In this episode of The Future Of, Venessa de Lisle, Senior UX Designer at Fresh Consulting, Matt Schoenholz, Founder of Tandem Vans, and Sujatha Isabelle Moraes, Independent Creative Director & Design Strategist, join Jeff Dance to explore the future and benefits of inclusive design and how to design with more meaning and intent.
Venessa de Lisle: Approaching inclusivity can feel intimidating because you don’t want to do the wrong thing. I think if you approach design choices with authenticity and with listening to people, hearing authentic experiences, and bringing those into the design process, if you make a mistake, it’s going to be okay.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
Jeff: In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Venessa de Lisle and Matt Schoenholz to explore the future of inclusive design. For the first half, we’ll hear from Matt, a design leader who’s led design teams in creating award-winning products with the likes of Microsoft, HP, and Meta. We’ll get to hear his unique perspective on creating adaptive and assistive technology as well as some of his personal experiences with inclusive design.
For the second half, we’ll hear from Venessa de Lisle, a senior UX designer here at Fresh Consulting, also a leader and advocate for inclusive design. In our interview, she gives us a valuable breakdown of inclusive design and how we can integrate it into the design process. In both interviews, we talk about why this matters for the future of humanity and technology.
Great to have you with us, Matt. Can you tell the listeners a little bit more about your background and yourself?
Matt Schoenholz: Sure, thanks for having me on. I started my career just fresh out of school running my own shop with a few friends. We did a lot of emerging web work. Then after that, I got hired at Frog. They had a lot of much larger projects, much larger clients than I had been used to. This gave me an opportunity to really dive into some of the details that, as a small firm, we weren’t able to really look at things like inclusive design and accessible design.
After Frog, I had a chance to lead the Xbox design team for the console. This, again, was an opportunity where accessibility and inclusive design was a huge part of what we did, trying to make those products that touch millions of people way more accessible, way more inclusive in all walks of life. I worked at Microsoft beyond that in the Office 365 team, where I spent a bunch of time with the machine learning and predictive analytics team to try to figure out how to personalize the Office 365 suite to the user.
Again, this looked at not only just able-bodied individuals, but we looked at a lot of things of how accessible it is from a screen-reading perspective, for example. Once I left Microsoft, I ran a studio at Teague for a few years, trying to help them diversify the company away from just airline work. We looked at other transportation. We looked at things like autonomous driving, for example, and then even some of the early work with Blue Origin for some of the spaceflight and astronaut experiences.
I left Teague after a couple of years and took a little bit of a break, spent a few months just relaxing, getting away from tech for a little while. Then I went to Facebook or Meta now and helped run the AR design team, where we originally worked on mobile AR. All the things that you see on Instagram, Snap, and Facebook, any of the face effects on that. Then I was asked to lead the AR glasses product.
AR glasses is really where most of the work that I did for the system UX team was focused on accessibility. It was focused on ethics. It was focused on privacy. All of these more difficult facets, not just designing the interface but making sure it’s a product that works for, since it’s glasses, it’s got to work for people that have limited vision. It’s got to work for people that have limited mobility. If you think about the interaction, it has a lot of different modalities, so from hands to voice to even something physical.
Then I left Facebook or Meta a little over a year ago and just wanted to do something a little bit less in the world of tech and more something that I was just really passionate about around building adventure vehicles with clients. Teaching them along the way, I realized how much I love teaching. It goes back. I’ve just been a designer for all these years and design is always a thread. I realized that I was able to teach accessible design when I was at Frog to a lot of the younger designers, did so again by mentoring people at Meta. Then, now, I get to continue to teach clients that I work with.
Jeff: For you, what is inclusive design?
Matt: Inclusive design for me is looking beyond just able-bodied users looking out at the entire market of who can use this product, who can benefit from this product, and how we design for the users even if they have limitations. It looks at not just designing for one particular market but trying to understand how there’s a larger market out there that we can create adaptive technologies and assistive technologies to help overcome any impairments, any disabilities that they might have. Inclusive design is really looking at the big mass and not just individual groups within.
