1. Recognize exclusion.
2. Broaden perspectives and build empathy.
3. Bring diversity into teams and processes.
4. Solve inclusively for one, extend to many.
Kat herself describes these principles of inclusive design superbly in this brief video, from an O’Reilly design conference in March 2017.
For day 10 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll share a story about making an app accessible to visually impaired users — which then benefits all users.
About this Inclusive Design series —In 6 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. This is day 9 of 15. Read more about the series.
We’re committed to inclusive design and accessible services — using new technology to make banking easier for you. — “Barclays Access” statement
Accessible banking used to mean statements in large print. Now it involves fingerprints, face recognition and hi-vis debit cards. #Accessibility isn't just about people with disabilities- it's about all of us. Check out our article with @guardian for more https://t.co/cLcA07OtGD
The full case study is in The Guardian — Barclays Bank learned that embracing inclusive design, starting with accessibility, creates a better solution for all their customers. It’s a commercial opportunity when meeting a real need — not an expensive compliance issue.
Today, I manage all my financial affairs by smartphone,” she says. “It has genuinely transformed my life, cutting out all those frustrating trips to the bank.” — June Maylin (a blind customer of the bank).
June’s story provides an insight into how the technologies designed to make banking easier for everyone can be particularly effective for people with disabilities, and are steadily giving people much more control over their money. Even small, relatively low-tech initiatives can make a big difference.
Small changes make a big impact, and inclusive design can have a major impact on revenue and business success by solving for one and extending to many.
For day 9 of inclusive design, we’ll review the principles discussed so far: 1/ Start with exclusion, 2/ Broaden your perspective to gain empathy, 3/ Bring diversity into teams and processes and 4/ Solve inclusively for one, extend to many.
About this Inclusive Design series —In 1 week 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. This is day 8 of 15. Read more about the series.
“Solve for one, extend to many” is a key principle of inclusive design which I learned from Kat Holmes and her work with Microsoft.
Via fellow WordPresser Leo Postovoit, I learned more about how Roku followed this principle to achieve commercial success. “From a small hardware start-up to a publicly listed company with an estimated 2017 revenue of $500 million and a $5 billion market cap,” according to Variety.
Roku is successful because of how user-friendly everything is. Along with Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, and others — the experience is a big improvement over traditional TVs.
Roku’s original user interface was anything but flashy. Wood instead aimed for simplicity, banning all but the most essential buttons from Roku’s remote control, and calling apps “channels” to help TV viewers in their transition to the new medium. “Companies commonly overdesign something and make it kind of pretty, but not easy,” he says. “Customers, what they really want is easy.”
Here’s what people love about Roku:
— The minimal interface takes full advantage of “10-Foot UI” principle by using simple, intuitive navigation based on a grid. Large and readable from ten feet because you have no mouse/keyboard, viewing from the couch. (The navigations options are limited to left, right, up, down — click to select). Requires no fancy 100-button or huge user manual. Setup is a breeze.
— A trimmed down TV remote with programmable buttons; plus dedicated buttons for popular streaming services like Netflix. No menus to scroll through, go straight to viewing.
— Voice commands to search via the remote, and the search matches available content quickly from your input. Leo says: “My favorite feature is the universal search, where it actually queries every channel for listings, fuzzy searches too. You can find every “Batman” movie, including the Dark Knight!”
— Packaged as low-cost hardware — basic streaming kit sell for $29 — Roku positions itself as an attractive alternative to regular TVs that require a cable or satellite subscription. Streaming requires WiFi, and increasing broadband speeds boost the value of high-quality, always available content.
— One of my favorite features is the earphone jack in the remote control — great for private listening and for those who need a little extra hearing assistance.
Though I couldn’t find evidence for it, the person Roku seems to have in mind in solving the typical TV problems is a cost-conscious, non-technical person over a certain age. Your grandparent might prefer a simple gadget that does one thing well, for example.
Fewer cords to plug in. No need to tinker or walk through endless steps of complicated menus to set up the TV. They certainly don’t love or wish to understand how to operate 100-button remote controls. [That’s why they call you over! “Fix my TV again, please.”]
The beauty of “solve for one, extend to many” is that the same elegant UI and intuitive remote works well for seniors and the elderly — but also works great for everyone else.
Roku has terrific little feature, a headset jack on the remote so you can listen to your favorite shows and movies without bothering anyone. For a hearing aid wearer like me this is a godsend. The Roku also supports closed captioning, another huge benefit for the hearing impaired and anyone who can’t understand current slang.
