Dean Birkettin conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

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Dean Birkett is a User Experience Design Consultant who is specialised in accessibility. Indeed, we do talk about many aspects of the complex accessibility field of work. We talk about creating apps that enable people who cannot speak to communicate. We talk about travelling by public transport in a wheel chair. And we talk about how we can combine the robust but often rather boring super accessible design patterns with the Awwwards winnig fancy designs.

…it looks visually appealing as well as being accessible. And I think that those are the sorts of sites that should be winning awards

We talk about inclusion, and what that means. We wonder if we need licenced designers, like we need licenced architects. And we also talk about the record label for inaccessible music that Dean used to run.


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Vasilis: You're listening to The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting, a series of conversations about quality with Vasilis van Gemert and an eclectic mix of designers. In this episode I have a conversation with Dean Birkett, a user experience design consultant with a focus on accessibility.

We have so much to discuss. We talk about the different approaches to design that we see: There’s the purely functional, often rather spartan design approach that some web designers prefer. Then there’s the fancy, awwward winning approach, sometimes confusingly called *experience design*. And we wonder what would happen is we combine the two. We also talk about some of the very specialist accessibility applications that Dean worked on. And we talk about the record label with inaccessible music that he used to run. Among many other things. But as usual we start with the question What makes a thing good?

Dean: Okay there is a couple of things in that statement that jump out straight away so what is the thing and also I think you know there needs to be a definition of good. You know what is good. There is also like lots of like all the things beyond that you know below that. So for instance I don't know if you saw on Twitter last week there was a form that was re-tweeted by pretty much everyone in design. So this is a really great, fantastic form. And the form itself it was actually something on CodePen and the form itself was just a simple user name field, no sorry an email address field and below that was a password. But above the form there was a cartoon character and as you started to type in your email address the cartoon character's eyes would move from left to right and the smile would grow on its face. And then when you tapped to the password field the character's hands went up to its face, covered its eyes and it couldn't see what you typed into the password field.

V: Okay, yeah.

D: And so like I said all over Twitter, all over the design blogs everyone was like wow this is a fantastic form. This is great this is good. So if you look at it purely on that level, that really base level you could say that this thing is good but […]

V: Yeah I guess there is a but here.

D: You have to also recognize what is the purpose of the form, why is there a cartoon character there. Was it to fit some sort of design ethic, sorry thing for the brand. You could see that sort of form working for Mailchimp, they are friendly that form, you know they like to be engaging with their audience. But if you imagine that form being on ING or Rabobank or then that would not be a good form.

V: Exactly yeah.

D: And so I think you need to always factor in the context, what is the use case, why are you doing this. What are you hoping to achieve. So I think on the top level you know what is a thing, what is good it's really hard to define something as being good.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

D: With that factoring you in all of these hidden like hidden measures.

V: Yeah, but it is […] so this is there is this element of fun in this example.

D: In that example there is fun. So if the goal was like I said if it was something like MailChimp where the form fits the brand than you could define that as being something that is good. As long as it achieves the user's expectations. It meets the goals of the project then sure you could define that as good. But then of course you get to all of the other things which are all underlined aren't face value so the technically quality of this form, is the form accessible you know […] I know it is on the form itself looking at it through an accessibility lens for instance, it didn't have labels so you had placeholder text. So when you look at it when you break it out even further you can always pinpoint something that is perhaps not good.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So okay I think that's really interesting. So I read a book recently about creating pleasurable user interfaces and there it said if your usability sucks you can do two things or actually three things. You can improve usability, make sure it works. Or you can add a layer of fun and then people will be more forgiving.

D: I think so to a certain degree.

V: To a certain degree.

D: But I think usability should always you know if you can't use a product then it doesn't matter how fun it is. The fun wears off.

V: Yeah.

D: It will become frustrating, it will become annoying and you will move on to different things. And so there are lots of things on the web that I see, I see more and more which I flag really as experimental things and you know on that layer of fun you know perhaps they are fun. If that is the goal it just experimenting, trying this out but when these sorts of things move into become you know design patterns or become accepted by you know the majority than that becomes more of a problem.

V: I think there is this problem anyway that the approach to interface design on the web is actually purely visual. It is only visual and there is a whole bunch of technical layers below it that are either not understood or just ignored or people don't know them even I think. So you talked about labelling forms. This designer created a beautiful form a funny form but they probably didn't know that you should label a form.

