Cassini Nazir didn’t know he would be a designer or a professor. He wanted to be an artist. In fact, he received acceptance into art school in Rhode Island School of Design but never attended.

During high school, Nazir often drew portraits of people. Recently, not so much, but that tells you a bit about his inner soul. He loves art and he cares about people. That might say a bit about how his path guided him to eventually land as Director of Design and Research for the ArtSciLab, a research lab that works on urgent issues of society and cultures through art, science and tech.

He taught interaction design at University of Texas at Dallas awhile. Most recently, Nazir is at University of North Texas teaching design thinking.

The backdoor

But let’s get back to the early-early days. With digital tools, teenaged Nazir started approaching portraits differently, tweaking pictures of his friend John. Nazir said, “It’s kind of embarrassing, but when I was a freshman, one of my friends was a real character. I remember downloading Macromedia Flash. I learned the timeline tools, and as I was learning the tool I’d take his face and make his mouth move over time.”

He learned how to make movies with ActionScript. One day John said, “Cassini, these things are so embarrassing. By the way, could you put them online so I could show my family?” And thereby, Nazir started learning HTML, FTP, and other web tools.

“I kind of backed into design through experimentation.” He said, “Back then if someone asked me what’s the difference between art and design, I wouldn’t have been able to give them a very good answer. I thought they were one and the same.”

Higher education began at the University of Texas at Austin. He said, “I’m very glad that I ended up learning about different fields of study. I started in classics at UT Austin, which is about things that almost never change. And I am in a field that almost never stays the same.”

Nazir saw university colleagues weren’t finding work with their classic educations, so he changed his path. Always design-curious, he headed that direction. It just seemed natural.

A shift to focusing on trust

In the last few years, he focused some of his curiosity on trust. How do we measure it in people who design?

His curiosity centered on the fact that designers require a lot of trust, more now than ever. Designers made things to last, even get better with time. This changed. Nazir said, “We as designers are creating things almost like sugar, particularly digital things. I’ve seen my little niece try to take this digital object out of my hand. She wanted time with the bright shiny object more than with me.” And, he said, “It’s almost no different for adults.”

He started asking, “What makes us trust?” He learned describing trust revealed it was hard to grasp and hold onto. It moves and changes. Even between two people, factors impacting trust can be beyond the control of either person in a trusting relationship.

mountain scene with the sky showing partly cloudy with sun shining from behind clouds

by RUSTU BOZKUS from Pixabay

He began to see clouds as a great metaphor for trust. Clouds change constantly. Clouds change form and move around, can threaten or bless; so, he decided to use this as a metaphor.

Then Nazir worked on creating a model of trust attributes as a measurable index. Comparing individuals, teams and companies, he wanted to see how trust changes. “Before this became a talk or presentation, I would just talk with people I was around, and they weren’t concerned about these things,” he said. Nazir wants designers to think about being trustworthy.

But it’s bigger than that

He has a larger cause, a bigger purpose than trying to get designers to think about trust and learn how to measure it.

Nazir said, “My larger cause is this, how can we leave the world a little better, not any worse than it already is?”

Technology changed our experience of the current pandemic from what it would have been if it happened in the 1990s. He said we would all be home watching CNN. We use social media, upload videos, meet in group video connections, and get food delivered.

Twitter, Facebook, and video chat created massive changes in our countries and cultures. Even the nature of war and protest changed because of social media.

We are moving past the “break things and move fast” days of the big tech companies. He said, “We are in the land of things having been broken, and what do we do now?”

He sees the millennial generation coming up affected by these massive changes; and, he believes their awareness heightens by the unfolding of social change that is happening all around them.

He sees their awareness as a good thing because maybe it will build sensitivity and empathy into the process and impact of their designs.

Write your code, your code of ethics

“I really hope future designers are mindful of looking around the corners and not assuming the best.” He said, “Designers need a pragmatism about how the world works so that they can discern the incredible impact their designs can create for good or worse.”

Architects, journalists, real estate agents, doctors, and many other professions follow codes of ethics. Nazir encourages designers to at least start considering an ethical framework because the design profession needs a code of ethics just like any other profession that impacts the lives and well-being of others. He said, “We as designers, specifically as interaction designers, have no code of ethics, which is dangerous.”


View slides from “The Shape of Trust.”

Watch recording of Nazir’s presentation with UXSA.

Cassini Nazir’s suggestions:

Book: “Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart” by Rachel Botsman

Book: “Developing a Code of Ethics for UX Design” by Dorothy Shamonsky

Book: “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer

Institution: The Biomimicry Institute
You can reach Nazir at LinkedIn or his website.

Paula Schuler

Paula Schuler

Paula Schuler volunteers for UX San Antonio with a passion for reducing friction in work and life by improving efficiencies for individuals and teams, increasing understanding, and designing for good. Her background includes research, web design, web development, content development, service design, systems analysis, and journalism. She enjoys scratch cooking, gardening, travel, cultural events, and the outdoors.