Lauren Celenza writer & designer: ”People won’t care for products or services that do not care for them”

Lauren Celenza is a designer and writer located in Seattle, who is dedicated to shaping new technology with consideration for our environments, communities, economies, and ourselves. Her work and essays have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, and In These Times. As a designer, she has taken the lead on global projects for Google Maps, The World Resources Institute, The Gates Foundation, and P&G, focusing on user experience, branding, and inclusive, equitable design.

Additionally, she holds the role of an interview journalist at Unfinished Festival, a celebration of art, design, and democracy. She also serves as an adjunct professor at The Harbour.Space University, where she engages in teaching, mentoring, and supporting scholarships for emerging designers worldwide. Moreover, she is the author of “Tech Without Losing Your Soul”, a newsletter that explores the ethical dilemmas of technology through critical essays and in-depth interviews, resonating with thousands of readers.

During this year, Lauren will be a moderator at the UNFINISHED Festival, celebrating art, design, and democracy. The festival will take place from September 22nd to 24th in Bucharest, and only 3141 people selected from those who apply through the registration form will participate:

In this interview, Lauren shared her professional journey, talked about technology, product design, and how it should look in 2023. She discussed her students and last but not least, talked about UNFINISHED and her feelings about this upcoming experience.


Lauren, can you tell us more about your professional journey and how you came to be both a designer and a writer?


As a kid, I viewed the world around me with questions like, “Why is it like this?” “Does it have to be this way?” or “What if this thing worked or looked different?”

Now, as an adult, I try to tap into this childlike wonder as much as I can, and I think this curiosity has informed my approaches to both designing and writing. With design, I began my career by designing the cute illustrations that were printed on baby diapers, (where my designs were literally pooped on!) and now I’m designing software, maps, government tools, and industry practices, so it’s been quite a ride.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I began writing (mostly opinion and personal essay) as a way to process all the change, isolation, and uncertainty. Storytelling can be an effective tool for making sense of things. It cracks open our imagination to try new things and explore alternative solutions.


Over the years, your work has appeared in Fast Company, Forbes, and CNN. What were the most important writing and journalism lessons you learned at these companies?


Having an opinion and sharing it online is easy. It’s much harder to share an opinion that is well-informed and considers multiple viewpoints, with empathy for the reader. When writing or offering commentary, especially for news outlets, it’s important to communicate with clarity and concision: in 30 seconds or 500 words, what exactly do you want to say, how is it different from what’s already being said, what’s the counter argument, and why should people care about this right now.

It takes time and practice to uncover these questions, and I’m still learning. But it starts with being conscious about your reading habits and media consumption, which is a key part of fostering a more democratic society. The more I develop my skills as a critical reader, the better I get at writing.


You have led global product launches at Google, P&G, Wikipedia, World Resources Institute and The Gates Foundation. How did you feel about working for some of the largest companies in the world? What do you think are your professional qualities that mattered most during the process? What about the personal ones?


No matter the context or industry I may be working within, I seek to understand the gaps between my own lived experience and the lived experience of the people I’m serving or collaborating with. I’ve seen my teams and collaborators reach the most success when we seek out ways to collaborate closely with the people, users, customers, or clients we’re trying to serve. Our capacity for empathy can fail when we’re moving too fast, or forgetting to approach a conversation with care. This matters for a myriad of reasons, and in business, it matters because people won’t care for products or services that do not care for them.


What are the product design elements that make the difference from your point of view? What aspects should a product absolutely incorporate in its design for 2023?


In a society that is overworked, overstimulated, and over-influenced, respect and care for our attention can make all the difference in product design. Trust is also key. Designers should be prioritising how to alleviate fear in their products, especially when someone is using a new tool or feature for the first time. Where can your product offer reassurance, clarity, and safety right at the moment when a person feels uncertain? 

Care for attention and safety is also important for business growth and sustainability. Because if a person doesn’t feel safe or cared for when using your product, there’s a myriad of other products or solutions they could use instead, and they will. We’re becoming less tolerant of products that abuse our attention, security, and privacy, as evident in behavioral trends and in new policy proposals, like GDPR.


