User Experience, Entrepreneurship, and Redesigning Democracy: An Interview with Dirk Knemeyer

September 22, 2014

Dirk Knemeyer, shown in Figure 1, is a UX thought leader, an entrepreneur, a game designer, and a former UXmatters columnist. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Dirk about his experiences as a UX professional and entrepreneur, as well as his reflections on the state of democracy in the United States and how we can use design thinking to imagine a more participatory form of democratic government.

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Figure 1—Dirk Knemeyer
Dirk Knemeyer

Perspectives on User Experience and Entrepreneurship

Dirk shared some thoughts on working in agencies, as well as his various pursuits as an entrepreneur, including starting up Involution Studios, Facio, and Conquistador Games.

Pabini: You’ve worked within the context of agencies throughout your career in user experience. What is the key to success for an agency?

Dirk: This question seems so simple, but I could take it in a lot of different directions. I think the most important thing is a healthy, creative culture that allows you to attract and retain the best talent. Everything else flows from that. This is especially true in the current marketplace. Because there is a talent shortage and the cost for hiring even junior people is potentially daunting, retaining talent is essential.

Pabini: What are some of the elements of an ideal UX design agency?

Dirk: From my perspective, there are a few things that matter most:

  1. Sharp talent coalescing into a vibrant, creative culture—This is the engine that lets us produce amazing work for our clients and the glue that keeps top talent coming into Invo.
  2. A crisp understanding of who you are and what you want to do—In the agency business, it is all too easy to take a “we can do that!” approach. That is, a client asks for something and, to get the contract, responding “we can do that!”—despite the agency’s not actually doing that. It might even be necessary for young, small agencies to do this, but a great agency simply won’t. The better you can define who you are and what you do and stick to that when you engage with the market and your clients, the more successful you’ll be.
  3. An influx of new creative and technical skills and ideas—At Involution, we have at least two interns in at a time, from the best design and engineering schools in the world. Some of them don’t yet have the skills—or even the interest—to do things that would translate into their being able to do client work for us, but they bring amazing, new creative skills and tools that expand the minds of our team members. In exchange, they learn so much about innovation and creation from us.
  4. Employees come first—The old rubric that “the customer is always right” is basically insane. Customers and clients are wrong as often as we are and may act in unfair or destructive ways. We won’t sacrifice our employees to our clients’ demands. We give our clients great service, but not at the expense of our team.
  5. A focus on creative excellence and innovation, as opposed to production—This one is more specific to Invo. Our teams and projects are smaller than at some agencies. We are rarely mere order takers. Generally, our clients bring us in because they need visionaries and leaders for the strategy and design work that they need to get done. So, consistent with operating at that level, we need to make sure that we’re at the bleeding edge of design, technical, and cultural knowledge. We give our clients insights that allow them to redefine their corporate strategy or product category. Investing in that knowledge is expensive, but absolutely core to bringing the best insights to our clients.

Pabini: How did your earlier experience working within agencies influence the creation of your software design company, Involution Studios?

Dirk: It taught me lots of things that we should do, as well as lots of things not to do. I started my career working for an advertising agency, then moved to a digital agency. Before starting Invo, I’d also been doing some side work under a brand, but it was really just freelance stuff.

My boss at the advertising agency, Ken Lauerer, was a mentor to me and taught me a lot about the business side of an agency. I also worked with a creative director named Mike Roberts. I liked and learned good things from him. However, for the most part, the agencies that I started with taught me more about what not to do than what to do. They were started back in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, and had the sort of top-down, command-and-control culture that was common then. I, sort of naturally, had adapted to that approach, and it took time to unlearn. They also had various business-model issues that I learned from.

Now, of course, there were some things that I thought they were doing wrong, so decided to do things differently at Invo. But, as time goes on, I do question some of those early decisions. For example, it was important to me to move away from an hourly billing approach to one where clients were basically purchasing resources. So, instead of a client’s paying $xxx per hour for someone’s time, they pay $x,xxx for a half or all of a resource’s focus. Hourly billing focuses the relationship on the wrong things: on the hour and the billings related to it. The flat fee eliminates that problem. However, it also results in the client’s expecting as much as they can get, without having the downside of needing to pay for extra hours. So that is one example—and it is not the only one—where there were things that I didn’t like, so tried something different that I thought was better, but to this day am not actually sure that it was better!

