My Introduction to Design Sprints

Earlier in February, I attended Getting Started with Design Sprints hosted by Design Sprints London. Being new to design and UX, I was excited to get down to business and learn a new way of tackling a problem. Alongside their presentation, we actually had the opportunity to break out into groups and work through aspects of a design sprint.

First, we were presented with the problem. In this case, it was a man trying to figure out what present to buy for a friend. We watched an interview with a user who explained his journey, thoughts, and feelings around gift-giving. We then broke into groups and completed an empathy map. I’d never done one of these before but it was pretty intuitive. It’s a tool that essentially helps the researcher organise the participant’s thoughts and feelings and to better understand their pains and gains. In social work, I completed similar mapping exercises with my team.

See that little patch of red hair behind the person with the black curls? That’s me!
Our very full empathy map.

After completing the empathy map, we began plotting our insights on a customer journey map. By combining these two visualisation techniques, we were able to better understand how our user was feeling and what they were thinking throughout their journey of purchasing a gift for their friend.

Having a great time learning about design sprints.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time and weren’t able to continue onto ideation. It was exciting to get a glimpse of the design sprint process and try out new techniques. I look forward to using empathy maps to better understand users. It’s a great tool to help organise their thoughts and feelings into tangible insights.

Activist Listening

As a social worker, a big part of my role is to listen to children and families. I listen to their stories that range from their triumphs, struggles, and trauma. To build trust with my clients, I need to show them that I’m listening and that I care. This is crucial because many of the families I work with come from a context laden with a variety of adverse experiences such as poverty and violence. Many of the people I work with have also been oppressed due to their identity, socio-economic status, the colour of their skin, and more. They were most likely oppressed by someone that looks like me as well (a white person). As a social worker and activist, I’ve honed my skills of active listening to ensure that I show my clients, friends, and allies that I care and am there to support their cause. Here are a few tips you can use to be an activist listener!

Don’t interrupt

This is huge. Interrupting is disrespectful and might make the person feel as though their point of view or story isn’t as important as what you have to say. Therefore, the person may begin to withdraw. Interrupting can also make the person lose their train of thought. Telling their story may require a lot of emotional energy. It might also be the first time they’re telling their story so they might need some extra time to think about how they’re going to relay it to you. As the listener, be patient and wait until they’ve completed their thought before interjecting with a statement or a question.

Body language 

If the person you’re listening to tells you to sit, look, or hold your body in a certain way, as long as it doesn’t endanger yourself, follow their instructions. It may seem rude to not make eye contact or to be turned away from them, but again, it’s about what makes the storyteller more comfortable. If they haven’t given you any sort of instruction, you typically want to make sure you’re on the same level as them or a level below them. If they’re standing, stand or sit, for example. Make sure your body is relaxed. Keep your arms to your sides or relaxed in your lap. Crossing your arms might signal disapproval or make them feel tense. Some eye contact is important. Don’t stare. You want to make sure the person knows you’re completely focused on them, however, staring can make them feel as though they’re under scrutiny. Finally, be mindful of your facial expressions. You don’t want to continue smiling if they’re crying or upset. Your tone of voice is important as well. Sound interested. Lower the volume of your voice if their voice is low.

Please DON’T say “I know how you feel”

You are not them. Even if you’ve been through what you think is the same situation, you are not them. You have not lived their life. If you have gone through something similar, there are ways of communicating that without saying “I know how you feel”. You could say, “Something similar happened to me and it was awful. If so sorry you went through that.” If they ask if something similar has happened to you before, it can help them heal for you to share your story. You should only share if you feel comfortable though. 

Notice Your Privilege with Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS

No, my cat didn’t just roll around on my keyboard (although he does do that sometimes). It’s a real acronym and it’s packed with information! 

Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS is a shorthand way to recognize the diversity and difference that exists in our lives. Each letter stands for a different aspect of our identity. Some of these identities can be visible or invisible. To be competent, socially aware, and sensitive activists, it’s imperative that we take into account the impact that our identity can have on others, and vice versa.


My cat in arms, Karl Marx, PhD, helping me smash capitalism and patriarchy one paw at a time.

This nifty tool was created by John Burnham and Alison Roper-Hall around the 1990s. It was originally designed to help family practitioners develop reflexivity — in other words, looking inside yourself to try to understand how outside influences make you think, feel, and act. By learning to recognize these feelings and their impact on how we interact with the world, we can better understand the lived experience of others.

I’ll give a personal example. I’m a social worker who works in child protection. As such, I work with families from many different backgrounds. As a cis-gender white woman from a middle-upper class background, I need to understand the impact my presence will have on families who are minorities and living below the poverty line. 

This is compounded by the fact that I’m in a position of power. When I meet with families, I acknowledge our differences and explain that I’m not an expert on their lived experience. I humbly ask to be invited into their lives and integrate their identity into my interventions. 

When talking about knife crime with young black people, I will specifically ask what it’s like walking down the street as a young black person knowing that knife crime disproportionately affects people of colour. I then recognize my own discomfort when discussing race. I can feel the frog in my throat right now clawing at me. Trying to tell me it’s taboo to talk about race and reminding me of guilt I feel for being born with privilege. But that’s for me to deal with on my time by reviewing my Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS.

After looking below at the list of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS, I want you to try this exercise:

  1. Pull up the list of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS with a partner. For your first time, find someone you’re comfortable talking to.
  2. Set a timer for one minute and go through the list as quickly as you can. Discuss your own Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS and what similarities and differences there are between you two. Don’t worry, it’s by design that you won’t get through all of them!
  3. Afterwards, circle the ones you discussed. How were you able to identify certain GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS? Were some more difficult to talk about than others? Ignoring the time constraint, why didn’t some of your Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS come up?

To be a good activist, it’s vital to integrate reflexivity into our practice. It’s what keeps us humble, competent, inclusive, and effective.


List of Social GGGRRAAACCCEEESSS

I’d love your feedback on this exercise! Feel free to shoot me an email to let me know what you think.

Dealing with Micro-Aggressions

Let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say a black woman is giving a talk on something she is an expert in. She has spent hundreds of hours perfecting her knowledge in this area, thus making her qualified to talk about this particular subject. After the talk, a white woman approaches her and says, “Wow, you sounded really eloquent.” The speaker thanks her for the compliment but walks away with the feeling of her stomach sinking. She’s not really sure why. She is later given an award for her talk and she begins to tear up a bit. A man remarks, “Women are so emotional.” She quickly goes to the bathroom to dry her tears. A woman sees her in the bathroom and says, “I loved your talk. Your people must be so proud.”

I imagine you might have felt the same way I did while writing this: blood boiling, stomach-dropping, and body cringing. These are examples of microaggressions. It is when someone says or does something that is based in discriminatory, prejudicial, and/or derogatory ideology.

A microaggression can be intentional or unintentional.

Microaggressions aren’t limited to people.

Our environment contains microaggressions as well. For example, many products are designed without people of colour in mind. This can lead to dehumanizing and underserving consumers to false convictions.

What can you do to stop microaggressions from happening?

Make sure when you hear one, if it’s safe and you have the spoons to do it, call out the microaggression such as:

“Hey, I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean to, but what you said could hurt someone’s feelings.”

“I understand you’re coming from a good place, but when you say that, it feels like you’re putting me down.”

“Wow, what kind of reaction were you expecting when you said/did that? That’s incredibly offensive.”

Learn more about microaggressions: Check out these resources:

What exactly is a microaggression? by Jenée Desmond-Harris

5 Microaggressions Secular People Often Hear – And Why They’re Wrong by Miri Mogilevsky

Microaggressions in Everyday Life by Psychology Today Contributors