Designer and Privileges

Privileges of status, and perspectives, too.

To become a designer is a privileged opportunity. Who afforded us to be able to go to design colleges, or fiddle around in front of computers all day, or let us draw things? Our parents, or our guardians. For that to happen, some prerequisites need to happen: either our family can afford some basic needs (or more), or they provided you with ample amount of time to explore.

True, to become a designer, you don’t necessarily need to go through a rigorous formal education. You can be a self-learner, get some jobs and learn by doing. Privileges indeed come in many ways: free time, or even risk tolerance—how much you’re willing to try hard and not worry about failing because either you have a lot of financial cushion or some other kind of support in your life.

In Indonesia, many don’t live an abundant life, but many also think they have enough. Many of them are just so resilient, even if they can’t achieve “financial” freedom in their lives, they can achieve some other kind of freedom: not being worried about rat race to fame, or just simply being grateful of what they have.

When I studied design in Indonesia, I have to admit I came from a very privileged, middle-income family who can afford sending me money every month to study outside the city I lived in. And boy, I lived comfortably. But I also remember some of my friends also struggled, they came further from the city and might have to make do with a tighter budget. Some of them actually live with their family in the city but although they are not poor, they live a very simple life. Often time, they are the ones who excel in the courses. They produce brilliant results. They live in a smaller, simpler room than the one that I rent, but they make do with it.

This makes me think of my privileges, and how it’s different from theirs. No privilege is the same, but they give you opportunity to think and do in a more planned, methodical and forgiving way. This is in contrast to doing things because you need to survive.

If you think of privileges in other way, it also affects our output and outcomes. The way you led your life influences so much about your perspectives in design process. Think, for example, how two designers from two different countries, culture and socio-economic backgrounds see a problem. I won’t go too far. Here’s a good tweet from one of Indonesia’s design leaders, Yoel Sumitro:

Basically what he’s saying is that he’s hiring a designer/design lead, but those who are coming from universities outside of Java, and grew up outside of Java. If you know Indonesia, 60% of the population live in the island of Java, and majority of technology or design-driven companies are based here. By proactively hiring somebody from outside the island, with as little context as possible about living in the island, Yoel opened up a whole pandora box of opportunities and realisation: how come we’ve been all focused on designers in Java?

This is similar to the Silicon Valley paradox: why are we trying to solve all world’s problems when we hire only locally, or through Silicon Valley lenses?

This is what I prefer to call “privilege of perspectives”. This is the hardest part to change.

What is your privilege?