A Designer on Working With Scientists

My background is unusual in that it began with me teaching myself web design – learning HTML and CSS by myself as a teenager. I then continued to develop my coding skills and learned how to use a number of different content management systems before I decided to teach myself graphic design and digital art programs, too, learning Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

While I was doing all of these things, I was also studying Criminology in college, working as a research assistant, doing data collection and analysis while conducting research on racial profiling by police during traffic stops.

I worked alongside researchers who were receiving funding from the Department of Justice for their work and as part of that work, they were required to communicate the results of our research publicly. This is where my job came in – I was part of the team that designed and built a website with a database of racial profiling legislation and any criminal or civil litigation about racial profiling.

At that point, while I’d built dozens of websites for myself and friends – fan sites about bands and celebrities, plus blogs upon blogs upon blogs, I had not done much beyond that in a formal capacity as a web designer. This was one of the first websites I’d been asked to seriously help develop and my perspective in designing it was that of a researcher trying to communicate about our work.

In a practical sense, being a researcher designing a website meant that there were very clear priorities when building the site.

Our research on racial profiling by law enforcement was something that we took very seriously, especially as something that has very deadly implications for many Black and brown men, in particular, in the United States.

It was important for us to communicate the work we were doing in a way that demonstrated our understanding of the seriousness of what we were doing, but also critically, in a way that would be as useful as possible when it came to fully understanding the pervasiveness of racial profiling and racism in law enforcement.

What were some of these priorities?
  • Use a clear and consistent tone in all site messaging, being careful to define any abbreviations or acronyms and explain any technical research or scientific terminology or field-specific jargon.
  • Set expectations for the purpose of the site, being clear about what limitations exist and consider if disclaimer language is needed for the site around anything beyond its intended use.
  • You can also help set expectations for visitors by detailing what the site does and what it is for, expanding upon the site workflow and process for collecting, analyzing and sharing data and results.
  • When reporting results, always provide appropriate context for any data so that visitors to your site have a clear understanding of:
    • How the data was collected
    • What analysis of the data was done and what, if anything, is still unknown
    • What conclusions should be drawn from the data and any implications the data may have on a broader scale.

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