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Dreams of justice through discursive design

Raphael Arar

05 Feb, 6:20 pm

06 Feb, 2:20 am

06 Feb, 10:20 am

15 min

How might we use design as a catalyst to create a more desirable, equitable world? Attend this session to learn how to incorporate discursive design—a vehicle for conversation, imagination and critique—into your organization to help your team dream, align and execute on more just visions of the future.


How might we envision a more just educational system? This lofty design prompt has been the focal point of Khan Academy’s mission of “providing a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere” since inception. Some might even say that the mission is, in and of itself, a speculative design project with utopian dreams.

Discursive design, including critical design, speculative design and design fiction, has become a vital step in constructing Khan Academy’s product design process. Imagining educational futures for the classroom and the system writ large provides the creative space to dream and worry, to plan and help avoid unnecessary and unwelcome surprises. It has become an integral part of our process. In this talk I plan to share 3 case studies that have guided not only our long-term strategies but also our more immediate approaches to product design: a dystopian design fiction artifact that illustrates a highly polarized educational system, a speculative design project showing a failed state of Khan Academy that equates learning to an ATM transaction and a discursive prototype that deflects social media traffic to actual course material. In the process, I’ll highlight how discursive design projects are key components to an organization’s success, especially those with future-oriented, ambitious missions. Infusing this work in our day-to-day has helped our organization cultivate internal alignment and understanding, spark creative ideas for shorter-term tactical work and also encourage us to pause and consider the larger systemic problems we could begin to solve through design. In sharing these case studies, this talk will ultimately leave designers, product and brand leaders with a discursive design playbook that can be easily customized and followed in their own organizations.

Meet the speaker

Raphael Arar


Senior Design Manager at Khan Academy

I design experiences to help people make sense of complex systems. I’m currently leading design efforts for the learner experience of Khan Academy, where we’re dreaming up the future of classroom learning in effort to level the playing field in education. Previously I tackled ethical platforms of AI at IBM Research, taught at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and designed over 100 iOS apps with Apple.

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