Jeff: Tell us more about why this matters to you personally. Why did you gravitate to some of these areas as you were working with a variety of world-leading companies?
Matt: I was, at first, exposed to the idea of accessibility and inclusive design when I was at Frog down in Austin. I was invited to join a competition to represent Frog looking at accessible technologies. While I felt really secure as being a designer, this was a new world. Looking at Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think or the emerging thought on accessible design, I dove in and learned a lot about it.
At first, it was like, “Okay, how do we deal with screen readers for blind people or visually-impaired individuals?” That’s simple things like web markup, just having clean code at least on the web, or having the same features in built-in software. My son is colorblind, for example. This is something that as he was growing up and I was designing things, he was like, “Well, why are you using brown?” I was like, “I’m not using brown,” and got to really see how his world was shaped by his visual condition.
From a personal perspective, my hearing isn’t great. Probably, too many punk rock shows when I was growing up, not wearing ear plugs or ear protection when I was using tools, but my hearing is not great, especially in places with loud ambient noise. I got to work on a really neat technology around adaptive and augmented hearing and this uses directional microphones. Where I look is what I can hear.
In a restaurant, this actually brought some tears to my eyes because I could look across the table and the restaurant was really loud. Normally, I try to read lips a little bit just to give me a little bit more cue of what someone’s saying, but I could hear this person perfectly. The ambient noise at the restaurant was just gone and this was amazing. If we think of things like augmented reality, it’s not just the visual side that we can change, but it’s also giving people superpowers or just bringing them back up to normal was huge.
The ability to do this and to help humanity, going back to what you were saying, I think this can really help humanity in a way where it levels the playing field. It sort of helps alleviate some of the classes of have and have not. It’s something that has been really personal for me where I’ve been able to mentor teams and really focus on this from the beginning and not just look at an accessibility checkbox at the end of like, “Oh yes, did we make it accessible?” It’s like, “What’s the product itself and how do we make inclusive design core to the future-looking endeavor?”
Jeff: In addition to the conversation we had with our guests on today’s episode, we asked another expert to provide their insights on the future.
Sujatha Isabelle Moraes: Hi, I’m Sujatha Isabelle Moraes. I’m a seasoned graphic design professional with over 14 years of industry experience ranging across graphic design, brand strategy and identity, human-centered design experiences, and visual communication across boutiques as well as corporate design firms. I find it important because your final outcome of whether it’s a design solution or whether it’s even the way you communicate with people you deal with on an everyday basis is just a much better output.
It really feels like a very well-thought-out and holistic solution. I think another thing that inclusive design definitely ensures is people being creative without any barriers, without any sense of hesitation, because there never is a right answer. When you have multiple people involved, you’re always able to get varied perspectives because everyone has their own experiences. When they’re able to bring that to the table to help a design solution, it always adds a lot more value.
Ensuring that you have a diverse population also ensures a much more inclusive solution. From a long-term perspective, especially in a scenario of design, ensuring that you’re inclusive about the things that you work on definitely urge your team or people involved to be more invested in what you’re working on because they constantly are feeling like they’re part of the process. They get the sense of feeling like they’re genuinely adding value to what they are doing.
Jeff: Can you share some examples of inclusive design that you’ve worked with and others that you’re aware of just to make it more concrete for our audience?
Matt: I think inclusive design is something as simple as closed captioning, if you will, and a feature that is fairly easy to add into something, or if you think of the physical world, it’s wheelchair ramps, crosswalks. These are all forms of inclusive design that help get all people across the street, for example. It could be the audible tone that you hear. Other aspects of inclusive design that I’ve worked on is augmented hearing.
I mentioned earlier, there’s augmented vision that we can look at for colorblind people. It can shift the colors enough where they actually see properly are glasses. There are things that we can do that can help people focus at different times. These are all aspects of inclusive design. Apple’s done a great job building this into all of their products. One of my good friends worked on the accessibility team for iOS.
