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Building Equity into the

Design Process

First, let's consider the general framework
for the design process.

A flow chart shows the design process. Step 1: Identify need or problem. Step 2: Reserach need or problem. Step 3: Develop possible solutions. Step 4: Select best possible solution. Step 5: Construct a prototype. Step 6: Test and evaluate solution. Step 7: Communicate the solution. Step 8: Redesign. Step 9: Finalize design. The flow chart shows that this is not a simple linear process, but rather iterative, so depending on how each of the steps go one might find the need to go back to prior steps a number of times before a finalized design is reached.

Model by National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (NCETE) researchers that emphasizes the nonlinear nature of engineering design. 

The design process facilitates creative problem solving (Koberg & Bagnall, 1981). It is a series of steps or activities that engineers can use to meet a particular objective and is most effective when approached by diverse teams (Rock & Grant, 2016). Design and problem-solving undergo multiple iterations and redesigns to reach a final solution. Evaluation of the "final" solution will lead to better resolutions, redesigns, and improvements in the future.

The Design of Anything = Making a lot of Decisions


The designers decide what the thing will do, how it will do it, what features to include and, what not to include, which, inherently gives designers a lot of power. While these decisions may be objectively founded with the help of systems and frameworks, what decisions we take are ultimately subjective choice.



(1) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts


(2) freedom from bias



(1) based on or influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, points of view, emotions, or judgment,

(2) belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought 



 Power is unequally distributed globally and in U.S. society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates. Although power is often conceptualized as power overother individuals or groups, other variations are power with (used in the context of building collective strength) and power within (which references an individual’s internal strength). Learning to “see” and understand relations of power is vital to organizing for progressive social change. (Definition from Race Equity Tools)​

Who is a designer?

A designer is a person who plans the form or structure of something before it is made, by preparing plans and/or drawings.

In practice, anyone who creates tangible or intangible objects, products, processes, laws, games, graphics, services, or experiences can be referred to as a designer (Wikipedia). Examples of designers include: engineers, architects, artists, web designers, graphic designers, interior designers, industrial product designers, UI/UX designers, fashion designers, consultants, etc.

In the past, traditional designers have been considered the gatekeepers of the the design process.  As the world is becoming more connected and collaborative, "non-traditional" designers are taking on important roles as specialist in the design process (Overstreet, 2021). Anyone who is developing or initiating a new way in which individuals, groups and societies interface with the world around them may be considered designers. With this perspective, our generic list of designers above extends to many other professions and people not traditionally trained in design.  Examples of non-traditional design jobs include: scientists, psychologists, workers, administrators, community members, politicians, etc.



Anyone who is developing or initiating a new way in which individuals, groups and societies interface with the world around them



Deals with processes through which the access to information sources is being controlled, or through which information content is being filtered before it is disseminated or shared with a group of people (Barzilai-Nahon, 2009). 


Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender—the groups that most often come to mind when the term "diversity" is used—but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. (Definition from Race Equity Tools)​



Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power. (Definition from Race Equity Tools)​



The fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society. (Definition by Kapila et al., 2016) 

What makes a good design team?

A team is defined as “a distinguishable set of two or more people who interact, dynamically, interdependently, and adaptively toward a common and valued goal/objective/mission, who have each been assigned specific roles or functions to perform, and who have a limited life-span of membership” (Salas, Dickenson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). Utilizing interdisciplinary and diverse teams to foster creative and innovative solutions are necessary to meet the growing complexity and cognitive demand of problems and tasks. When building design teams, there is mounting evidence that diversity and inclusion leads to tangible and measurable positive outcomes (Mathews, 2020Phillips, 2017). 

A photograph of Mary W. Jackson with a clipboard in her hand while working at NASA.

SPOTLIGHT: Mary W. Jackson

(April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005)

Mary Jackson overcame the barriers of racism, segregation, and gender bias to become a professional aerospace engineer. In 1958, she became NASA's first Black female engineer. Along with serving a vital role in the development of the space program, she went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women and minorities in NASA's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.  In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Now, let's relate the design process to an infrastructure design project.

The image shows a large constructions site with numerous multistory buildings underconstuction.

Often when we think about the construction process, we think simply about the act of building something; however; there are many steps involved that truly build the foundation for the project, contextualizing the infrastructure/technology to society and the environment.  

We will walk you through each stage of the construction design process (from project conception to post construction evaluation) with the help of a case study for a transportation improvement project to highlight areas in which the decision-making and design process can be made more inclusive and equitable.

Let’s introduce you to the story of Hoo City.

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