Hubber and interaction designer SARAH LUM recently led a cross-country, five-week design sprint to understand cultures around undocumented immigrants, refugees, and Muslims. Here’s what she said about that experience and how we as a community can show up for each other.
Tell me about your work.
I am an interaction designer, previously an educator who traveled the world for 3+ years and 23 countries asking, “What is a meaningful life?”
Interaction designers are culture adaptors, integrators, and makers. We zoom in and zoom out, learning ecosystems of places, products, services. The core of design reflects our listening and feeling for pain points throughout an experience alongside our users. We ask, “Why is this happening? How can we collectively make systemic changes while knowing that we can’t solve it all at once?”
Then we translate listening into system changes, products, digital and non-digital. My barometer of progress is, “Am I asking better questions?” Currently, I’m a fellow with Spiritual Ecology based in Marin that works to align spiritual values with practical action. We ask, “What is waste? Does waste exist? How do we design thoughtfully in cultures of disposability and efficiency at all costs? How can our lives reflect our values?”
What can Hubbers learn from interaction design?
In many ways, interaction design is an expression of Service and how we externalize it in our lives. Real design exists because of our empathy, compassion and values. In any project, collaboration is key. If we don’t believe we are part of the same team, we create band-aid solutions for someone else to fix, and people to continue to suffer. I hope we’re asking, “Am I being thoughtful? How am I listening? How do I know I’m truly listening? How can we create authentic opportunities of collaboration and feedback from our users?”
What do you love about HUB?
It’s a place to meet and build community with justice aligned folks who work in technology or multiple fields. On a Sexy Salad Friday, you’ll meet high schoolers in a coding school and a data scientist trying to transform how we use data for social justice. I’m deeply moved by how Oakland Hub represents and supports folks across different access points. Here, quality folk pick away at unanswerable challenges. It’s started by POC and you feel the presence of welcoming. Such communities are to be cherished and supported.
What’s a project you worked on recently that got you excited?
I recently led a design team that listened our way across America for five weeks to feel the pulse of what life is like for undocumented, refugee, Muslim peoples. Our foundation client is deeply invested in the immigration space and wanted to ensure that resources were truly supporting these communities at this time of great fear and humbling acts of service.
We learned that to be a Good Samaritan now is to show up locally. Show up and be a sincere ally for your neighbors, for the people and communities you already can access. If you can, get involved with local politics. We heard stories across America behind closed doors of how organized local groups of concerned citizens changed legislation, how tiny acts can feel like a moment of breath for targeted communities.
Finally, use your skills to support and uplift communities and local non-profits. Can you be a speaker, even for a day? Can you build a website for an amazing org that doesn’t have the resources to do so? Can you be a handy person on call? Can you donate x dollars to local non-profits? However you can show up, do so.
What is your responsibility for dealing with injustice?
As a native of Richmond, I’m called to give back to that community. I am grateful to be an American and understand my privilege and intersection points that allow me to do work I love. I use my education — my skill sets — to create access, curiosity in challenges, and active real change. I mentor women of color, emerging designers, and give pro-bono design workshops and work. I look forward to the time when I am ready to pass the baton over to the next group of designers.
As my best friend Maria says, there is work for everyone! We all have personal and collective responsibility — our work — and that’s the journey. I understand the single parent working minimum wage has a very different set of access points than my experience and so how do I use my skills and privilege to create and connect resources for that person? That’s someone’s parent, someone’s neighbor, someone’s beloved. When we believe that everyone is beloved, we are ready to shift injustice.
Whose work do you most admire?
Everyday people that keep showing up.
What have you learned from your Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian heritage?
My Uncle Cliff embodies and taught me the full meaning of the Hawaiian greeting, “Talk Story.” Stories as a living verb, not a noun. To talk story is to tap into our cultural DNA, passed from one generation to another. Part of our work as elders is to share and keep passing forward and practicing our culture with the next generation. My uncle taught me that even (and perhaps especially) in the tough times, when you feel like an outcast or you’re the only one standing up for an unpopular idea, you can always come back to Talk Story as a way to bring folks together, to build cohesion and interdependence.
One of the great gifts of Hub is that as we connect with others here, we talk story as a way of honoring each other. In these ways, we build bridges and co-create what happens here as well as the world around us.