Looking at all of the features that they have, they really looked at this as a core part of their product and not an edge case. Microsoft has done a great job with this. If you look at their inclusive tech lab, a good friend of mine that I worked with on the Xbox console, Bryce, was the one that pushed the idea of the adaptive controller and really pushed that idea. I think those are amazing examples of inclusive design.
Jeff: Nice. How does inclusive design just help us be more intentional?
Matt: If inclusive design is a core part of the design process––again, not something that happens at the end but happens throughout––it gives us the opportunity to pause, to consider, and to look beyond just the feature that we might be doing, but how does this feature play out for people of varying abilities? How does this product work for people that might have an accent? If you think of voice recognition, it’s built into every product now. Anyone that has a thick accent– I was out on the river last week and my buddy was using his GoPro.
It’s pretty neat. You don’t have to go up and touch the button. You can say, “GoPro, start recording,” except he’s French. He has a really thick French accent. He switched the language to French and then, all of a sudden, it’s tuned for that dialect. That’s one thing that I would look at is that if we design this in the core of the product, we do pause. We do consider more use cases and capabilities. I think that it starts there.
Jeff: We’ve seen a lot of change in the last 15 to 20 years. If we look at the next 20, the babies of today are going to be growing up in the next 20. I think it’s going to be even faster. As you talk to companies, not everyone has the resources of a Meta or a Google or Apple, et cetera, what would you say to these companies, these product teams that need to be investing in this? What would be some of your points there?
Matt: There’s one thing that comes to the top of my mind right away is hiring younger designers, hiring younger engineers that are actually being taught this in school. I think back to my education, this was not even talked about. This was not a thing. Some of the fiercest advocates that I’ve seen in companies are some of the youngest designers that come out of school and come out early in their career, they’re asking questions that others are not asking.
That’s one way to start where it could happen over time as companies do grow as they can bring in even one more designer. We had one person at Meta and another person at Microsoft that I can think of that raised their hand just simply and said, “Hey, I happen to be a person of color and the additive rendering from augmented reality doesn’t represent people of darker skin tones well because there’s no black. All you’re doing is adding light to a field.”
She championed this and it went all the way up to Zuck and built a small team around it. That was just one person just asking the question of like, “Hey, every time I see myself here––well, actually, I can’t see myself. What do we do about this?” That’s one way, I think. There is a lot written right now about inclusive design, about accessibility that I think the teams that already exist, so you don’t have to grow.
I think that you can mandate this as a core objective in your product that it needs to be accessible to these defined groups because that’s part of our market. That can happen within and it needs to be championed, I think, from the top down. Obviously, the idea of it can go from bottom up and just one person raising their hand, but I think that you need to have leaders and companies that find this important.
Jeff: Given all your experience across different tech companies, what are your thoughts on the technology that can be a game-changer for the future?
Matt: I think the convergence of three different technologies that are emerging right now are poised to make a really big difference in the product design of the future. I think machine learning and artificial intelligence is amazing at pattern recognition, and so the more we start to feed those tools and those algorithms with experiential data. This could be how people use a product and what can it switch.
I think AI combined with augmented reality. Augmented reality, I think, has a goal in a way of getting people back into the real world and not just interfacing with the world through small screens and screens that require touch and screens that pull our focus away from the world. I think the more that we can combine augmented reality, artificial intelligence, inclusive design into products, the better we will be.
I think that it’s not just the pattern recognition of artificial intelligence. If you think of what DALL-E is doing or Midjourney and how we can start to compose imagery even on the fly, this can go a long way towards something that not every use case was originally designed for. We can actually have use cases being served on the fly by combining some of these technologies. Those are the things that make me really hopeful. I also have a big concern with that combination.
Because in some way, right now, we can control every experience that can happen in a product in one way or another whether we look at that and whether products today have looked at that. We designed the complete experience. When you start looking at, on the fly, generated user interfaces, which I think that we’ll get to in the next 5, 10 years, then we don’t quite know what that little black box is doing and what experience someone might be having. Those individuals designing the artificial intelligence have a responsibility as well just like designers to look at where biases come from.