Pabini: More and more UX professionals are becoming entrepreneurs. Recently, in addition to running Involution Studios, you’ve been pursuing additional avenues of entrepreneurship, creating Facio and Conquistador Games. Describe your startup experience with Facio.

Dirk: Involution was crippled by the recession. It killed our Silicon Valley studio and, by March 2010, Boston was on life support as well. I was basically broke from trying to keep it going and feeling very discouraged. At the same time, I had become increasingly bored in running Involution Studios. While I didn’t realize it was happening at the time, unless I’m learning, I’m dying. Back as early as 2008 or so, I had stopped learning in my Invo work. There was a moment when I realized that I had been miserable in what I was doing and that, at the same time, it had financially ruined me. So, while I saved the company by making financial sacrifices, I realized that I didn’t want to be in the day-to-day of it anymore.

What I did instead was to take sort of a walkabout and research what meant the most to me: human understanding. Once upon a time, I had been in school to become a philosopher and wanted to solve the big problems of the world. My master’s thesis, for example, was a study of happiness and well-being in American culture. Well, I took this moment of transition at Involution to get back into that. At the time, I had no intention of starting another company. But as I was doing the research, the opportunity for software to come in and disrupt the status quo became so clear to me. So, I started Facio.

The experience was a good one. I initially got a grant, then followed that up with a funding round. I put together a team of five people and tried to make the company work. We had a good year or 18 months, but I wasn’t able to establish product-market fit and, consequently, wasn’t able to get the next round of funding. So, while the company and the software are both technically still running as we see our patent applications to completion, I ramped down the company about a year ago.

I learned a lot from this experience: most specifically that I don’t want to be a CEO anymore. When I started Involution with Andrei Herasimchuk in 2004, we were both creative people. But to make the company really go, one of us needed to be the business guy. Well, Andrei was the first designer at Adobe, designed all of their core apps, and conceived of the Creative Suite. I was just a guy from Ohio. So it seemed pretty clear how our roles should shake out. However, I had unwittingly put myself on the path to being the business guy for almost a decade. I’m not a business guy; I’m a creative. I’m a big thinker. It took the Facio experience—when I was doing a massive amount of work in sales, fundraising, and other businessy things—for me to realize how unhappy those things make me. So now, at 40, I am armed with the knowledge of what I should and should not be doing with the rest of my life. That’s invaluable.

Pabini: Tell me a little about Facio’s personal development software.

Dirk: The idea behind Facio is that we don’t know ourselves well—and we know even less about each other. With Facio, I wanted to make it simple for people to explore themselves, share what they learn with other people, and compare themselves with others who give them permission as well.

The vision for Facio was huge: for everyone to have an account and for Facio eventually to become a decision engine for all of us. Facio knows us so well that it can give us recommendations: Will this be a good school for me to attend? Is this person someone I should date? Is this a good job for me? People would, of course, make their own decisions, but Facio’s intimate understanding of the individual enables it to provide very insightful direction that we can use in making decisions.

We decided to start by targeting the enterprise market, with the idea that people would come into Facio through accounts with their employer; then, as Facio evolved, migrate to broad personal use. This gave us a path to revenues from our sales and marketing investments, whereas a consumer strategy would have required substantially more funding and a much more tepid path to revenues. Well, that didn’t end up working, and there are two reasons for that:

  1.  I’m not a salesperson. I’m a great closer. Put me in a room with people who are interested in buying, and I will win more than my fair share of deals. However, as an introvert, I am not competent to be on the phones and networking all the time. It just isn’t me.
  2. The idea was way too far ahead of its time. I would frequently find a progressive Human Resources person in a company who loved it and wanted to implement Facio. But the gap between that one person, who was probably a little bit of an outlier in the company already, to selling and implementing it was just massive. We were grossly underfunded for the task. And it’s not clear that, even with appropriate funding, the time was right for Facio. My ideas tend to be about a decade ahead of present reality, and I fear that may have been the case here, too.

Pabini: Branching out into creating board games is quite a departure from what you’ve done before. What prompted you to move into this new venture?

Dirk: As a creative outlet. I had my first idea for a game design during that period in early 2010 when everything was burning down. So, along with researching human understanding, I saw a great outlet for my creativity via game design. I actually think it is sort of my perfect creative medium—that my strengths and creative talents are able to manifest optimally within a context where table-top games are the final product.

