Inclusive Design, Day 1/15: Introduction, Discovery, and Voices

Inclusive design is our passion. We’re inspired by the work of Kat Holmes and her clear articulation of design as needing to be increasingly inclusive — especially in the technology world. Our journey to understand how to best empower inclusive design in products began in 2016 with John Maeda joining Automattic as head of design and inclusion. — Automattic, Design From Anywhere

For day 1 of 15 for the short series on inclusive design, I’d like to introduce John Maeda and Kat Holmes, two strong and clear voices in the conversation about bringing diversity to our product and design practices.

Without these two people speaking the truth about inclusion, I wouldn’t be writing these words.


My journey to discover inclusive design began in August 2016 when John joined Automattic, bringing a much-needed infusion of fresh ideas, able leadership, and organizational energy. Not to mention a burning desire to modernize the craft and process of design for Automattic and WordPress.

As I heard often from John and other coworkers about the value of diversity and inclusion, I mostly watched from the sidelines, even though the concepts made sense to me. It struck me as logical for a strong voice to guide an evolution in our product experience — combining the disciplines of design + technology + business — into a new era of awareness. Building up consciousness, empathy, and candor. Yet somehow I still wasn’t fully grasping how it would change my own practices and thinking.

John’s arrival forced an immediate, honest assessment of how Automattic presented itself as a company, as a culture, in our industry. Within WordPress as a broader community, too, how we would live up to our mission to bring freedom and livelihood to everyone in the world. If we didn’t get serious about inclusion, we’d never reach a broader audience to grow our company and our cause.

Later in 2016 Matt Mullenweg highlighted Kat Holmes in the 2016 “State of the Word” at WordCamp US in Philadelphia. Watch this clip (at the 23 min 30 sec mark) to hear Matt quote Kat’s brilliant essay for design.blog titled “Who Gets To Play.”


Fast forward to August 2017. I attended a session organized by John, where I met Kat Holmes via a video chat as she shared an introduction to her work to a group at Automattic. Kat then presented a longer, in-person version at our in September 2017 Grand Meetup — the annual company offsite.

Kat spoke to us from her heart, how inclusive design turned her thinking about diversity on its head. Why was accessibility and diversity always last on the list? Inclusion for her means viewing all human ability as an overarching theme.

Kat had recently left Microsoft where she was Director of Inclusive Design, and is now taking it to the world with her own consulting and writing.

kat-holmes-microsoft.png
Screenshot from Kat’s work on inclusive design as a “toolkit” from Microsoft.

Her research highlighted how the products, services, and tools we create can change how people contribute to society. Rather than solving one small problem, inclusive products adapt to create many paths to get to the same goal.

During the discussion period of Kat’s presentation, an insight arrived. When I think of the products I create — I don’t think of “normal” people having any trouble, I tend to think only about people with disabilities. When I consider that there are many pathways to success in WordPress, there must also be many obstacles.

The choices we make could exclude people who assume they are “doing it wrong” and don’t want to be ashamed to find out they are “stupid” and not advanced enough to make a post, create a menu, place a widget in a sidebar. Who even knows what a “widget” is in the first place!

what-is-a-widget-anyway.png
What is a “widget” exactly? I think I need one. Do I need one?

Without even trying, my work could exclude people who can’t describe their problem in the right words, people who say, “I’m not a computer person.”

This introduction hit home for me. I finally got it. I understood how my work and thought patterns are influenced by my background and biases. How I’d minimized accessibility — access as part of inclusion — into a corner case affecting a small number of people. Of course there’s much more to being inclusive, yet I now had an insight into where my product work and the values of inclusion line up.

Listening to John and Kat’s voices I’ve started thinking more broadly, more openly. Inclusive design means design for everyone. People like me, people like you. Inclusive design connects us.

For Day 2 of 15 of inclusive design I’ll share about building empathy.


About this series — In 15 days I’ll give a talk on inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018. Leading up to the conference I’m publishing notes on voices, stories, products, and other resources — everything I’m learning about this emerging practice.

You could say WordCamps serve as models of inclusion based on their affordable price tag. Typically around $40 for two full days of talks, workshops with experts, lunch and snacks, cool swag, networking, and a fun after-party. Bargain-tastic, don’t you think?

I hope you’ll follow along, dive in, and learn with me. I welcome your comments and back-links to share your stories and resources, so I can discover what inclusive design means to you.

14 thoughts on “Inclusive Design, Day 1/15: Introduction, Discovery, and Voices

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