With your extensive background in design and technology, how do you envision the future of industry practices? Are there any trends that you find particularly exciting or promising?


My hope is that, in the future, there will be more regulation that addresses the need to protect our attention, privacy, and reduce algorithmic and AI bias. History has shown that technology tends to outpace protective measures, but what’s different now is the sheer scale of large language models and the sharp rise in people, across many contexts, using generative AI.

Technology can only be as ethical as the economic models, labor practices, and government policies that build it. I’m most excited to see these societal pillars change over time.


You petitioned for the Silenced No More Act in the US, prohibiting employers from silencing workers on issues of discrimination, retaliation, and wage violations. What motivated you to take this action? Have there been situations you’ve faced over time? How do you believe this law will impact the world of work?


I petitioned for the Silenced No More Act alongside many workers and colleagues who were getting fed up about the many stories of discrimination and retaliation at work, both within the tech industry and beyond, with no way to speak up to change it. What kind of society are we living in if there’s no transparency about these things? We don’t have to live this way. To change any sort of policy or law, it starts with transparency. In this case, breaking silence, and the rules surrounding it, was critical.

I hope it will make the world of work a healthier, safer place, especially for marginalised identities, which will hopefully lead to a more equitable world and economy.


You are an adjunct professor at The Harbour.Space University. What key insights do you impart to your design students? How do you address the human element in your teachings?


I focus on teaching about the process, craft, and professional context of design amid all the uncertainty, chaos, and instability around us. It would be a disservice to the students to *not* teach with this context in mind, because that is the real world we’re all trying to navigate.

But I also love making the classroom fun. I try to bring in a variety of teaching methods, from drawing to acting to games to debates and interactive activities. We talk about our fears and our hopes. That’s where the real human stuff emerges

I’m lucky to have worked with so many brilliant students. In my last class, 20 countries were represented in the same hybrid classroom. I probably learn more from them than they learn from me. That’s what learning is all about, a reciprocal relationship, where we can all learn from one another no matter our level of experience.

The key insight that I hope to impart to my students is that each one of them, in their own unique ways, holds the capacity to shape the world they desire, and to employ their courage to make it happen.


As a moderator for this year’s UNFINISHED festival, how do you feel about being part of an event that celebrates the intersections of art, design, technology, and democracy?


I’m thrilled to see these topics coming together in this way. In the past, art, design, technology, and democracy were seen as separate entities, but really, they’re all connected.

I look forward to interviewing the incredible speakers lined up this year, and meeting all the interesting people who will attend and participate in the festival. My hope is to find ways to connect these themes together in meaningful ways to enhance our conversations together, feel joy, and expand our awareness of what’s possible.


Collaborative and interdisciplinary discussions are a core part of the festival. How do you believe these collaborative exchanges can contribute to the advancement of art, design and technology?


Collaborations, like the discussions at UNFINISHED, hold the power to enhance our awareness of the world around us, open up more transparency into the problems we’re facing, and inspire new ideas for how we might work together, especially as we navigate through the existing systems that no longer serve us, and work towards alternate paths that do.Collaborations, like the discussions at UNFINISHED, hold the power to enhance our awareness of the world around us, open up more transparency into the problems we’re facing, and inspire new ideas for how we might work together, especially as we navigate through the existing systems that no longer serve us, and work towards alternate paths that do. That’s what I love most about UNFINISHED: it celebrates the work-in-progress of it all. Less conferences, more festivals!


In conclusion, what would you like to convey to The Woman readers? Based on your entire experience, what would be the final thought with which you would like to end this interview?


I’ll leave with a question: What would it look like to feel more free in your life?



UNFINISHED surpasses the thresholds of traditional event structures and creates bridges of connection between people, across generations, and among practices, both geographically and cognitively. Beyond these bridges, the festival anticipates what is not yet defined as such. Thus, it celebrates curiosity as the most crucial shared value in the pursuit of change, transcending fields and borders.

This year, the UNFINISHED festival takes place from September 22nd to 24th.


Editor: Mara Rusu