(Leo notes 30-40 percent of Roku content still isn’t captioned.)
Roku proves to me that simple and inclusive hardware+software is good design and good business.
For day 8 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll share a business success story — how to expand your market by solving for one, extending to many. Because inclusive design is great for business.
About this Inclusive Design series —Coming up next week 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. This is day 7 of 15. Read more about the series.
Exclusion is often about mismatched conditions. The opposite of a market fit — a market miss. Because we start from our own biases we naturally exclude people not like us.
Think about how you feel when using a product or website. Is it friendly and welcoming? Do you feel at home and valued? Or does the experience make you feel “dumb”? Are you left out, unable to fully participate? Maybe you don’t understand a key phrase or confusing jargon, and fail to continue.
Inclusive design starts with exclusion because finding the mismatch at the beginning of the process can lead to making impactful decisions to improve everyone’s experience.
Essential reading: Tragic Design and Technically Wrong
Jonathan Shariat and Cynthia Savard Saucier explain exclusion succinctly in Tragic Design: The Impact of Bad Product Design and How to Fix It.
Without good design, technology quickly turns from a help to a harm. It can kill, but that isn’t the only negative effect. It can cause emotional harm, like when a social app facilitates bullying. It can cause exclusion, like when a seeing-impaired person doesn’t get to participate in socializing on a popular website because simple accessibility best practices have not been attended to. It can cause injustice, like nullifying someone’s vote, or simply cause frustration by neglecting a user’s preferences.
Exclusion is a failure of design. Good design listens to its users; bad design ignores them. Good design goes the extra mile to make sure everyone is happy; bad design takes the shortest path to meet business goals. Good design assumes the designer’s point of view is biased; bad design assumes it represents all users. Lastly, we shouldn’t wait until we or someone close to us needs it to start caring about accessibility.
Another recommended book on this topic is Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech. I also learned from her previous book, Design for Real Life with Eric Meyer.
Recap: “Design and Exclusion” conference
In April 2017 Automattic organized a Design and Exclusion conference — an amazing venue to hear stories from a diverse set of voices. The site includes the full program of engaging guest speakers, interviews, and articles. You can dive back in, anytime.
We tend to think of the digital products and services we build as tools that promote equality and access. Yet we often create inhospitable, uncomfortable, and non-inclusive spaces despite our best intentions, and despite design’s overarching goal to foster inclusion.
If you’d rather dip briefly into parts of the program, I recommend accessing the audio podcast format which includes transcripts and the clip of each section.
Brief exclusion examples
Recent exclusion examples that I came across
Emoji in Twitter Titles. This one was mind-opening for me! I learned that emoji can be exclusionary to those who use screen readers to navigate the web. Note: Work is being done in this open Trac ticket to make emoji accessible in WordPress.
The “Cheatin’ uh” message in WordPress is more inclusive as of last week. Tammie Lister, design lead for the Gutenberg project mentioned this improvement.
Finally the cheatin’ uh message is gone from WordPress! https://t.co/vADgDVNmCO – thanks to @pwcc for leading the charge on this and a lots of other awesome peeps for helping make it happen. Inclusive, emotional supportive design matters.
Cost as exclusion, with expensive conferences. Prices for big events in the tech industry can be enormously exclusive, and if you’re a small company — or independent — it prohibits you from participating. Conferences can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. That kind of cost makes me extremely grateful for events like WordCamp. $40. Forty dollars. For two days of talks, meals, a workshop, and more. That is inclusively designed: more people can come participate, learn, and network.
Other examples of exclusion could include inside jokes, arcane sports or pop-cultural references, stereotypes based on age, gender roles, sexuality, race, or ethnicity. And many other types of biases. Too many to list.
To be aware, notice, and shift
Once I recognize the exclusion, I can shift. I might even recognize and welcome it. Then, as teams and companies, we can work together to rework, realign, and redesign that flow or screen or phrase to make it more clear. More welcoming. More inclusive.
It’s not about creating perfect solutions every time. It’s not about creating lowest common denominators or one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, it’s a new way of finding new design constraints to challenge old paradigms and outdated norms. It’s about being mindful of the gaps we create between people and the world around them. — Kat Holmes
To recognize exclusion is to gain empathy and make a connection.
Inclusive design has a way of pointing to something real. It’s both good design and good business. As I become more aware of exclusion — and fluent in inclusive design — I’ll connect with more people naturally as they see themselves welcomed and included in my work. And Automattic + WordPress can grow into a broader market because our products and services become more accessible.
