Lilly Irani is currently an associate professor in the Communication department and an affiliate faculty member at The UCSD Design Lab. She’s the winner of the 2020 International Communication Association Outstanding Book Award and the 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize for her book Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India. Inspired by the work of Lucy Suchman, Lilly’s research in the field of design extends beyond simply “asking what’s right and wrong and for whom,” but encompasses giving workers and communities “an actual voice in shaping the technology” and getting “political agency over the technologies that we use,” as she put it.
Her involvement with the community is nothing short of impressive. For ten years, Lilly co-designed and maintained a website for online gig workers on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform to let workers share reviews of employers and jobs to take or avoid. Over the last two years, she has grown the software platform into a worker advocacy organization run by Mechanical Turk workers themselves, so they can also organize to improve their work conditions in ways that matter to them.
More recently, she has worked with the United Taxi Workers San Diego to champion a program to digitize access to taxis for first and last mile transportation in San Diego. This project works towards maintaining good wages and rights for essential transport workers while working towards climate justice by using taxis to make public transit more useful to San Diegans. Design Lab members Udayan Tandon, Vera Khovanskaya, Enrique Arcilla, and Sam Muñoz work on this project.