna make sure what they are creating is being better and improving the world.
[00:24:06] Um, what, what advice do you give to them to identify those blind spots? Because a lot of people will, will believe that they are being inclusive already. Yeah. Um, great question. So the way that I'm working on it, Or the way that I think about it is that inclusive design isn't a switch but of muscle that we need to build by practicing.
[00:24:30] And the first step is to acknowledge. Um, not only who and what we've been overlooking, but how, um, okay. And so one of the ways that I do this with my communities and my clients is I've created a very simple evaluative framework. Okay. And I, I call it the women centric eye, and I say, That, you know, we can start to look at the world through a women-centric eye to better understand the ways in which we are [00:25:00] being offensive.
[00:25:02] Uh, so-called impartial, but really overlooking women, um, somewhat informed or holistic in what we're designing. And I take them through a series of examples to show what is offensive. So an example of what's offensive is an existing service being turned pink, um, or not really have thought about, but you know, you just wanna sell to women and.
[00:25:22] Um, you know, we, we see a lot of that still in 2022. Um, an impartial solution is basically everything in the world that things, it is impartial but hasn't thought about Women that are. Um, that are, uh, constantly overlooked. Um, so, you know, any any fitness app that just fails to acknowledge the women's experience?
[00:25:45] That's a, that's a great example of something that's impartial. Um, something that's informed is taking some of women's needs into account. The, you know, what we talked about, where people fall into what they think of as women's only. So you'll see solutions in reproductive [00:26:00] health and things like that, but not kind of beyond that.
[00:26:02] But really where we're starting to see holistic spaces are folks that are pushing the boundaries to change gender norms, to create new definitions of, um, how to be inclusive in a system that has historically excluded us. So thinking about finance and new ways of bringing access to finance for those who may not have had.
[00:26:22] Access to capital before really pushing those definitions. Um, and so if you start to kind of like just start to see the world in this way, sure, you will, you'll have that lens and you'll start to build that muscle. Yeah. Um, and start thinking differently. Is there a case with some of your clients. Where they believe that they're already, that they haven't done this in the past, and there's a case of having to do the work to identify those pieces in their blind spots.
[00:26:52] Um, or do people just come to you and say, you know, by the way, Nancy, we've forgotten about women for the last 20 years. What does that look [00:27:00] like? Um, in terms of that awareness piece? Um, I think it's very, we're in very early stages. Um, It's really funny where some, you know, even if sometimes I'm talking to very aware, even women who are working at consultancies or or on our own design teams and I'm telling them about my work and they will turn around and say like, I really wish we had a women's focus project.
[00:27:25] It would be so great to like, yeah. You know, work together. But the funny thing is that all your projects have women on them. So you really, every project is women's focused. We are just not thinking about it that way. So very early stages and um, I feel like. I just, it's interesting, there's a lot of interest in wanting to learn, but there's not yet the courage to really shift into new ways of doing things.
[00:27:49] That's what I'm seeing. So you might wanna do a workshop and just get, dip your toes in, but we're not, as designers creating the time and space to really [00:28:00] engage in these new methods. Yeah. Um, I feel like that's, that's the big, uh, challenge that's, that's facing the design. And I, I know you've been doing, um, a fair bit of talks, um, at conferences around, you just did the service design network mm-hmm.
[00:28:15] and, um, in Rosenfeld, was that right? Yes. Uh, the op summit as well. Um, if people wanna reach out to you more and, and learn more about this stuff, did I see that you're writing a book or have written a book? , um, I would like to write a book, but, uh, I'm not, I'm not there yet. Not there yet. Okay. Well, if people wanna reach out and continue their learning, um, how might they do that?
[00:28:43] And if there's any other books or anything that you can recommend for people to continue this? Obviously, invisible Women Is, is a famous one. Um, maybe give them a shout. Um, yeah. Another great follow up to Invisible Women is the book called Mother of Invention, um, [00:29:00] which, uh, really talks about how, um, our ideas of what is feminine and masculine has held a really good innovation back.
[00:29:09] Um, so I really recommend that to folks as, as an awareness. Piece as well, um, to work with me. I folks reach out to me after they've seen me at conferences to bring some of my methods into their, to their teams. And we engage in short or long, uh, you know, learning journeys together, whether it's through an introductory workshop on some of the methods or to go deeper into a learning journey with, um, you know, several.
[00:29:36] Curriculum so that they can get to apply some of the methods on, on the projects that they're working on as well. Um, so that's one way to, to engage a bit more, um, to really, to really get learning. And they can go to your website, man gupta.com and also un is that right? un.com. And confirm studio.com.
[00:29:57] That's correct. Very good. Well, I'll throw [00:30:00] links to those into the show notes, man. But look, thanks so much for coming on the show and talking to us and being such a wonderful guest and so open to, uh, my in interrogation and my, my curiosity into this topic. Um, so thanks very much for your time. Thank you so much for having me, Jerry.
[00:30:17] And I wish there were more people curious and interrogating me so we could have this conversation more and more. That's how, that's how we start to fill the gap. , Absolut. Thank you.
[00:30:29] And there you go folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode, and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate cd.com where you can learn more about what we are up to and also explore our course while you're there. Thanks again for listening.
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