Jeff: As we kind of close out our session together, I really appreciate all the advice so far and your insights. You’ve been to a lot of different companies. You’ve seen a lot of different things. If you go back to giving yourself some advice when you’re just stepping out of school, what would it be?
Matt: Slow down. Be more thorough. I think young designers come out and I was definitely guilty of this, like, “Okay, what’s the trendy style right now or what’s happening?” We’ve gone through Web 1.0, Web 2.0. You saw everything move from a really skeuomorphic design to a really flat design. I’d want to give myself advice to think about the larger world out there to travel more, to see cultures, and to spend more time researching rather than just jumping from pen to paper or start pushing pixels right away. It’s really understanding who the users are at an emotional level as well before we just start designing.
I think one other aspect that I would give a bit of advice I would give myself is start prototyping from day one. Because as soon as you start prototyping, you start learning what works and what doesn’t work. As soon as you have a prototype, you can start putting that in the hands of users and you get so much valuable feedback early on. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look great. Don’t worry if it isn’t done. Just get into the hands of users as quickly as you can and you’ll learn more. Be more efficient with design and your process than you could not having that information.
Jeff: It’s great having you here. Really appreciate your wisdom, some of your insights, your experience. I know that the users will too. Any closing thoughts on inclusive design before we wrap up?
Matt: I just want to thank you again for having me on. I think it’s wonderful that you guys are focusing on topics like inclusive design. Because the more we can tell the story, the more we can get the importance of accessibility and inclusive design out there to more and more people that are in a position to design and produce products, the better that humanity will be. I think this is a really important topic. It’s not just edge cases. It’s not just a cost-added activity. It’s something that will produce better products that are a joy to use. Thanks for bringing up the topic.
Jeff: Venessa, it’s great to have you on the show. You’re a senior UX designer here at Fresh Consulting, been here for six years, and I know you have a diverse background in product management and teaching and even journalism. Can you tell us more about your background and what led you to be passionate about inclusive design?
Venessa: Yes, so you’re right. I do have a very diverse background. I started my career in teaching. I spent about a decade teaching in the United States and also in schools across the world really, got to meet a lot of people. I actually started a podcast while I was abroad called Foreigners Media, where I really took the time to meet people who were living the foreigner experiences.
I was really learning about different experiences of people of different cultural backgrounds. Always been a passion of mine. After about a decade of teaching, I realized that design was actually a strong passion of mine. I wanted to transition into tech. Being from Seattle, having it everywhere, it really felt like a good fit for me. That’s where I met you. I came to Fresh Consulting. It’s been a great six years at Fresh Consulting. In that, I gained experience as a project manager, a UX product manager, and then now to most recently, a senior UX designer.
In that time, I have had the fortune of working across dozens of industries and with hundreds of clients and different businesses and just really recently becoming aware of the practice of inclusive design and how that speaks even more deeply to a true passion of mine. Making sure that the work that we do and the technology we create speaks to and it is accessible to all audiences, not just those who live in the so-called center space. That’s why inclusive design is the approach to get there and something that I’m noting is so important and bringing to the practice of UX design.
Jeff: For the listeners, let’s start with some of the 101, and then let’s delve into the future a little bit and then to get a little advice from you as well at the end. To start with, what is inclusive design?
Venessa: Great question. Inclusive design is a design approach that considers the full range of human diversity. It does not choose a singular-centered person that we design for. Instead, it requires a designer to think about excluded populations. When I talk about excluded populations, we may automatically go to able-bodied or disabled or color of skin, but we want to consider the full spectrum. These are things like education and literacy, gender, religion, sexual orientation. We have to consider all of these items. When we design products, are there excluded personas who don’t have a voice in the direction of our technology? That’s the very high level and there’s so much depth to it from there.
Jeff: As we think about the topic today, it’s really designing for those that also might be left out. How do we intentionally design for everyone?
Venessa: Actually, as you were speaking, there is an important distinction that I think should be made here. Inclusive design is not designing for everyone. The practice of inclusive design is fairly new. I will say, “Are there straightforward processes that folks can follow?” No, they’re still being defined by design teams. In some cases, it’s about finding an excluded persona. In some cases, it’s about designing for a specific ability or disability. The important note is when we have an inclusive lens to our design process, it’s about being specific and intentional about finding an excluded person or population.