For day 7 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll talk about Roku’s usability and commercial success, the “10 Foot UI,” and principles of inclusive design for an aging population.
About this Inclusive Design series —In 10 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. This is day 6 of 15. Read more about the series.
Details matter for inclusive design, as noted in this item from the Inclusive Design Checklist found under the “Building including into designs” section: Choose copy and imagery with care.
As a practical example from 2017, I’d like to point to an inclusive illustration project led by Automattic designer Joan Rho with an illustrator named Alice Lee.
Quick scenario: You’re on your phone, going through the onboarding flow for a new app you just downloaded. Helpful illustrations appear, guiding and educating you through the process. Now hold up: are the characters in these illustrations diverse or mainly white? Do they seem to be young tech-oriented millennials, mostly men?
Tech illustrations often feature the same sets of things: young, white people (usually men), surrounded by gadgets, with a cup of coffee, in a beautiful tech world. For consumer-oriented products, this creates an incredibly limiting and exclusive brand image…
When the WordPress.com design team asked me to develop their illustration brand and 60+ product illustrations, these values were a major focus of the project, especially as part of their mission to democratize publishing. — Alice Lee
If there is one takeaway I’ve learned from this project, it’s that it is challenging but always necessary to address your own biases & assumptions in order to produce better, more inclusive work.
This was also an incredible learning experience with respect to the lessons in inclusivity. It’s by no means a finished product or a checkbox to tick off and forget about; it’s a constant work in progress, and I’m happy to have grown along this spectrum. — Alice Lee
(And let me know in the comments if you’ve seen other examples of this type of inclusive design work elsewhere; I’d love to see it and learn more.)
Inclusive design considers everyone. Wouldn’t you want to see yourself in the imagery?
Starting from a high-level ideal is important — diversity and a broader representation — yet the finished product must reflect that vision down to the smallest design details.
For day 6 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll dig more into recognizing exclusion as a starting point for better design and good business.
About this Inclusive Design series —In about 10 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. This is day 5 of 15. Read more about the series.
This is day 4 of 15 in a short series on inclusive design. If you missed the start, see day 1 here.
When do defaults fit?
This is a key question to consider when bringing inclusion to design. Can we assume that using “default” content and “default” appearance will represent our audience?
Inclusive means design or products that consider and acknowledge that their users experience the world differently, based on many factors that are out of our individual control. Design should not assume a default user with default characteristics or background. — John Maeda
What does it mean to design with the understanding that there is no normal case? Throwing out the notion of an 80/20 rule — a mental model we often take for granted as product experience designers. In practice, we see that every human is unique with their own set of abilities, experiences, and expectations. To ignore “normal” is to start with exclusion — asking questions and investigating and learning — and see what to build from there.
To design inclusively is to look at the full range of human ability with a genuine interest and curiosity.
Microsoft’s inclusive design strategy
Kat Holmes underlines the importance of human beings in all interactions. “Inclusive design is about creating a diversity of ways for people to participate.” Because there is no single “normal” type of person.
In this video (March 2017) Kat explains the now-famous example of the United States Air Force designing a new flight deck in the 1940s, for World War II, based on an average of many measurements. Meant to fit everyone — the cockpit ended up an ergonomic disaster because fit no one. Down the road, this led to advancements in adjustability and customized equipment, so pilots could dial in the settings to get a better fit. (This story is detailed in the book The End of Average byTodd Rose.)
Coming at problems with this broad range of diversity informs and guides the design from the start, explains Kat Holmes in a the #13 interview with High Resolution (May 2017). I’m paraphrasing a bit here:
“We seek to understand how people adapt and find out what motivations people have in common.”
“It starts with those most excluded. [At Microsoft] we bring in expertise from people using technology in a different way, then we consider “normal” as being their perspective. We find a diversity of designers from these backgrounds so we can apply their skills to new challenges. For example, someone with limited mobility who’s an expert at working with assistive devices might be an idea designer to consult with for building a code editor UI for small screens [intended for anyone to use].”
“It’s not about creating a bland or trimmed down product experience. We use the constraint from the beginning as a starting point.”
An example of solving for exclusion first is Microsoft’s OneNote dyslexia learning tools that display a variety of ways, giving the student control over the interface. Based on educational research, this UI lets people adjust to make it work best for them. However, even if dyslexia is the starting point — it applies to lots of other contexts including first-time language learning.
Clear, strong voices for inclusion at Automattic
At Automattic, we might not have as wide an array of representative human abilities as Microsoft and other tech giants, yet I’m proud to say we represent many clear and diverse voices.
