Abolish the Cop Inside Your (Designer’s) Head (Preview)

Unraveling the Links Between Design and Policing


American policing has always faced crises: of legitimacy, of efficacy, of budgeting, of racist discrimination, and of heinous violence. Over the last year, radical calls to defund, disarm, and disband police departments drowned out the historically widely-accepted explanations of these crises. Black women have always led these calls, but in 2020 much of the U.S. public heard them for the first time.

Illustration by Lamees Rahman

By Sarah Fathallah and A.D. Sean Lewis

We see three main connections between design and policing. First, design creates the tools and products of policing. Designers created every stun gun, detention facility, and data dashboard that police use. Second, policing uses the tools of design thinking to legitimize itself, particularly by focusing on user experience and procedural justice. Third, design and policing both rely on and reproduce the same ideologies. This leads us to wonder whether design and policing lead to similar outcomes. From our perspective, both design and policing rely on creating “professionals” who then determine what social metrics to surveil, analyze, and change. Those making decisions are neither accountable for nor impacted by their actions’ outcomes on the targeted communities.

We urge designers, especially designers who seek to build a world without policing and cages, to adopt a praxis of Abolitionist Design. To do so, we have three recommendations. One, designers must refuse to design policing tools and should prohibit their work from ever being used for policing’s ends. Two, designers should resist and push back against the appropriation of design methods and discourse for policing’s ends. Three, designers must develop their knowledge and discernment of policing ideologies, and in turn, of abolitionist ones. Designers should fight to abolish literal cops and the ones in their heads. Freedom demands that, and nothing less…









From Design Museum Magazine Issue 018