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Learning to See and Respond to Racialized Design with Lisa Elzey Mercer — DT101 E105

Lisa Elzey Mercer is a designer, educator, and researcher. Her interests are in developing and executing design interventions focused on the topics of human trafficking, incarceration, race, and racism. She’s an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Design for Responsible Innovation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. We talk about learning to see, and responding to, racialized design.

Portrait of Lisa Elzey Mercer

Listen to Learn About

  • Ethics in design
  • Impact over intent
  • Racism Untaught
  • The elements of racism
  • Racialized design

Our Guest

Lisa Elzey Mercer (she/her/hers) is a designer, educator, and researcher. Her interests are in developing and executing design interventions that fuel and sustain responsible design for social impact. The developed frameworks and tools are intended to create a space for conversation and knowledge exchange where participants can collaborate in creating new ideas and solutions. This type of methodology is evidenced in her current projects focused on the topics of human trafficking, incarceration, race, and racism. She is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Design for Responsible Innovation in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Show Highlights

[01:25] How Lisa’s aptitude for designing presentations led her from biomedical engineering into design.
[03:38] Some surprises Lisa has encountered during her design journey.
[04:03] Finding ways to navigate the often male-dominated design spaces.
[04:40] Enjoying the freedom to explore new methods and pathways in graduate school.
[05:48] Lisa answers the question, “What is it you do?”
[06:03] Two exercises Lisa uses to get students thinking about ethics in design.
[08:54] Helping corporations integrate ethics and collaboration with their customers into their thinking.
[10:54] The evolution of the Racism Untaught framework and tools.
[13:24] The activity every Racism Untaught workshop starts with.
[14:49] Starting with context instead of empathy.
[15:15] Lisa talks through an example of how the workshop uses prompts and examples to help participants learn about the elements of racism.
[16:17] How the elements of racism become a shared language that allows workshop participants to have a real conversation about racism.
[19:32] What is racialized design?
[20:09] One example of racialized design in urban architecture from the 1920s–1960s.
[20:53] Tearing down a highway system that divided a Black community in Detroit.
[22:58] Once you understand racialized design and how it works, you will see it everywhere.
[23:25] Racialized design is very much still happening now.
[25:47] Lisa explains Racism Untaught framework’s “levels of oppression.”
[29:31] Another example of racialized design from public restrooms.
[30:08] One important reason the DT 101 podcast exists.
[31:29] One of the reasons Lisa and Terresa started Racism Untaught.
[32:49] How the University of Illinois is teaching students about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
[34:59] Turning criticism into a generative force.
[38:25] Lisa talks about the book she and Terresa Moses just finished writing.
[43:29] Next steps for leaders who want to bring Racism Untaught to their organizations.
[47:01] Lisa thanks other designers who are also doing work around racialized design.


Lisa on LinkedIn
Lisa on Instagram
Lisa on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign website
Lisa’s website
Racism Untaught: An Interview with Terresa Moses and Lisa Mercer
Racism Untaught
Lesley-Ann Noel
Terresa Moses
Creative Reaction Lab
Design Justice Network

Book Recommendations

Racism Untaught, by Lisa E. Mercer and Terresa Moses

Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Design Joy + Design Education + Design Justice with Jennifer Rittner — DT101 E84
Critical and Emancipatory Design Thinking with Lesley-Ann Noel — DT101 E57
Design for Good + Gut Checks + Seeing Power with George Aye — DT101 E50

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