Designing for that exclusion ultimately creates more opportunity for people who are outside of that center space to be brought into the product. Now, what designing for everyone might look like would be looking at generalizations or trying to find someone of every race that we need to design for or every disability that we need to design for, and then trying to make one-off solutions, right? The idea of inclusive design is finding those specific users, creating solutions that are specific to that need, and then ultimately designing for more people there. There’s a lot of examples that I think could add a little more color and realness to what I’m saying, but that’s the nut of it.
Jeff: Really considering a range of perspectives versus just designing for, let’s say, the majority?
Venessa: Yes. One set of questions that really made it come together for me was when we look at personas, we find this key main user. Their perspective is important and shouldn’t be dismissed, but then there’s this set of questions that’s, “Whose voice is missing here, who has the most to lose, and who is being excluded just ultimately from these design decisions?” I’d like to give this example.
I was working with a team member and I was showing her examples of inclusive design. She said, “Well, on this project, we made our persona around this user who has been in the industry for 30 years.” It was an application that would support police in identifying criminals just at a very high level. They centered someone who had been a career cop for 30-plus years. I said, “Well, let’s rewind. Let’s look at these questions. Who has the most to lose? Whose voice is missing here?”
Well, we know that folks in law enforcement, it’s typically a career path that’s generational. Potentially, we’re centering someone whose father or grandfather was in criminal justice. Maybe the person we need to be thinking about is they’re the first person in their family who got a college degree. They are supporting a multi-generational home on this singular income.
Maybe the people in the house that they live with aren’t English-speaking. Thinking about that person probably has the most to lose. They might not have all of the lingo and terminology down that someone who’s been in the career for 30-some years might have. We need to make sure that that person has just as much ability to operate well with the platform as any other officer in their field.
Jeff: Tell us more about why this matters to you personally. Why did you gravitate to some of these areas as you’re working with a variety of world-leading companies?
Venessa: Inclusive design is important to me because I think as I’ve gotten to know more people around the world and learn to empathize with their experiences, I realize how many exclusive experiences we have. There are just so many I can think of just in me and my own inner circle, which I would say we are very included, not excluded group of people. If I think about my mother or my grandmother trying to use their phone and having it on 2x, 3x magnification and they’re on a website and they can’t see anything because everything’s been blown up. Could we make this experience better for someone?
If we’re looking at low-vision people, how many more people can we serve a better experience if those low-vision experiences were at the center of our design choices? An example that I love looking back on is meeting this woman Marlena. There’s a restaurant in Burien where I live that’s named after her. My husband and I went to the restaurant one night and we got to meet, “Oh, this is Marlena. The restaurant’s named after her.”
We sat with her. We had wine all night. She was blind. What she did was she pulled out her––she was just talking about her life and her experiences and her lived experiences with us. The fact that the screen reader and Uber have completely changed her life, she’s like, “The independence I get from Uber and my ability to just navigate and get to wherever I want, it’s completely revolutionary.” She was, I believe, in her 70s when we were talking to her.
She just had her and her husband with her. The independence that she was able to gain through technology, that’s something that’s always stuck with me and in being in a design career realizing, “Well, how many times have I centered someone who uses a screen reader in my design process?” This is something that it feels like a miss and feels like something that wanting to remedy and a responsibility that I take seriously in the design process.
Jeff: Can you share some more examples of inclusive design that people might be familiar with or that could help people understand it better?
Venessa: Sure, so I think a good way to start would be to look at an example of exclusive design. We think about face recognition to open your phone, right? I think for a lot of people, that felt like such a huge advancement in technology, the fact that you could just look at your phone and open it up. What a lot of people were faced with was the fact that when they would look at their phone, and I’m talking specifically about people of color, people with darker skin tones, multiple people were able to open other people’s phones.
