Phase 0: Introduction

How to Use the Human Rights Centered Design Curriculum

A guide to Human Rights Centered Design

The Human Rights Centered Design Curriculum is a practical introduction to applying human rights centered design to your workflows. It will take you through the process of centering human rights in your work at each stage of the design → development process. This includes sharing emergent best practices for: building trust with communities, performing co-research, ideating, co-designing, iterating, and developing and launching a project, tool, or service.

To help situate you in this space, we will begin by distinguishing and defining two key terms. ‘Human Rights Centered Design’ refers to how usability designers center security and privacy in their workflows. This means that when researching and designing usable tools and services, these designers prioritize the security and privacy needs of the (often at-risk) communities they work with and adapt their work to suit those needs. ‘Human Rights Centered Design’ (HRCD) takes inspiration from the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which outlines the basic inalienable rights afforded to all people, including the right to freedom of speech and expression, security, and liberty for all. HRCD insists on the same sovereignty and protection for the user of a product. In essence, this means respecting a user’s privacy and data, thinking about the digital rights of people across the world (instead of just in our own backyards), and designing for all.”

This guide consists of five phases. Each covers a different segment of the Human Rights Centered Design implementation process, drawing on interviews, case studies, works of scholarship, and discussions of theory within the human rights community.

These phases include:

We recommend following the chapters sequentially as they build on each other, however, chapters can be read out of order if specific topics are more relevant to your needs.

An important note: the materials contained in these chapters are designed for a specific audience: human rights activists. We assume that individuals reading this guide have been working in their specialized problem areas for some time, have established connections and cultivated relationships with their users and communities, and have considered the security implications of their work. Accordingly, this guide does not cover the preliminary steps that should be taken by readers who are new to the arena of human rights activism, such as working for large for-profit tech companies.

These preliminary steps include:

  • Creating a trusted relationship with the community you’re working with, for example being seen as an ally, collaborator, and sensitive to the needs, customs, languages, and regional norms of the communities you’re working with.
  • Working for or with a trusted NGO partner or collaborative group within the human rights community with legacy human rights knowledge to help execute your projects.
  • Being clear that the primary goal for your work is to aid and protect the communities you work with, eg: not doing this work for profit (only).

Here are some specific works that we would recommend for novices:

Still, this guide is intended to be broadly accessible, and it should prove valuable for novices in the area of human rights activism. We avoid the use of complex language, offer definitions of key terms, and assume minimal prior knowledge. Most importantly, at the end of each chapter, we include supplementary materials intended to provide context, guidance, and paths to explore for a general readership. You can also find a broad range of works in our resources section that can introduce you to human rights activism.

Whether you come to this material as an expert or as a novice, remember to ask yourself in the course of conducting your research: "How do I know this?" and "Did someone ask for this?". The former encourages us to question our assumptions and sources of knowledge, and the latter reminds us to ground our tools in the communities that need them – to build with those communities and not merely for them.

We hope our guide will help you better center human rights in your work and we’d love any feedback!