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Editor’s Note: Designing for Social Change

This special issue’s theme of “Designing for Social Change” was adopted to match the themes of the UPA Conference taking place June 20-24, 2011 and World Usability Day on November 10, 2011. It might also be said that the theme matches our evening news programs and the changes they report when angry crowds demand the resignation of Middle Eastern autocrats, Wisconsin lawmakers go into hiding, a cell phone billionaire bribes African despots to retire, and the “tea party” reshapes the U.S. House of Representatives—among other headlines.

Social upheaval, however, is not the theme; constructive change is what this issue is about. The response to the call for articles was overwhelming, and there is not room in our pages for all of the high-quality work submitted. You will, however, have the opportunity to read more on this fascinating subject for several issues to come.

Our UX authors approached the challenge from many different perspectives. Four stories come from innovative designers who are bringing mobile phone technology to developing countries:

  • Astrid Larssen on the infrastructure in Ghana
  • Mindy Maxwell on the unique requirements, such as dealing with illiteracy, in India
  • Satoru Tokuhisa and Takuji Tokiwa on using new methodologies in East Timor
  • Giovanni Innella doing participatory design on Mars, a.k.a. Burkina Faso.

The political dimension is explored in broad strokes by Juan Pablo Hourcade and Natasha Bullock-Rest in their promotion of peace and ending war at In a more specific application of political concern, Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell report on their efforts to get ballot design right in New York City.

Changing society is often about changing individual behavior, as documented in the articles by David Coyle, Derek Foster and company, and the Paula Forbes team. They show how technology and social media provide new means for behavioral feedback to individuals—from encouraging weight loss to overcoming serious mental illness. And Eric Baumer asks us, as media professionals, not to “design for social change,” but to recognize the inevitable social impact of every design.

This issue also includes the last iteration of Tema Frank’s “What’s News” feature. UX has relied on Tema for many years and can only wish her well as she pursues new activities. Thank you, Tema, for so many words, demonstrating both an inquiring curiosity and its innovative outcomes in all our various disciplines.

UX Needs You

Needless to say, we are happy to welcome new columnists to the editorial board. It’s not easy to write for this readership, composed as it is of psychologists, visual designers, and every discipline in between. There is, however, a shared interest in the design, testing, and user experience of new products from todays and tomorrow’s innovative technologies. If you or someone you know has the curiosity and writing skills necessary to take on the “What’s News” column, or one like it, please contact one of the editors listed in the masthead on page one.

We are also on the lookout for editing talent. You can nominate yourself for a place on the editorial board, but be forewarned: it is a working board, not a passive accolade. Each new editor will work with authors to turn their proposals and rough drafts into the kind of conversational and readable material that characterizes a magazine, rather than an academic journal.

If either of these opportunities sounds like something you would like to explore, please get in touch with me at

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