D: Yeah absolutely. And I think I saw a tweet again. Sorry to keep talking about Twitter but I saw a tweet again recently and it was somebody talking about they had the knowledge of React but they didn't know HTML and CSS. And I mean for myself I mean I am a user experience designer but I sort of come from a designy […] I hate to say developer because I was a pretty bad developer but I can handle myself with HTML and CSS. And to me that was like the starting point the fact that there are people jumping in at a level which I have no idea you know no idea about is kind of a little bit daunting, a little bit frightening. I think you have to really know the core basics before you can move forward to explore different areas. And yeah there was something that I saw again it was something that people were raving about. They were saying this is fantastic portfolio and it was a person, I don't want to mention his name, but he basically created this portfolio where he had lots of movement, there was lots of animation, there was lots going on.

V: Was it the Golden Ratio thing?

D: Yeah exactly. The one that kept spinning around.

V: Yeah, yeah.

D: And you know visually people were wowed by it they were really impressed. I think the practicality of it is you know if you have five seconds to basically see who is this person whether you want to hire him for a position then maybe it is not the ideal approach.

V: Well it depends on what you want. If you want an animator.

D: Exactly if you want an animator but if you want somebody that is coming into I don't know design a from than perhaps he is not […]

V: No probably not the right person.

D: And perhaps it was a positioning thing perhaps he is one into position himself you know.

V: I guess so.

D: But I thought the interesting thing about that is this there is lots of talk about motion on the web and how it affects people. People with vestibular disorders who feel like sea sick when using a product. And myself I don't flight myself as somebody who feels nauseous when using the web but as I was moving around I have seen the background colours changes, I have seen the animation effects everything like that. I felt a little bit queasy.

V: Yeah, yeah, yah.

D: And the designer of the website what he actually did in the end because I wasn't the only person to actually mention this and he actually created an accessible version of the website. Which I don't know if that's the right approach. I much prefer for the base thing to be accessible and built on that rather than the other way around. But it was nice that he actually factored that in. So if somebody was visiting the website. It was perhaps something in a hiring position who was interested in his work they could actually experience that in a different way that fits more with them.

V: Yeah. But there's […] I mean that is complicated isn't it. I remember a few years ago there was on a Fronteers conference there was this panel about accessibility. And there were people with all kinds of different disabilities there and they talked about how we could improve their experience on the web. And they were contradicting each other.

D: Yeah I can imagine.

V: So the one person really wanted something else than the other.

D: I can imagine. I mean they […]

V: And I think this is the same thing, right? If you like most people our vision is the most important sense I guess. Most of what we do is based on vision.

D: As sighted web users […]

V: Yeah as sighted people and I guess that's the majority.

D: Yeah.

V: Right?

D: Yeah but I mean I don't know how true that is I would imagine it to be true. For me personally I would agree with that but I am not sure if other people would […] you know for instance if there is a musician they would weight heavy in their program to listen to the […]

V: Yeah but if you look at an interface I mean we can see the hierarchy and that's very powerful. Seeing the visual hierarchy of the thing. I mean that is much more powerful than having a screen reader read it out to you. It is. So that's much easier anyway. So we can see these things moving and we can enjoy it as well. But on the other hand you have people who get sick of it. I think that is very complicated thing isn't it.

D: I think everything that we do is very complicated. So I mean the past two years I worked for a company here in Amsterdam and it is a company that was deep in the accessibility area built accessible iOS mac apps and so these were apps which were for people who primarily were non verbal. And so there is a saying because that's a huge group of people that could be people who are on the autistic spectrum it could be people with cerebral palsy it could be people with quietening conditions like Parkinson's or ALS and they are very very different. I mean even when you talk about autism there is a saying if you have met one autistic person you have met one autistic person.

V: Yeah, that's beautiful.

D: And it is so true. You know when I am doing usability testing with the parents, teachers, the person themselves we call him the communicator and they are just so vastly different. People are very different. I am very different from you and so I think when you build anything you have to be aware of these differences. There was something that you was on YouTube a few years ago which was somebody going around I think it was New York City asking what browser that you use. And to me and you that's a simple question. To these people they had no idea. They were talking about you know their model of computer, they were talking about Windows, they were talking about lots of different things. So you know we have to understand that we are in a position where we are deeply entrenched in things.