Initially, I was just going to design games and publish them through another company. But that required a lot of selling, which I, of course, hated. Plus, if I had done that, the company would have made the decisions on things like the game’s artwork. That was unacceptable to me, so, given my experience running businesses, I just decided to start a business around my gaming hobby. It’s worked out very well for me. The company is not yet profitable—it is a miserable industry, with very low margins—but we’ve earned revenues of over $500,000. For something that I’m doing part time, on the side, I’m really happy with that. Of course, the money is not why I’m doing it, but it gives me an idea of the scale of market—how many people are willing to spend money on the things I am creating.

Pabini: You’ve long been a leader in the UX community through initiatives such as UXnet. Do you think UXnet fulfilled its purpose?

Dirk: No. I think UXnet served as a bridge organization during what was sort of an incubation period for User Experience. The organization existed before UX had become big, but UX was quietly growing and had a vibrant platform of thought leadership, and a definition of the discipline was emerging. UXnet did a nice job of bringing professional communities together into a broader UX community and serving them in relatively small ways, but never had the sort of impact that I might have hoped. I really can’t say what impact UXnet did or did not have, because it would have been very bottom up. UX is doing very well now, but what contribution UXnet made to that I cannot say.

Pabini: Are there initiatives that you think the UX community should now be pursuing to advance the profession?

Dirk: The biggest gap for User Experience at the moment is a broad understanding and integration of UX into companies. For example, UX should be a partner to product management and development, not subservient to either. It is still far too common for UX to be one person or in a spot where an organization sees it more as a service provider to product management or development. This is a serious problem, for two reasons:

  1. Companies that misunderstand the dynamics of a healthy creative process will be less successful than they might otherwise be.
  2. This is bad for UX professionals because we are undervalued both financially and in terms of the respect and influence that we have. This is not a universal problem by any means, but outside the bubble of Silicon Valley, things are generally pretty brutal for UX professionals. The UX community needs to take the initiative to try and do something about this.

Redesigning Democracy

Recently, Dirk published “Redesign Democracy: A Better Solution for the Digital Era,” on the Involution Studios Web site. This thought piece, which considers how we might reconceptualize the democratic process in the United States, provided the focus for the remainder of our discussion.

Pabini: Over the last few years you’ve been focusing on big problems like Facio and a secret project that you’re working on that will release next year. Why did you choose democracy as the target of your most recent research and thinking?

Dirk: Outrage at the current system. I’m a big believer in not just complaining about things, but instead, suggesting better solutions. I was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. So, I didn’t. I proposed a solution that I think is better.

Pabini: Share with our readers a little bit about how your experiences in the UX community led to your proposal for redesigning democracy?

Dirk: My interests always gravitated to the more strategic aspects of User Experience. While my company was largely focusing on UX, I was primarily active in the design-thinking community rather than the UX community. There is a lot of overlap between the two, but those focusing on design thinking are generally interested in solving bigger problems than those that are typically within the purview of UX interests and authority. By hanging out with design thinkers, I was able to stay focused on those kinds of big problems and solutions that have interested me going back to my days of planning to be a philosopher.

Pabini: Your article describes alternative systems of government and their pros and cons, putting them in their historical context. Have you always been a student of history? What attracts you to this area of study?

Dirk: I am a huge student of history! I love history, going back to my childhood. So my article’s having a historical component was natural since it was coming out of me, but I think it also helped me to tell a more complete story.

Pabini: Early in your article, you wrote about a number of forms of government that have been long discredited, such as feudalism and monarchy. Why was it important to do this?

Dirk: Not to at least consider whether other older forms of government should be reconsidered in a modern context would have demonstrated ignorance. And, even if it seems somewhat obvious that they shouldn’t—at least not at this moment in history—the additional context and framing that this history provides makes the entire study richer.

Pabini: Please describe, in a nutshell, the changes that you’re proposing to make democratic government in the United States more effective.

Dirk: There are two major parts: The first part is using smartphone technology and taking advantage of the fact that the majority of Americans already own a smartphone. By leveraging that technology shift and making a substantial capital investment, we can take voting away from the legislature—both the House and the Senate—and enable citizens to vote directly on bills that the legislature proposes. The idea of citizens voting on bills in an informed way may sound impossible, but I think the system that I’ve proposed addresses this very well.