Cate Huston, head of mobile and a talented engineer, explains how diverse teams make better decisions.
…That is why representation matters, not just to those who are represented, but to all of us. Because it expands our sense of what’s possible, and what we have reason to expect.
Cate’s leadership has taught me to better understand new points of view, such as underrepresented people in technology. Including introducing me to amazing women in computing history like Grace Hopper, Anita Borg, and many others.
Bonus — in hiring we use a tool called Textio to create more inclusive job descriptions for our open positions. It’s helped me reveal my biases and improve the language I use when describing the expectations of the ideal candidate.
All we can do is stay open to learning where we have a bias, be relentless in our effort to reduce our own, and gentle and honoring in pointing out that of others.
Is it possible to create brands that are still full of flavor, personable, alive and bold whilst keeping them inclusive, non-cultural and in a sense ‘neutral’? Yes.
What it takes to produce something inclusive is a diverse group of makers so we should build diverse teams. And/or surround ourselves with diverse discourse and break out of our echo chambers.
We need people alongside us who will be radically honest with us. A variety of people.
Marina uncovered an unconscious bias and is now more aware of situations for exclusion in our messaging, characters in brand stories, or virtually any branding decision we make. Even more crucial in companies like ours than span the globe — as shown in her example of “Spring” marketing copy as viewed in the autumn for anyone living in the southern hemisphere.
Davide Casali, mobile designer/developer and UX leader, found a stellar example of inclusive design in action on a Google signup form — shared via maeda.pm. Adding the “Other” option for gender choice to the form allows anyone to enter their own identification and not choose from a defined preset.
…When designers are able to address the “mismatched human interactions” that can be presented with solutions that are more likely to match then that’s a much better design. — John Maeda
Every situation is different when it involves people, John reminds us. No default will every do the trick perfectly.
For day 5 of 15 of inclusive design, we’ll look at a recent applied design example of inclusive illustrations for WordPress.com — “to see yourself” — with Alice Lee and Joan Rho.
About this Inclusive Design series —In a week and a half 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. This is day 4 of 15. Read more about the series.
Kat Holmes’s work with the Microsoft Design’s inclusive toolkit illustrates the inclusive design principle of mismatched conditions.
First introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011, this concept speaks to the mismatch between humans and their environment. It reveals how we must look beyond the lack of ability as the only cause of the mismatch.
A mismatched interaction between a person and their environment is a function of design. Change the environment, not the body. For people who design and develop technology, every choice we make either raises or lowers these barriers. — Kat Holmes
Design decisions impact people beyond those with a permanent disability. Designs that cover temporary or situational situations solve similar problems for a larger range of people and contexts.
Recognizing yourself in the other person might come more naturally when can imagine yourself in the same mismatched situation.
With this in mind, I realize I’m not that far removed from direct experience because I know I arrive in the same situation sometimes, even if it’s not permanent.
For example, the people in this video (courtesy of John Maeda) could represent anyone “temporarily disabled” when reaching for a doorknob while holding something in their hands.
Here’s how Microsoft Design explains the possible mismatched conditions:
Sometimes exclusion is temporary. Even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about looking into a bright light, wearing a cast, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.
Sometimes exclusion is situational. As people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.
Microsoft calls this range of conditions “the persona spectrum.” Imagine a device designed for use with one arm — and even if conceived for someone with a missing limb, could also serve other temporary conditions.
This brings me to an important insight, something I’d never considered before hearing about mismatched conditions:
Inclusion isn’t just about the edge cases, the permanent lack of ability, or people different from me. Inclusive design is the starting point. The foundation that every organization needs to build an accurate representation of how humans interact with their work.
To learn more about mismatched conditions I recommend reading Kat’s in-depth piece, Who Gets to Play? from October 2016. She explains the evolving design practice of recognizing disability as a set of mismatched conditions in the context of children’s playgrounds.
For day 4 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll consider the idea of “normal” and “average” — how “defaults” often don’t represent anyone.
About this Inclusive Design series —In two weeks 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. This is day 3 of 15. Read more about the series.
To break it down even more, via Empathy by Roman Krznaric, we can experience two common types of empathy: 1) affective, where you feel the same emotions as others and 2) cognitive, where you’re able to put yourself in their shoes.
Start With a Genuine Connection
Empathy of any flavor is crucial to creating good designs and successful products because it means connecting with people — with your customers. And, these connections take effort and attention.
Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia explains the vision for… “a culture of sharing in which design helps foster community and connection instead of isolation and separation.” — via Airbnb.design.