What the problem was, was that people with darker skin tones were not brought into the design process. They were not looked at in user testing. Therefore, when that technology came out, it immediately excluded a huge population from interacting with the technology. Google is, I feel like, a company that I’ve learned a lot from on this topic. They’ve got a pretty robust inclusive design process at their company.
I’ve been able to learn a lot from them. Their Google Assistant is something that they’ve been able to share some of their learnings on inclusive design from, so they have a new look-to-talk feature. They made sure that when they were doing that, people of all colors were included in the testing to make sure that it would actually respond to people with various skin tones.
Also, another feature of theirs is that they don’t label names or voices as “female voice” or “male voice.” It’s just Voice 1 and Voice 2. One is a higher pitch voice and one is a lower pitch voice, but I think being able to see labels that don’t give the binary automatically removes the barrier of, “Well, I’m not male or female,” if you’re a non-binary person. That’s also an example of inclusive design just in that one piece of technology.
Jeff: You’ve mentioned skin tone and it made me think of a couple of things, a few things. One is my daughter Milan has a black Barbie and a white Barbie, and then we have Band-Aids of different colors. We also have emojis of different colors from a skin tone perspective. Are those examples of more inclusive design?
Venessa: Yes, those are examples of inclusive design, including things like looking at the nude Band-Aids. You’ll start to see makeup and clothing are also adopting this of taking away the nude label from peach tones and using different methods to label colors.
Jeff: Thinking about inclusive design, about how we consider inclusivity becomes even more important for the future because we’ve seen both sides of technology and how humanity rolls through with that technology. There’s these amazing things and these really hardened things, but that comes back to like, “Well, how do we help the future be better? How do we design with more intent?” Inclusive design seems to strike at the center of that focus.
Venessa: Definitely, I agree with you. It’s so bizarre. I think an approach that I like to have is to believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have. I think that’s a really helpful way to navigate life.
Jeff: Sounds empathetic.
Venessa: Yes. However, even with that perspective and that mindset, we see people behaving poorly. What I mean by this, where I’m going with this is when we talk about seeing the best of people and the worst of people, I think about Airbnb and something that they had to design through and think through. A couple of years ago, there was this movement. I don’t know if it’s still prevalent.
I remember hearing about it a couple of years ago. It’s Airbnb While Black. The idea was that someone would request a reservation. A Black person would request a reservation and it would get denied, so they would have a white friend or coworker make the exact same reservation and it would get received. I just thought of that with the community and the way that we can be so inclusive or divisive.
I know that Airbnb brought people in specifically to work through this problem to say, “We want to be an inclusive environment. How do we make sure we continue to design to make sure we’re creating inclusive experiences?” One of the key things that they did was bring in an inclusive team. It’s not always only about the output, but it’s also about the team and making sure all the voices or excluded voices are brought into the process. Not just from an “observing” or “bring you in for a moment and let you go,” but to be a consistent voice and guiding part of the design process.
Jeff: That sounds like a good practice having the quantitative aspect, also probably the qualitative aspect as you’re thinking about design. If you were to talk to a business leader on some of the return on investment of spending more time and being more intentional about inclusive design practices, what would be some things that you say to them?
Venessa: Well, definitely, I know I’ve said it. It would take more time. Ultimately, the ROI is that it’s a time-saving exercise. The idea being that if you are using the inclusive design process from the very beginning, then when you ship your product and you market your product and it’s out in the world, you’re not needing to go back to make workarounds. “Oh, we realize, there’s actually a decent market segment that we’ve missed.”
Now, we’re going to go back to the drawing board and go through another design iteration. The idea is that you actually save time in the long run. Also, I think there’s something to be said about when you meet an excluded population with inclusivity and show, “Hey, we hear you. We listen to you. This is actually for you.” You’re immediately building brand loyalty. Someone isn’t going to feel like they’re an afterthought. Someone isn’t going to feel like, “Oh, okay, this is how they all are. This is the expectation.” You build that from the beginning.