The second part is firing everyone in our current legislative system and replacing them with luminaries. Almost 70% of the members of the current U.S. Congress are either attorneys, businesspeople, career politicians, or government employees. At the same time, less than 1% were engineers. Less than 1% were scientists. That is insane. I mean, insane! So I say that we should scuttle the ship and figure out how to get the best and brightest minds and leaders to serve as the people who imagine and create the legislation that the rest of us then vote on.

Pabini: Would you please say a bit more about how citizens’ role in legislating would work?

Dirk: It would be highly active. Most important, we would now be the people voting on bills. This would require almost a daily investment of our time to participate in our government. In this way, it would resemble the life of the ancient Athenian citizen—in the birthplace of democracy—being very directly involved in and engaged with the process of running the government. There would be other smaller, less frequent contributions that we would need to make as well. In all cases, participation would require our having access to a smartphone or its equivalent—we could either use our own phones or devices that the government provides to us—to review information and submit a vote.

The concept includes the birth of a new profession of analysts to whose opinions we could subscribe—just like any old RSS feed. Say, for example, that I am a gun owner and, more than anything, what I care about is not having my gun rights limited. I could subscribe to an analyst who just weighed in—yes or no—on whether a bill would impact gun rights in any way. So while, as a citizen, I’d receive the entire bill and could read it in its entirety, I don’t necessarily have to do that. I could just glance at my analyst’s recommendations and make a quick decision on that basis.

So, while fully informed participation would, indeed, demand a significant time investment, I think the typical person’s time investment would be just seconds or minutes a week, not hours. Right now, Americans lead the world in the most minutes of television watched per citizen. Surely there is some time that we could carve out to put the process of running our country back into the hands of the people—and get rid of our broken legislature.

Pabini: You’ve proposed replacing the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives with luminaries—people who are leaders in their fields like Clara Barton and Stephen Hawking. This is an interesting suggestion, but wouldn’t this likely devolve into partisanship, similar to the way Presidents typically nominate judges to the Supreme Court who are politically aligned to them?

Dirk: Underlying the luminary idea is the notion that big data will help us to find truth and goodness in governance. For example, as a luminary, imagine that you’d get points for contributing to legislation that passes; you’d lose points for contributing to legislation that fails. Later on, you’d receive or lose points based on the future impacts of any legislation to which you’d contributed. And these points would, in essence, determine whether someone kept their position as a luminary.

I think the potential failure of the system that I’ve proposed would be less about partisanship as we think of it today and more about our evolving into what would essentially be an emergent single-party system. It’s one of those things in design where we would need a real prototype to see whether that might be a problematic direction to take and, if so, how we could address it.

Pabini: The main premise of your article seems to be more self-governance. You were at one time a resident of California. I still am. California has a referendum process that allows people to propose initiatives by petitioning voters, then submit propositions to a direct vote by the electorate. Members of the electorate can use a referendum to propose statutes or constitutional amendments or to veto a law that the legislature has passed. When an initiative gets a sufficient number of signatures, it becomes a ballot proposition, and the state’s entire electorate has the opportunity to vote on it and either pass it into law or defeat it. What do you think of our referendum process?

Dirk: That system is philosophically aligned with what I am trying to propose. It is somewhat archaic, but I don’t mean that as a criticism; more that, instead of its providing a sweeping answer, it is sort of a bottom-up tactic that gives some small nugget of power back to the people. But it also excludes a lot of people. Given my personality type—and for those who understand the Myers-Briggs method, I am an INFJ—I would never walk around with a petition or post a petition online and clang my social-media bells, trying to get people to sign it. Proposing an initiative takes a valiant effort, but its scope and potential impact are ultimately very narrow.

Pabini: For a long time, I’ve thought that a key cause of gridlock, as well as a corrupter of our legislative process, is that the scope of bills is too great. Bills typically comprise many unrelated issues. As a consequence, many things get passed into law as a result of political deals—legislators voting for bills they don’t wholly approve because they also address issues that were added to the bill simply to garner their support. When bills are too long, legislators don’t read them in their entirety, if at all, so vote in ignorance of their content. The same would be true of citizens voting on bills. To make a system like the one you’ve described work, wouldn’t it be necessary to limit the scope of bills to make it possible for voters to read them? Do you think a redesign of our national democracy should also address this problem?

