I love this short interview about design and inclusion with Head of Computational Design & Inclusion at Automattic, John Maeda. I like this quote especially:
Creative people are inherently inclusive because they love to learn new things. They love to be motivated, shocked, moved, be taken to a place that they aren’t used to. They’re okay being uncomfortable…with the intent of serving more people–people who aren’t like themselves.
I appreciate what he’s saying here because it’s something that I too believe about creative people. Creatives are wired toward curiosity and that often takes them to places of discomfort. But it’s not just for the sake of experiencing something new. This movement toward discomfort is an act of empathy. And it’s an understanding of a social contract that you enter as a designer: not everyone is the same and while that’s challenging for a designer to navigate, it’s also something to be celebrated.
I like this quote too. His wording and delivery are appropriately curious and playful and honest:
I’m excited that we’re all coming together as designers in tech to [ask and] understand: What is this exclusion stuff? It’s kind of icky. What is this inclusion stuff? It’s pretty hard!
Designers lean into what’s challenging about diversity and inclusion. Because it’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Several years of “Design in Tech Reports” by Maeda and his team
Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech
As I mentioned the other day, I’m reading The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s a great read that combines high-level management concepts with clear guidelines on how to transition from old habits to new, more effective ones.
The author names some common bad habits such as, “The Advice Monster.” That’s the monster that takes over when your urge to give advice is triggered. The argument for resisting the advice monster is that your direct reports are more likely to feel empowered and to grow if you coach them to navigate problems on their own rather than teach them to depend on you for all of the answers.
Stanier offers a set of seven questions that help you coach your direct reports:
- The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?
- The AWE Question: And What Else?
- The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?
- The Foundation Question: What do you want?
- The Lazy Question: How can I help?
- The Strategic Question: If you’re saying “yes” to this, what are you saying “no” to?
- The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?
The rationale for the exact wording of each question is explained beautifully in the book. I highly recommend it.
TAKE IT FURTHER
If you design, build, and ship consumer tech, run don’t walk to pick up a copy of Sarah Wachter-Boettcher’s book Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech. In the book, Wachter-Boettcher points out dozens of examples of tech-development-gone-wrong and offers tips and insights on making it right. One rule right out of the gate: Resist the urge to “design for average.” Instead, take inspiration from extreme use cases!
Another rule, kind of an overarching one in the book: Hire and support women developers. Diverse dev teams will not only help your company avoid embarrassing mistakes, but they will make your products super better!
Author website: Sarah Wachter-Boettcher
Melanie Shapiro is the CEO and co-founder of a wearable identity system, Token. Shapiro holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior from the University of Reading, sold her first tech company, Digsby, in 2010, and has spent time as a researcher for Microsoft.
In this video, Shapiro spends a glorious eight minutes talking about her product at a high-level, “We are trying to give people control of their identity and we start by eliminating all of the things that you have to carry around to prove who you are.”
She’s talking about the social and human behavior that her design team is responding to (the problem space) and not the technological features that her team is building (the solution space). Shapiro offers us some history,
“When we were living in villages, our society was only as big as the 150 people around us. People knew us by our personhood…and that was enough. Complexity was added when that society grew to be a global society and suddenly I need to prove who I am to someone that is all the way on the other side of the world and that person has no history with me. How do we create that sense of trust?”
And then goes on to critique the centralized and siloed structure of our current solutions for creating trust. It’s an insightful and articulate critique.
It’s such a pleasure to watch a tech video that isn’t focused on features but rather on human behavior, culture, and society. And I appreciate a smart device team that thinks beyond the screen and beyond siloed solutions as the Token team is doing. The tech world needs more of this.
TAKE IT FURTHER
You can read more about Shapiro’s human-centered approach on the Token blog
Katerina Kamprani is an Athens-based architect who has designed an entire series of objects that are meant to make you feel uncomfortable. In most cases, the architect has changed just one tiny aspect of an object–the thickness of a fork or the orientation of a broom handle. And this little change renders the object completely useless. It also calls attention to how important good design is. And finally, the collection is incredibly playful. What a fun project!
If you want to see the entire collection, go to: https://www.theuncomfortable.com/
and be sure to check out this short interview with Kamprani here.
Circuit Sticker Sketchbook from Jie Qi on Vimeo
Jie Qi is the co-founder of a digital-paper-circuits company called Chibitronics. She’s also a Berkman Fellow and an alum of the Hi-Lo Tech Lab at MIT.
In the video above, Qi demonstrates the analog precursor to Chibitronics with her Circuit Sticker Sketchbook. It’s a delightful workbook and equally delightful demo video. And if you’re into product evolution, you can find some earlier iterations of Qi’s sketchbook on youtube like this video here
What’s so impressive about these books is their simplicity and high usability. Simplicity is a funny thing. Artists & Inventors know that it’s harder to make something simple than to make something that’s not. Simplicity is actually complex and it takes a lot of work and emotional intelligence to achieve.
I admire inventors like Jie Qi that create easy-to-use modular systems that help people be creative. Systems like legos or tinker-toys or little bits or bare conductive!