Sujatha: I think inclusive design like I mentioned also ensures long-term and sustainable consumers, which means that you truly have access to a much more authentic consumer base, people who will actually add value back into the products that you are putting out into the market whether it’s a kind of garment or whether it’s a kind of technology. If people are truly invested in what you choose to put out, you will get authentic feedback, which means that at the end of the day, you are able to put out a better product because you’re getting on-ground, actual feedback from people who are using the product.
Again, it’s not like influencers where they will sell anything they’re getting paid to sell, but it’s actual people using your product and giving you feedback to make it much better, which you can then, over time, ensure that you are investing back in that solution and ensuring a longer timeline for your brand. The other thing, inclusive design, I think, also ensures in your teams, in your companies is the push of constantly trying to innovate, constantly trying to grow, whether it’s as people or whether it’s add-on to the product and constantly learning as a team setup.
I think there is a point when innovation lags. That usually happens when there are very set situations for teams to function in versus situations where they can constantly ask questions, constantly try and make things better, try and understand little nuances that possibly you as a larger company may not have thought of. Eventually, that actually leads to a much better product. I think that little push of curiosity is there and that ensures that you’re constantly doing things better.
Jeff: As we think about the future, I’ve read different books on the maker community and this trend of mass customization. We had mass production. Then now with how things can be made, we have this opportunity for mass customization where you can do a lot of customization. It seems like that trend could pair with inclusive design. When we get to mass production, it seems like that’s where we have to be even more intentional with things that are going to hit the general audience.
They don’t exclude parties that are important to the user base and also maybe, to your point, to the company’s revenue potential, right? If they’re saving time and being able to hit a larger user group because they’ve configured the right things or they’ve been more sophisticated in how they’re connecting with their various audiences, then they could be even more competitive.
Venessa: Your note right there about mass production also got me thinking about an example from the fashion industry that I’d read about recently that I think it all connects. It’s all about sustainability and inclusivity and the future, which I think is just a great place that we’re going. This company was making real-life avatars. If everyone could have an avatar that looked like them and we had fashion brands creating clothes in the digital space, then everyone could get an idea of what a piece of clothing would look like on them in their body, in their environment if they are using a wheelchair or if they are missing a leg, or if they want to wear oversized clothes because that’s the style that works for them.
They don’t have to imagine what an item would look like based on a model. Then there’s the idea that because we don’t know what we look like, consumers will buy two to three items of the same piece of clothing but in multiple sizes just to get the one that fits them. The production cost, the shipping cost, this is a really cool way that inclusive design can really impact the fashion industry and the over-producing that we’re seeing there, so sustainability implications. It’s an exciting thing to think about. Technology is becoming more and more accessible. It’s interesting to think about where that will be, where the future of inclusive design will impact there.
Jeff: Thanks for that example. That is really exciting to think about. Having my own avatar, I’m going to go try on 20 pairs of sunglasses and a whole bunch of shirts. If it’s close to me, then maybe I don’t have to order three of them. That sounds really promising. Let’s think about the future a little bit more and shift just a little bit. As we think about the future, how do we know we’re going to have gotten this right? Any thoughts on things like, “Hey, this is an important trend”? How do we know, “Hey, we’re hitting this right”?
Venessa: That’s a good question. I would say the first thing that came to my mind was, first, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I think a lot of approaching inclusivity can feel intimidating because you don’t want to do the wrong thing. I think if you approach design choices with authenticity and with listening to the people hearing authentic experiences and bringing those into the design process, if you make a mistake, it’s going to be okay.
Jeff: It’s iterative.
Venessa: Yes, 100%. I think that’s also something that we’ve learned with agile design is make a decision, try it out, learn from it, and continue and get better and better. What does inclusive design look like when it’s done right? I’d say it looks invisible. When you try to think about, “Well, what are great examples of inclusive design?” hopefully, a lot of them are invisible because we’ve solved a problem that now serves the greater population anyways, right? I’d say business leaders could look at it and understand, “Well, how much should I spend to get this product off the ground? How many people are buying it?” I think that’s a pretty objective way to look at, “Is my investment in inclusive design giving me the return?”