Airbnb found out early on the value of using empathy as the starting point to work directly with their customers to find their pain points. They’ve used empathy to drive important changes at various times in the company’s short history. Airbnb now acts as a prime example for other organizations to follow to create value from a close connection with their community. (Examples include improving hosts’ listings by providing professional, high-quality photos; fixing UI flows and removing obstacles; and promoting diversity after uncovering racial discrimination. Read the well-documented stories on Inc.com, Fast.co, Fortune, The Verge).
Why are conversations with real people essential? Because reading reports or sorting through statistics isn’t enough. Often when discussing demographics — such as how many site visitors we might have in a segment of the population — someone on my team might point to a graph and say, “Do you see these numbers? Amazing.” It could be an uptick in pageviews on mobile devices, more non-US or non-English-speaking visitors than we expected, or a large cohort of some kind making a certain purchase. This data can get you started to make an informed decision, but it’s just data. As a product designer, the decisions still rests on human judgment and intuition. A judgment that is susceptible to biases.
When you sit down with a real person, however, you can often get straight to the truth. As you see what they see, over their shoulder, while they work through the product flow step by step, and hear: “I don’t get it, what should I do next?” Or, “I can’t get to the screen you showed me — it won’t load on my tablet; just keeps going back and forth.” With WordPress, this can commonly be something like, “What’s a custom menu. Do I need one? I’m not a restaurant.”
People Are Not a Statistic
“Empathy isn’t triggered by a statistic,” said Krista Tippett to her guest Isabel Wilkerson on a recent “On Being” podcast interview, The Heart is the Last Frontier.
I think “changing your heart” is a synonym for overcoming unconscious bias. There are these things that — it’s becoming more conscious about what’s going on inside us and then working with that. Another thing we’re learning is that empathy is — and this is a problem with journalism, frankly — empathy is not triggered by a statistic. — Krista Tippett
It’s looking into the human heart and examining it and allowing ourselves to feel the pain of others. You don’t want to feel your own pain; why would you want to feel someone else’s pain? …It’s an act of love and an act of faith to allow yourself to feel the pain of another. — Isabel Wilkerson
Stories based on facts and historical figures, as those featured in Isabel’s book, are an effective way to build empathy. Stories are powerful. You can’t argue with someone’s story — history is literally his/her story,their story. What you can do is soak it in, breathe it, consider how it overlaps with your experiences. You can break down a personal bias by simply bringing in a fresh source of data, be it a book, podcast, poem, movie, you-name-it.
De-biasing via stories is an activity we practice amongst ourselves at Automattic, where we tell each other what most people wouldn’t know about us when looking at the surface. One of my favorite examples comes from Jan Cavan Boulas, a designer living who moved to the USA for a job, after growing up in the Philippines: How WordPress Changed My Life.
When you hear someone’s voice, or watch their face, you can make a connection with them. When you hear the steps they took on their path, you can follow along. When you experience what they experience — to me — this is the deepest of empathy.
In addition to going from data to judgment to stories — we can also build empathy and broaden our perspectives when we interact with people who aren’t different from us.
Diversify your team. Homogeneous teams create narrow designs; teams with diverse experiences create more inclusive designs. Be sure that members of your team don’t come from the same culture, age group, gender, or gender expression, and don’t all have similar experiences and educations. If your team is limited and you don’t have the ability to expand, actively seek out people with other perspectives to consult or act as project advisors, and give special consideration to their feedback.
Besides promoting empathy and bringing in fresh perspectives, diverse teams make better decisions, according to Mary Meeker, of VC firm KPCB in their annual “Internet Trends” report.
Rituals and Habits to Build Empathy
So, what can you do to build empathy? Practice rituals and habits like these:
Listen, care deeply, and be open to making connections with people — whether existing customers, a potential customer, neighbors, friends, and family — everyone fits into this category.
Seek out new advisors, refresh my mentors, travel someplace new and different, and read a lot more. Tip: ask your peers and community for a diverse set of authors and books — women, minorities, under-represented voices — and not just from the same type of author, or same subject.
Use the products that you make daily to understand your customers’ point of view, the pain points, the dead ends, and any broken flow.
Practice de-biasing activities with people you encounter, and those you work with. Don’t assume what you see on the surface is representative of their entire person and life experience.
Ask active questions and approach everything with an open mind.
For day 3 of 15 of inclusive design, we’ll learn about mismatched conditions with more insights and stories from Kat Holmes and her work at Microsoft.
About this series —In two weeks 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. This is day 2 of 15. Read more about the series from day 1.
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.
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!
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.