Redesigning America: An exercise in broken systems

This isn’t really about our failure--<strong>we are destined to fail in this system</strong>—this is poor, outdated system de
This isn’t really about our failure--we are destined to fail in this system—this is poor, outdated system design.

Like many of us, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about America over the last couple weeks--our people, our governance, and the way we go about making change. What I see is more of a labyrinth than a networked system. And it’s the system, not the people, after all, that ultimately constrains or enables the outcomes of our daily lives.

I’m a user experience designer at Google. We make some of the most widely used products in the world. And the beauty of design is it’s not partisan. It can’t be. People don’t HAVE to use Gmail. The billion+ people who do, use it because it makes their world a little bit better.

To make a product used by 3 times the population of the United States means you must really understand people’s shared basic needs.

At our core as user experience designers, we are problem solvers. We apply design thinking to understand and observe people’s needs, to look at diverse viewpoints, and then to use that knowledge to build a prototype where we can begin to test our hypotheses.

This system anticipates imperfection, and feeds off iteration. We test, refine, launch, observe, and do it all over again.

We call this design thinking, and it’s a critical missing element in our country today. There is no system for testing, iterating, or updating practices based on hard user studies of actual Americans. And that needs to change.

The first step is to thoroughly study the current situation. The data...we, the people.

Here is one piece: The United States population is growing by about 3 million people a year with over 80% of Americans living in cities or suburbs. Globally, there are more people alive today than have ever died in the history of man on Earth.

Let that sink in.

Now think about what that means for every aspect of our system & infrastructure: Healthcare, cities/population density, safety, food, transportation, jobs, environment, technology & AI, the stoplight nearest your house...

The system & infrastructure we have in place cannot accommodate load. And that needs to change. Put too many animals in a cage, limit their resources, and rest assured: there will be drama. We need to reexamine not just the cage, but the system that used the cage in the first place.

Everything we rely on as a whole to learn, do commerce, power and heat our homes, eat, elect our representatives,’s all outdated. America’s fundamental operating system can’t take into account the growing billions and the catastrophic changes happening in our environment.

Until we upgrade our system, people will find lots of reasons to point the finger and place blame (historically on minorities, newcomers, people easy to see as “other”).

But they’re not to blame and neither side is “the other side”. This isn’t really about our failure--we are destined to fail in this system—this is poor, outdated system design. We can & must fix it.

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