Dirk: I guess I sort of took for granted that replacing our current body of politically electable people with the luminaries of our society would eliminate the sort of pork that is so common in our bills. But, it may not. And, if not, we would surely need to address the problem. I guess my preference would be to see what would organically come out of these luminaries. If we didn’t steer them too much, how might they reframe the crafting of legislation in interesting and innovative ways? I think that understanding can come only from the process of actually doing this, not from me dreaming things up in my studio.

Pabini: In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money funding political broadcasts to influence the outcomes of the election of political candidates, considering this an expression of freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. How would the concept of corporations as persons impact the system you’re proposing?

Dirk: Corporations may be persons, but they are not citizens. This is a system for citizens. If, through some bizarre legality, corporations were to become citizens, we would also need to address this issue. I think that basically everyone who does not benefit from or have a financial interest in corporations’ being treated as people already disagrees that they should have that designation—let alone their being citizens.

Pabini: American politics and vested interests in our government being what they are, how would it be possible to make such radical changes to our national government a reality? What obstacles do you see in trying make this happen?

Dirk: The unfortunate thing is that so many people have a vested financial interest in the current model. Therefore, making this new system happen would require revolutionary or near-revolutionary actions—or perhaps simply the passage of time and future events. I’ve written my article hoping for the latter. If these ideas get into people’s heads, as time marches on and the broken things that we’ve created in the past become increasingly unpalatable to people in the future—people who are not invested in them—things could change.

Then, this idea, other ideas that evolve from this kernel, or someone else’s good ideas that are wholly disconnected from my own may be able to come to life. Ultimately, for me, this is less about it being my idea and more about my idea’s encouraging an environment in which people question our decrepit government and have conversations about how to make it better. Right now, people don’t like the government and just bitch, bitch, bitch. Well, no! Don’t just complain. Propose something different. Insist on an evolution to something different. If we don’t, no one else will.

Pabini: Voter turnout is usually pretty low, even though elections occur infrequently—typically only once or twice a year. Your proposal would require citizen involvement on a more regular basis. How could we get our citizenry to become more engaged in participating in government?

Dirk: The cynical part of me doesn’t care whether people get engaged. I mean, look, the smarter people will. The people who care more will get engaged. Those who don’t care are welcome, too. We all get one vote, we are all equal, we all matter. But the reality is that many people will not really engage. They already don’t.

I think maximizing engagement is all about the rich use of data to tell stories. We need not just to vote, but to receive reports on our votes’ impacts that let us see the relationship between legislation and outcomes. That would really highlight what was going on in ways that would be easy to understand and digest. If people felt that their interests weren’t being represented, they would start participating. Or, if they didn’t care enough, they wouldn’t. But the choice would be theirs.

Pabini: If we were actually able to redesign democracy, what would threaten the effort’s success? What might cause it to fail?

Dirk: I take it for granted that whatever actually gets implemented would be different from what I’m proposing. Others can improve on my concepts. More importantly, massive, successful initiatives typically come from shared vision and ownership. I’ve sort of tossed this over the wall, so it will be hard for others to have that real sense of ownership. I’d like to talk about this a little more in the abstract, while riffing off aspects of what I’m proposing.

The biggest risk is entrenched special interests’ preventing or sabotaging the changes. For companies and individuals with huge amounts of money, there is little incentive to adopt a direct voting system. Their model of paradigmatic control would be greatly threatened by this. So the biggest risk is this change being quashed by all of the fat cats in power.

Assuming that we could overcome that risk, other likely points of failure would generally relate to the novelty of the ideas. For instance, while a legislature of luminaries makes sense in so many ways, perhaps they wouldn’t be able to get along. Maybe they wouldn’t create legislation. So, hypothetically there might need to be an evolution, with a core of luminaries, but with other actors and systems that would facilitate the transformation of a community of the best minds, ideas, and leaders into smart and actionable legislation.

While the best way forward would be to prototype this concept at the local level and work out the kinks before initiating a giant, country-wide redesign of government, if we did go for the big splash and something happened to mar its success, we would need the foresight not to lose faith in the redesign process and be prepared to evolve. Remember that, in the United States, the Bill of Rights came so quickly on the heels of the Constitution because those wise founding fathers that we always hear so much about blundered in some pretty significant ways. When we try to create change, we will blunder, too, and we need to see that as part of the process to getting to the right thing, not as an excuse to go back to the old ways. There is a lot about design prototyping that is relevant here.