V: Absolutely.

D: I think as designers our role is perhaps more importantly than anything is to be able to step back. Step back away from you know the visuals are kind of an end result but they are not the result.

V: Yeah it is more complicated than that. Yeah. And we forget those other layers or we don't know about them. So how do we make sure that these other layers are not forgotten. Or that people know about them?

D: Well for me I am you know I am a big advocate of user centered design. So in my last role the organization had very much a kind of […] they would design something they would give to a developer that developer would critique it give it back to the designers they would tweak it and then it would go to development for production. And as we know that is not an ideal way of doing things and so when I actually joined the organization I actually was able to get everybody in the organization into two sessions to explain what is user centered design to go through a few things so we used one of the products and we created a customer journey map. We go through things to see what was a positive experience what was a negative experience then after that we had a sketching workshop. We sketched out some solutions to how we could improve this particular part of the flow and we actually used this for the last release that I worked on. I don't wanna talk about brand names or anything like that but it was a […]

V: You can if you want to.

D: Okay it was an app called Proloquo2GO which is a very well known app in the alternative augmentative communication area. It has won lots of awards and we actually just featured on the app store one of the stories of today so it is quite a really nice app to work on. And one of the last things that I worked on […]

V: It is really a nice app to work on right with this app you make it possible for people to actually communicate.

D: You make huge huge differences.

V: Huge difference.

D: I am very realistic I left that position to go back into freelance because I missed a lot of the flexibility of freelance. A lot of the different kinds of challenges. But if I do anything as rewarding as that in my entire career I will be kind of surprised. Just a story that I always tell when describing this app. I know you have got children yourself. So imagine you have got a 8 year old child who had never uttered a word, who is non verbal like not being able to communicate verbally anything to you and you sat at work one day and your child is with the speech language pathologist and this child is being with him for a year and she is really cuddly she is very warm she is very emotional but she doesn't know how to verbally express those sort of things and so this speech language pathologist will unlock the language using something called modelling. Where you model different words and their meaning and part of the thing within Proloquo2GO is that you can send a text message. So you sat at work and you receive a text message from your daughter saying I love you dad. Again when you are defining good to me that feeling that you are expressing now is good.

V: Yeah, yeah definitely.

D: That is the sort of thing that we want to be trained to to achieve.

V: Yeah. That's beautiful. Yeah. Okay. Yeah so I can imagine making something like that again will be hard to find such a […]

D: It will be very hard. But I think you know any sort of win for me. I mean I am an user experience designer but it is quite odd because I have got such a deep passion in accessibility. And so I kind of like to come up design problems through these lens.

V: Yeah. I saw there was in Leiden I saw a talk by I think she was a professor who is actually creating these kind of things but then they are controlled via brain waves. So you can have more commands than simply pointing at the thing. That was really interesting to see. And this was an improvement, a big improvement again of people who were non-verbal. Mostly because of a stroke I think in this case.

D: Yeah. I mean there are some brilliant things that are happening out there. There is something an organization called Not Impossible Labs in the States and the creator of this lab he wrote a book. It is a really brilliant book. And basically his journey started because he met a […] he went to a gallery, which was showing street graffiti like photos of street graffiti. It was done by this graffiti artist. And it was created to try and get some money because this graffiti artist had ALS he was in hospital now; he had no motion from the […] well he could just move his eyes. And so this was a fundraiser to try and pay for medical cost and such like. And the guy who created Not Impossible Labs was speaking to his father and the brother of the person that was in hospital. And he just instantly said I will do something. And as soon as he said those words he was kind of like okay now I have got to do something. I know nothing. I know nothing about this sort of thing but I need to do something. And so he really got people from the open source community, he got lots of people involved in trying to tackle this problem. And they created something called the eye writer. And the eye writer enabled this person to be in his hospital bed with a TV screen in front of him and using eye movement he was able to actually graffiti and this graffiti was broadcast onto a wall.

V: That is so cool.

D: Yeah and so you know people doing this sort of thing I think it is really […] this is one of the design challenges that I really like.

V: That's fantastic. There was a series on BBC I think about designers solving problems for specific people. So this is also for one person actually a solution that's what you get more into I guess with […] also with Proloquo the apps that you work on they were […] I think they were fine-tuned to specific people is that right?

