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Small Town Designer
I used to have a vision of what a designer looked like. Someone with impeccable style and a brand-name education, who was well-spoken, analytical, and approachable, all rolled into one. I was not that person, I'm still far from that person.

I'm a self-taught designer with a computer science background from a small town in Texas and only an okay sense of style. For a long time, my environment bothered me. It made me feel like I'd never make it in the 'big design world' because I didn't have enough 'real world' experience. That I'd never be taken as seriously as the designers I admired because of where I lived.  

I'm from a town that's grown somewhat into a small city since my family arrived. Being the child of immigrants wasn't easy in a town like this one, and my siblings and I spent most of our childhoods as interpreters for our parents. 

We saw how much our parents struggled to raise us in a place that was nothing like their homeland of Mexico, and it was painful. What hurt more was seeing how little consideration and kindness there was for my parents' struggle. There was only one acceptable way of doing things in small towns, and speaking English was the first step.

Growing up in this environment didn't make me want to go somewhere more accepting. It made me want to create experiences that helped and welcomed people like my parents. I didn't know it while growing up, but there was a name for this — experience design. At the time, all I knew was that I wanted to create things for the people who were overlooked in whatever way I could. When college came around, I opted for a local college near my town so I could be around for my family and save financially. 

My decision to stay near my hometown changed my perspective; it became more of my own community. And over time, I saw how technology evolved and reshaped our town. Technologies that were meant to help the community, but instead, were pushing people further out. These solutions didn't work for folks out here trying to stay afloat with their families, seniors, and people who didn't rely on technology heavily in their day-to-day. The latest design and tech trends didn't matter out here. The solutions technologist designed instead made life even more complicated for communities like mine. 

It hurt seeing my whole community being left behind. Disregarded, the way my family was. I dug deeper into design around this time, immersing myself in every design-related podcast, book, popular tools, and speaking the language, all to become a better designer. As I learned more about design, I felt like the industry had a reputation for focusing on shallow problems, and every groundbreaking design idea I came across rang as familiar, common knowledge.

"Designing less friction for the user," "designing with empathy," and "human-centered design." These were buzzwords and phrases used to describe the way I was already thinking, thanks to my surroundings.

I didn't go to a brand name design school to learn these models. I lived in a small town where my life experience shaped my empathy. I saw technology complicating the lives of people who needed it the most. I started understanding how some design solutions weren't developed for our lifestyles, but someone in a city far away, with quality internet access and the latest smartphone. It's my immediate surroundings that have shown me far technology and design have come for some, but still, hold so many back.

So I'll never be the designer I had originally conjured up in my head, and I'm okay with it. I can be the designer who can help the people closest to me. The design I work on is considerate and for our present. It meets the needs of the people it serves and where they currently are, and it helps them reach the next step at their own pace. It isn't over-complicated with technical words and extravagant visuals. It isn't changing the lives of people; it just improves their lives in small, meaningful ways.

I'm not aiming to be a groundbreaking designer. I'm aiming to design a slightly better world for the people who need it the most.
Silvia Fuentes is a Product Designer working as a Web Technician at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. You can find her on Twitter or her website. Oh, and she’s looking to join a thoughtful product design team, so if you’re hiring please reach out! 
Art used in this issue: “Gondolieri, France” by Hélène de Beauvoir
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