Sujatha: The population right now is super aware of the choices that they’re making in everyday life, whether it’s a purchase or whether it’s the community that is affected by their purchases, or whether it’s the physical, social setting that they are choosing to be in. I’m hoping that inclusive design would ensure smarter and better design solutions that are more crowdsourced, that are more feedback-driven, and, of course, then bettered through technology.
I’m also hoping there would be a clear shift in how teams function and really look at the solution or even the way they work in a more cohesive approach, whether it’s investing or incubating multiple high-functioning, collaborative think-tanks in a truly diverse manner. Of course, leaders who have the vision, leaders who have the insight to let their team members constantly ask questions, not be afraid to think out of the box, not be afraid to suggest things that may not be the norm. Lastly, I think being able to run an agile team with an inclusive lens.
Jeff: Can you think of any examples of inclusive design that are blowing your mind like, “Wow”?
Venessa: Yes, so I think that something we said was inclusive design should be invisible. It’s hard to choose something that blows your mind. Recently, I did see something that actually blew my mind. It was the idea that there were, in the medical field, models and diagrams, visuals of reproductive organs and babies that were in darker skin tones. I never realized that this was astonishing for the field because I’m so used to my own skin color. Every medical diagram I’ve ever seen is a person with my skin color.
Then going down the rabbit hole of that a little bit, you learn that Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. You have to wonder, are the fact that doctors are able to empathize and picture and practice on light skin tones their entire education? Does that have an impact on Black women who are going through childbirth? I think the fact that a team or a designer or just someone said, “This isn’t right. We need diverse skin tones here. We need to see infants in the womb who are Black infants,” I think that blew my mind.
Jeff: What advice would you give to your kids in the future about being more inclusive or maybe even to your grandparents, one or the other, interested in your advice there?
Venessa: I feel really lucky to be in Seattle and I feel surrounded by other parents who want to approach inclusivity with their kids. I think it’s important to let your children know that there are different skin tones. Because of that, there may be different ways that that person operates in the world, whether it’s because of their culture or because of the way that other people are imposing their views onto them.
When I was raised, I had a lot of friends of different colors, but my two best friends were half-Black and half-white. When I was about eight years old, it was embarrassing. My mom said to me, “I never would’ve been able to play with your friends because of your different colors. It’s really cool that you have friends who are different colors.” I say it’s a little embarrassing because it wasn’t until that point that I realized that they were different skin tones. I think that I don’t want to raise my kids that way.
I want them to be aware that people have different experiences because of their skin color. Like I said, whether or not it’s culturally or because of the way people impose it on them. I think awareness of the world around you, empathy for people, and always just teaching my kids to ask questions and not to judge right away, I think, is a huge one for us. We don’t say, “Weird.” We don’t say, “Ew.” We say, “Oh, that is different.” Then if you have questions, you can ask me or we can ask other people together.
Jeff: Thanks for the advice. I have kids as well, and so that’s helpful. I also grew up in Seattle. My best friends were Asian. My first girlfriend was Black. If you grow up in some of these climates where it’s more natural, then maybe it’s not even perceived until it’s called out. I think that, nonetheless, we all live in our own worlds with our own perceptions. We’re all missing the broader picture. It’s been great to have this conversation about how we can design the future with intent.
The future is all this amazing technology across these different verticals and markets, but together, how do we design holistically with intent? This principle of inclusive design really resonates as we try to get it right in the next 10 or 20 years and reflect back and be like, “Hey, we learned from the last 10 or 20. That last 10 or 20 changed us. We became more divisive, but we learned. We learned from that and we went forward with more intent.”
Venessa: Yes, absolutely. It’s the intention that’s important and authenticity, bringing people in and hearing real experiences and solving those problems.
Jeff: Great to have you with us, Venessa, to get your insights and to hear your passion for the space as we work together on building an even better future.
Venessa: Jeff, thank you so much for bringing me. It’s been a pleasure to talk about this. I feel like I could talk forever about it, so I appreciate the time and the platform.
Jeff: It’s fun. Thank you.
Venessa: Take care.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for The Future Of in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.