D: Yeah absolutely. I mean the story of AssistiveWare the company that created Proloquo2GO was that the owner David Niemeijer his friend was badly injured in the car crash and he lost mobility and he created a key board app for him and this key board app eventually it sold to other people so lots of people started to use it and then using that he moved into different areas and so you know that whole company I think is like 25-30 people working there now that came because of an individual having a need.

V: Yeah. So is that […] should we do that more? Design for individuals? Because when we design interfaces usually there is a target group or something like that or there is personas.

D: Again it is tricky. So Proloquo2Go what happened there was because they before I arrived the way that they introduced features were that a person had a problem. This problem was solved by a designer, it was sent to development and then they iterated and then it was released. And so if you actually look at the Proloquo2Go app it can do lots of things, lots of things. And you know that in one aspect is beautiful. You know as an individual you can tailor it to your needs but it also adds complexity. And so when you go into the settings area of this app you are overwhelmed. My first days as I joined as a user experience designer there I opened up the app and I was just horrified but it is only actually when you start to work then you start to understand what the goals of the organization and the individuals are. You can't take away things. If you remove one feature that is used by seven people that's taking the voice away from seven people. That's just not acceptable.

V: So should you release private versions maybe?

D: There are lots of ways of tackling it you know but again it is a really tricky and complex area to design within. And so I think for the majority of the web or for the majority for apps I think it is being mindful and you know being as accessible as possible. I don't think accessibility is something that you cannot get anything that is a 100% accessible.

V: No.

D: Ok perhaps

V: Yeah.

D: Which is you know a beautiful accessible website.

V: It is probably not even a 100%. I mean there is stuff up there that you cannot understand probably.

D: Yeah perhaps, yeah ok. So on that level. Yeah but again I mean the readability of that website is very very readable. Sure there are gonna be individuals with I mean with low literacy that will struggle. They struggle with every website. So again that 100% mark is never gonna be achievable. But they […] I don't even wanna say they are good enough because they are better than good enough. They have definitely focused […] they have put accessibility front and centre and they built around that, that's my understanding of it.

V: And it is […] I mean it looks good as well right.

D: Yeah I think it is a beautiful website. I think that […] I mean it won a Design award I think 2014 maybe.

V: Yeah.

D: And I think that that was kind of for me you know at that time I was already deeply involved in accessibility and deeply passionated about that. So to see something like that win an award you have if you look at the Website Awwwards you would never see a site like that on that site. Never.

V: Never […]

D: It is always visual, it is always you know bright colours or whatever the trend is at the time and low contrast text.

V: Lots of movement.

D: And to me they are experimental sites.

V: Yeah, yeah

D: They perhaps showcase what they do but what they do to me is not good. It doesn't […]

V: And I mean the problem I have with those is that they win awards so other people will mimic it.

D: Exactly.

V: So it doesn't really solve a design problem it just creates more beautiful fun stuff. So is there a way […] I saw a presentation that you gave recently here I think at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam a while ago where you talked about these awards on the one hand and on the other hand you had plain html. And I think that is also something. If you look at a lot of the accessibility stuff out there that's completely on the other spectrum from these awards things.

D: Yeah.

V: Can these two be combined somehow that there is functionality, solid, good functionality and fun.

D: Absolutely. I think it is an accessibility company and so it is easy to champion the accessibility companies but Simply Accessible in Canada and they had an artist come in Jerry Cody created these beautiful illustrations and the website is […] it looks really really good. For a you know it is not gonna be something that awards would champion for sure but you know the fact that they have got this illustrative element it is not bland it doesn't just look at text it doesn't you know just use spats and imagery or you know that sort of stuff. It looks more appealing, it looks visually appealing as well as being accessible. And I think that you know those are the sorts of sites that for me should be the ones that are winning awards. Because they are the ones which actually are good for the web and they look good. You know they are visually appealing. I think the design. There is Design with a capital D and design with a lower case d and by that I mean that you know design is such a big big broad thing. It is not just the visuals, it is just not the whole the thing that you see in front of you is what it is about, what is the purpose of this thing that you are interacting with, does it meet the goals.

V: So should there be an award show of these kinds of things.