I used to think that the phrase “The harder I work, the luckier I get” was a clever thing to say. Or “Luck favors the prepared mind.” But now I’m not so sure.
I understand the sentiment of these quotes. You increase your chances of getting lucky the more you put yourself out there. “You’ve got to be in it to win it” is another popular saying (and advertising slogan for NY lotto).
But even so, there are other forces that help determine who gets lucky and who doesn’t. What you look like is a big one. If the people who are doling out awards, contracts, or bonuses look like you, then they will find you relatable and be more likely to share their luck with you than with someone who seems more difficult to relate to. It’s the easy path and there’s little motivation to choose the more difficult one. It’s more work and it’s risky.
The reality is, if you don’t look like other people, you probably have to “work twice as hard to get half as much.” I pulled that quote from Shonda Rhimes‘s book, a phrase her father repeated to her growing up. It’s a phrase that doesn’t make it on to coffee mugs or t-shirts. But it’s a reality for the underdogs, the ones for whom the stars aren’t aligned. The “F.O.D.s — First, Only, Different” people in the room who are just as smart but have to put in extra work just to be heard or seen or respected. Add on top of that work the emotional labor involved and you’ve got your formula, “work twice as hard to get half as much.”
So, if you’ve been lucky, be grateful for it and humble about it. Reflect on what forces helped you achieve your position. Yes, you worked hard. But like President Obama says, lots of people work hard. Yes, you were smart, but lots of people are smart.
And if you haven’t been lucky, let me be clear. This post isn’t meant to deter you from trying. It’s just to say that if you haven’t been lucky, don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself. And do keep trying. Future generations need to you to do that work to pave the way.
There’s a gap in the process that companies use to do product development. Strategic product development emerges from good customer research. The gap occurs because, in many companies, customer research is done by the marketing team. This seems like a great fit because the marketing team has excellent people skills. But there’s a problem with outsourcing this research to the marketing team because they are motivated to sell or validate a company’s current offerings. This kind of research isn’t oriented toward wicked problems and long-term strategic vision.
The kind of customer research that’s needed for strategic product development doesn’t emerge from validating your current offerings or solutions. It emerges from understanding the problems that your customers have, then designing future products and systems that address and anticipate those problems. This is a different kind of market research. It’s more exploratory than confirmatory. It’s more vulnerable than confident. And it doesn’t belong in marketing. They could and should be involved, but this research is best lead by designers and engineers, the ones who are on the hook for turning customer insights into product features and solutions.
STEM is an acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” and STEAM is a variation on that acronym that adds an “A for ART” to that grouping of disciplines.
There are two main reasons for adding art to STEM:
- It makes STEM more attractive to more students
- It infuses STEM with the rigor of artistic practice
We do the first one well. It’s a pretty effective tactic for attracting a diverse set of students to STEM.
We don’t yet do the second one well. This is because there is a lot of confusion about what artistic practice or design or creativity is. Many think it’s a free for all, do anything you want, just adds crayons or post its or pipe cleaners. But that approach to creativity is missing the mark.
Artistic practice should be integrated with STEM because it offers rigorous methods for the following creative processes:
- Understanding Human Interaction and Empathy
- Exploring and Iterating in a Problem Space
- Using Decision Making and Constraints in a Solution Space
Human Interaction and Empathy. Creativity is about a deep understanding of the ever-evolving relationship between audience and viewer, writer and reader, producer and consumer. This understanding can be referred to as empathy. Folks in STEM disciplines tend to get wrapped up in the science and technology and forget about the effect that new technologies have on humans. Artistic practice brings that human experience to the forefront.
Exploration and Iteration. Have you ever seen Leonardo’s notebooks? Before he committed one drop of paint to a canvas, there was sketching. Lots of it. He thought with a pencil in hand and explored his subject by sketching variations on a theme. Only then could he make decisions about what to paint, build, create. STEM researchers can rush to solutions or outcomes too quickly. Artistic practice requires the practitioner to linger in that unfamiliar space for a while. To wade in the dark without a flashlight or a map. Uncertainty is a necessary part of being an artist.
Decision Making and Constraints. But artists don’t stay uncertain forever. Well, they may retain some uncertainty, but that doesn’t keep them from making decisions. Through their exploration, they figure out what is important and then make a series of decisions to highlight that important thing and let go of the rest. They say that documentary films come together in the editing room. An extraordinary amount of footage ends up on the cutting room floor. STEM researchers might see that discarded film as failure or inefficiency. But artists see it as the cost of doing business.
How might we integrate these deeper lessons from ART with STEM education?
Yesterday my partner and I saw a play by poet and playwright Lenelle Moïse titled K-I-S-S-I-N-G. It was a wonderful experience. The playwright and her actors, through her writing, direction, and their performance, artfully integrated meaning and gravity with sweetness and hope. My partner and I marveled at how much work and talent it takes to pull that off.
I was further delighted by this interview that I found this morning in which Moïse describes what she hopes her audience will feel. She uses the exact words we used as we were talking about the play on the ride home!
Great artists can do that. And leaders too. They can imagine and articulate what the end looks like, the desired outcome. And then use that articulation as a compass while they hash out the work. If you are clear about the big idea that you are going for, the details will come.