Pabini: Part of your solution relates explicitly to user experience: a smartphone application that would enable individual citizens to vote on legislation directly. This seems like a pretty big task for people to perform on a little smartphone screen. Between the heft of the legislation that people would have to review, the low fidelity of some devices’ screens, and the slow performance of mobile networks, it would be challenging for people to become familiar with the legislation using only a smartphone. What do you envision when thinking about the smartphone software that would make all of this possible?

Dirk: First, there is an information-design challenge: the crafters of future legislation need to create it in chunks to accommodate consumption on this kind of device. That could mean a lot of things, including much shorter and simpler legislation. Or, its having layers like an onion, so while actually reading legislation in its entirety might be tough sledding on a smartphone, there would be shorter rollups that bullet pointed its essential components. A key aspect of the legislation that would enable this model would be a form factor that was designed for the media. I didn’t want to tackle that in my article because I believe the luminaries themselves would need to be part of that visioning process. You have no idea how interested I am to see what kind of a solution Jane Goodall would come up with. Or Oprah. Or Richard Saul Wurman. I mean, seriously, who should be representing our interests, people like Matthew Weiner or people like these? Why isn’t this a thing already?

Also, most essential to the idea is the role of the analysts. I cannot overstate the importance of their role. Their job is to be the translator of the bills. They would do more than just recommend how we should vote; they would write short analyses, state their opinions, and evaluate the bills themselves. While it would be imperative for all citizens to have access to entire bills, it should be unnecessary for them to actually read them in their entirety. The analysts really matter here. The beauty of this would be that we could pick who we listen to, change the luminaries who influence us, do whatever we want.

Pabini: What role would UX professionals play in making this cultural shift a reality?

Dirk: We make ideas a reality. We’re makers and problem solvers. We would play an essential role in this process—just as we do for any product or service that we design.

Pabini: You mentioned earlier that democracy is just one of the problems that you are working on solving at a societal or even a global level. What problem are you going to tackle next?

Dirk: I have two projects that I’m currently engaged in—neither of which I’m announcing yet. One is a human-rights project that is part of a broader non-profit effort. This is a UX project—which is to say that we’re making something. It is not just a thought piece. The second, I’m not ready to talk about yet at all. But it’s easily the most audacious thing I’ve ever done.

Pabini: Are there particular parts of your proposal for redesigning democracy that need further thought? Perhaps we can get some of the great minds in our UX community to share their ideas for solving these problems.

Dirk: Oh, God, yes. I mean, the whole thing needs further thought. It’s like when scientists come up with a thesis: they write it down, then they test it. Their first thesis is almost always wrong. But they learn something by testing it and move on to a second thesis. This is just a first thesis. Nothing more. But we’ve got to start somewhere, right? I’m just naturally interested in solving bigger problems than smaller ones, so I wanted to start here.

If we were really serious about improving government, we would start doing it—maybe using these ideas—and prototype it at a local level. What works? What doesn’t? Iterate and test again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Of course, UX people do this for a living, taking a product or service, testing it, iterating its design, and going through the whole cycle again. We’re the ideal kind of people to do this sort of work. Many of us are experts in research. And, in fact, there are terrific UX people doing interesting things right now in governance.

However, what UX people don’t do enough of—and here is where I want to pound my fist on the table—is thinking big. One academically minded UX friend of mine took sort of a snooty, poo-poo attitude about what I’m doing around the redesign of democracy. He’s doing good work in governance, and he’s intimately associated with its many problems and pitfalls, so he’s attacking it on these little trivialities related to his arcane knowledge and pessimism from being in the trenches.

But, you know, what we need now is not an incremental solution. The world today is crazy different from 1789, when our government was conceived and implemented—largely as it is today. Big parts of our government are obsolete. The U.S. Constitution embodies lots of wisdom and provides a strong foundation for our government, but there’s a lot of obsolescence, too. Okay! So it’s redesign time! Let’s think big. Let’s think bold. Let’s not fall back on old thinking and its limitations. What can we do if we remove the artificial constraints and just focus on the opportunities? A majority of us already have smartphones. Our legislature has about a 10% approval rate. Our nation is in greater debt than any other nation, ever. That time is now. Now! Right now! And, if we’re going to do something about all of this, let’s shoot for the stars. We might just reach the moon.

Pabini: Thanks, Dirk, for taking the time to share your experiences and your fascinating ideas about the future of democratic government with our readers. I’d love to hear others’ ideas about how we could leverage technology to implement direct democracy. Please contribute your thoughts in comments. 

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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