D: I'd love if there was. I think it would be good for the industry, the web design industry.

V: The whole industry, right, yeah.

D: Absolutely. Because I think we are getting into a dangerous area where people are so highly they just focus so much on visual. Even with UX at the moment. As horrible as it sounds UX is kind of like to me it is a little bit lost. Because it is sort of it has become UX/UI.

V: Okay.

D: And you know the experience it doesn't need to involve visuals. Either if you look at things like Voice or even things like Nest the thermostat. I mean sure it is visually appealing but it is the functionality behind it that makes Nest work so well.

V: Exactly yeah.

D: You know I have left my house, I have got my phone with me, my house knows that I have left my house the heating will have gone down to you know a different temperature. As I cycle back to my door will know that I am there it will turn itself back on. But to me it is the design that is what makes Nest amazing.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

D: And so the weight that we put on on visual appearance I think is too great. It is important you know I don't wanna say that the visual appearance is lesser than anything else. It is very important. But it is not the most important.

V: Yeah, it is not what it is about. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They are a whole lot of services that need to be designed. Yeah exactly yeah. Okay.

D: There was something […] I come back to what you said earlier about you know I think that is good there is something that I came across and it was a friend of mine who posted this picture on Facebook and it was a photograph of an app that she was using to input her meter readings for her gas and electricity. And you look at it and it is just a […] you enter your username and password and it comes up with like a little 1 to 0 where you enter your numbers and hit return. The beautiful thing about that is there was an extra button there and that extra button was flashlight.

V: Okay, yeah, yeah.

D: And so if you think about the whole thing about going to get your meter readings there you know you are usually lifting something up looking into a floor, brushing away some cob webs and you have to open up your flashlight app, turn it on and you know get the readings. And this is all integrated.

V: Yeah.

D: So that is good design. I don't care you know what icon they use for that flashlight it is irrelevant it is not important the slightest as long as it is understandable of course as long as you can recognize it this is the flashlight. But they actual […] the whole functionality of it was what made that design brilliant.

V: Yeah.

D: That is good design.

V: Yeah, okay, yeah, yeah, that is very clever indeed. So on the one hand we talked about a little bit about these incredible often incredible award winning websites that look amazing. I think there is also a problem there they call this experience design. It is really what they call them. So I think that's where the people get confused about what user experience means.

D: Sure.

V: So they use experience in two different ways.

D: Yeah.

V: User experience and experience design.

D: It is an uncomfortable term. I actually I had a hideous job title in the past I was actually one of those webmasters.

V: Oh yeah.

D: And you know webmaster is something that is totally different for anybody that you ask.

V: Yeah.

D: You know and what happened with webmasters is that they I don't know if there are any about but most of them moved into design, development, marketing even, user experience design like I did. They branched out into different things. Content writers and lots of different things.

V: Yeah they all became specialists.

D: Became specialists. And I think certainly in Amsterdam or Europe as a whole user experience design has become a catch all title that you do lots of things that are different to lots of different people.

V: I also think it is a combination of different specialities.

D: Yeah absolutely. And I think it is still in its infancy here although it is more established than it was 5, 6, 7 years ago but it is still and certainly for myself with the companies that I have worked for. I have been the UX team of one which means that you know I have to wear lots of different hats. So I do facilitation, I do research, I do the concept in design, how you bring people along in that journey and everything that's all of the problem that I have to tackle. Other companies will have UX researchers or UX writers or you know designers or interaction designers so it is kind of like branched out. So the title itself is kind of it is tricky with the fact that you know the experience should not be in control of one person. You know I am not the person working at AssistiveWare like I did recently who controls the experience of all of these other people. It's totally collaborative. It has to be collaborative. Even design is kind of tricky at the moment because everyone is a designer. But somebody has to be […]

V: And define design I mean that is […]

D: Exactly. Everybody […] there is one example I can give I put on a workshop many years ago and it was a six up sketching workshop so there was a problem that we were trying to find a solution for. And the goal of the workshop was okay here is the problem how would you sketch out a solution to this problem. You have got two minutes to sketch out a solution then sketch out a different solution that is not related to the first and then you move on. So by the time you come to the fifth or sixth sketch you get these weird and wonderful ideas that you know some are worth exploring further and others are the types of things that probably end up on Awwwards.

V: Okay.

D: But the great thing about that workshop I remember was that there were designers in there, there were developers, there were project managers and there was an intern she worked in marketing and at the end of the workshop when people were showing their sketches she held up this sketch and explained what it was all about and everybody in the room was just silent. It was like that's perfect that is the one that we want to try out. So obviously you create a prototype and you test it out and see if this is the way forward. But I think that this whole design and ownership is […] everyone is involved. Naturally you have to have somebody that knows design. They need to […] by that I mean they need to know colour theory and they need to know all of these sort of things. They have to be more familiar and more entranced but you have to also be able to throw away the things, your ideas when better ones appear.

V: That can be pretty complicated especially let's say on the web where we have technology that works in a certain way and then when you come up with a better idea of how it should work it doesn't work then. I think that is something that happens a lot that people come up with very nice interactions that don't really fit unto the core of how the web works.

D: The Hamburger being one of them of course.

V: I think the Hamburger is actually a pattern that has been on the web for ages.

D: Yeah IBM or something back in the […]

V: I think you can see it as a skip link. Skip to navigation.

D: I think I mean the problem with Hamburgers is of course you hide content.

V: You can see it as hiding content I think I disagree because I think navigation should never be on top. Navigation is not the core content so it should be in the footer. And then when you add a skip to navigation link at the top there is your Hamburger menu and you skip to navigation.

D: I have not seen that pattern. I mean if you look at iOS for instance what they have done is their navigation becomes a familiar place […] you know it's the bottom, it is a tab that you would tap on. And I think you know and the benefit of that of course is touch and so you know it is easier to access things like that.

V: It is where your thumb is.

D: Hamburger in the top left or top right wherever it is it is harder to actually reach. I was kind of surprised when the hamburger made it onto the web and so I remember seeing I don't know what it looks like now but Slate had a redesign many years ago and it was just content like you described and they had a hamburger icon in the top right I believe and you know finding what you were looking for suddenly became a lot trickier. If you imagine the BBC for instance. If the BBC got rid off the news sport travel whatever top-level things that they have there and just replaced it with a hamburger then you have got an extra thing to do to actually get to the content that you want to. So […]

V: I agree from a […] if you enter a website from the homepage way of navigating a site but mostly when I come to a website I click on a link on Twitter and then I don't come to the homepage I am right at the content that I want to see.

D: Yeah.

V: I am not really interested in the navigation so […]

D: Again it depends on what your journey is after that. So if your goal is to […] you have got 5 minutes to spare you see an interesting article on Twitter you tap on it you read it, you have reached your goal, that is. The goal of the people that have created the content is perhaps very very different. Their goal is to get you to read more to get more involved, to subscribe to do all of the things.

V: So that would again I think be a case where you would emphasize the navigation at the end of the article not at the top.

D: Yeah maybe maybe to read more. But again that's in the use case of being an article of course. If it is different content than you got different things.

V: Sure, sure.

D: And so I think that the you know the goal of the people that create the site is to showcase what they have got. So you know a homepage is very very easy. It is the least interesting page of your website. It is just basically […]

V: And it is usually the one that is designed first. When I remember when I used to work for corporations and we would do a redesign of a website the client would always want to see the homepage first.

D: Yeah, okay. Yeah for me I mean I always worked in house so I have not worked for […] I do not have the agency experience that you have. For me it is the last thing that I would design.

V: Yeah. Logically, yeah.

D: I actually so for Europeana […] Sorry Europeana is a company that I worked for before in The Hague and it is a cultural heritage website that gathers content from galleries, libraries, archives and museums from all over Europe and puts it into one place. So there is like 56 million digitized object in this one place. The most important page on Europeana is the item page. It is the last page that you get to. It is the content that you want to reach. You have got the image or you got the audio you got the video of whatever the content is, you got the meta data you can read more about it and you know if you want to explore further maybe you have got linked items and things like that. The second most important page is of course the search results page.

V: Yeah exactly.

D: You perform a search and you have got a list. How do you find to filter down to the actual content? And then to get to the search result page is the homepage.

V: Via the homepage or something else. Another way […]

D: Or a theme page another entry point basically.

V: Or Google probably.

D: Yeah Google well I mean I don't what it is like now for Europeana I imagine it is not changed too much but the landing page was the item page.

V: Yeah probably.

D: That's where people land. Nobody goes to and hits entrance starts there they usually come in different ways.

V: Yeah the same with Wikipedia of course.

D: I don't know how do you get to a page in Wikipedia. Do you go to and then perform a search?

V: No. DuckDuckGo always.

D: Yeah absolutely. Yeah I search for whatever I am looking for Wikipedia comes on top and you go and read that. Yeah. And Wikipedia of course they have links below to read different articles on either different websites or there are links throughout who take you to different articles within Wikipedia. So they are always like showcasing their content.

V: Yeah. So I wanna go back a little bit to accessibility again. There are simply said four kinds of accessibility right? So we talk about visual, hearing, motor and cognitive.

D: Yes but they are not the only four.

V: Not the only. No.

D: No. There is lots of other different things that you need to take into account. I mean I worked with speech for instance which was obviously very different from that.

V: Yeah, yeah because there's people who don't […] yeah exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah.

D: And I think […] sorry if you got a question […]

V: No, no, no.

D: So yeah what I was just gonna touch on with speech is that I think that's kind of really fascinating because at the moment the trends or I see lots of people talking about augmented reality, virtual reality and speech interfaces. They seem to be like the big three that people buzzing about. And so speech is really interesting because it can open the doors to lots and lots of people who have accessibility requirements. It can make things so much easier.

V: For instance?

D: So for instance if you are blind and you could say hey Google call me an Uber or whatever. Something like this. It is perhaps a lot easier than taking out your phone and finding the area that you need to call or whatever and things like that. Or the app even. It is just easier. If you got a motor impairment: Alexa turn on the living room lights, you know that is quite handy.

V: Yeah.

D: But then you have also got to factor in you know myself I have a fairly strong British accent. So I have a […] I have got Google Home in my house and most of the time it is quite forgiving it can pretty much get what I am trying to say. And sometimes it really shocks me that how it understands me or I am really really tired just woken up and it is turn off my alarm and it goes. When you say that with a really heavily accent and with a sleepy voice then it is quite surprising. But if you got somebody that has a stutter or somebody that has […] who is young maybe, language hasn't developed as much and then obviously the extremes of people that are non verbal it kind of closes the doors to those people to use this technology.

V: Yeah.

D: I thought it was super interesting that Amazon came out with the Amazon show which was […] it was the same thing but it had a screen and so you could see the results and so you could for instance say hey Amazon who wants such and such a person and you have got a Wikipedia entry been shown to you on screen as well as the voice giving you some information.

V: Okay. Yeah I know the problem of course is memory. You have to remember the commands right?

D: Yeah. That is so tricky and I think that is gonna be something […]

V: It reminds me a little bit of using the terminal.

D: Yeah. Yeah I think voice is new and these you know I don't know Google home has been out a year maybe or Echo maybe a bit longer but they are new. These are like new patterns that we need to understand. And you know the difficulty with voices is voices is totally different than a visual UI. You know with a visual UI you learn what a hamburger button does, you press it and you can understand the sort of thing. But with voice you don't know what it knows, you don't know what it can do.

V: Yeah.

D: I am amazed I keep finding new things that it actually understands. The other day I wanted to find out what time my football team was gonna be playing. And I normally go to the BBC do a search find the time in GMT, add 1 and know the answer. Where as this time I asked Google and it told me the game starts at 4 pm and it is against such and such a team. And you know it is those sort of things that you need to kind of learn. And that's gonna be tricky.

V: The interesting thing of course is that these tools are learning themselves as well. So it is not just that you have to learn they will get better and they will understand whatever you mean.

D: Absolutely.

V: So in the end or not in the end this is probably not gonna end but in a while they will probably understand little kids as well.

D: Yeah I had some children stay with myself and my wife. There were friends coming over with their little kids and there is one child in particular I think he was like three, Danish and he can't speak English but he was able to see that I was saying okay Google to activate this thing and you know make the lights green and he was fascinated and things like that. So by the end of the stay you would hear his little voice trying to say okay Google to try and activate it.

V: Yeah that's cool. That's really cool. So okay I have another question for you maybe you can answer it. There is this thing about making pleasurable user interfaces that is something that fascinates me that you can create interfaces that are fun to use. Okay Google could be one of them. I mean having buttons that wobble can be fun I can imagine that they can be a pleasure to use them that they follow your mouse a little bit. I am just thinking of examples here.

D: They may be pleasurable for the first time. Less so the second time. And annoying by the tenth time.

V: It could be, yeah, yeah, yeah. But then I read this article on Works that Work, a magazine, I link to it in the shownotes where […] so what we do as user experience designers mostly is taking away friction and making it easier and easier to use stuff. If we don't have to do it that's the best result right? If there is no effort at all that's actually what we are trying to reach. But this article is interesting because it was about designing stuff for animals in Zoos and what they did is they make it harder for the animals to eat their food. So usually an animal in the Zoo they get food thrown to them, they eat it and they go back to sleeping and they are really really bored and they are not happy. And here in this particular Zoo they make it hard to reach the food. So the food is somewhere in a maze for a giraffe for instance and they have to use their tongue to get through the maze to get to the food and so instead of […] and they say this is a more pleasurable experience for the animals. And I did a little experiment a while ago with some colleagues of mine where I showed them different kinds of phones, buttons for phones and I asked them about what button was fun or was pleasurable and the interesting thing is that these things didn't have to be efficient. So if it is fun it doesn't have to be efficient.

D: Well I think it is you know humans or you know mammals as you say fun, game elements are kind of […] it is playfulness. People are playful. Either we are playful but […]

V: But this was even to achieve a task like eating.

D: Sure, sure.

V: Eating right which is pretty important.

D: But I think things like friction I disagree that it is […] our goal is to always reduce friction. Sometimes it is to add a little bit of friction.

V: Okay, yeah? Do you have examples?

D: Sure. This is kind of like a […] it was a business goal which is where it stems from there is an app in the app store and we want people to review it but we want people to review it and give four or five stars rather than give one or two stars. And so the business need was to try to filter out the frustrated people and to entice the people that were happy to leave reviews. And so the simple thing to do and that you see all the times with app. You will be using the app for three or four times then you get a pop-up saying rate us in the app store five stars and bla bla bla. If you are having a negative experience you tap one star or ignore them. And so the idea that I introduced for this app was to add a little bit of friction but it was beneficial both for business and for the user. And what I did was I came up with […] it had a message that came on the screen saying we hope you are having a good time with the app. Are you having a good time with the app or something like that and it was a yes or no thing. You could dismiss of course if you wanted to. If you tapped yes then you would be prompted with that's great to hear. We'd love it if you review or rate our app and so hopefully some of the people would leave a review and these reviews would likely be positive. If you tap on no you would get a message saying we are sorry to hear that perhaps you can let us know what the problem is that you are having. So you are getting qualitative feedback from these people that are having a negative experiences. And you are able to try and fix that problem. And so you know there is a little bit of friction in there but that friction is beneficial both ways.

V: Yeah. Is it friction I am not sure if it is friction? I think it is […]

D: It is an extra step.

V: Yeah, yeah.

D: And being with user experience what you said before the goal is to reduce steps.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

D: And sometimes maybe it is not to reduce steps maybe adding one extra step is more beneficial for everybody.

V: Yeah but here I guess it is getting the right people in the right place and then yeah.

D: Yeah.

V: Yeah but I thought this was interesting that it doesn't have to be efficient all the time. I think that is not something that we teach our students or that we […] When we make games of course that's […] it is the main goal to keep people playing I guess.

D: Yeah I think it comes down to that what is the goal.

V: Yeah.

D: Yeah games are a totally different thing. You know what makes a good game is an interesting one you know. Because that is so so unique and so so different.

V: Yeah.

D: But I think it always comes down to that. I think it is all about the individual. If you think of things like IMDB for instance the Internet movie database if you look at that and you see a film has 30.000 reviews and the average rating is 7.2 does that make it a good film. What does 7.2 means? Is 7.2 good is it very good it is above average. You know that is a unique personal thing. So you know even attach a matrix to what is good is kind of tricky. It always comes down to individual […]

V: It is pretty hard. I saw on Good Reads, which is for books an app, these stars they mean a different thing on Good Reads than I would expect them to mean. I mean if you look at five stars if you can give five stars. If something has three starts it actually means it sucks usually. From a user perspective you say oh that's not good. But on Good Reads it said it is good, something like that and it is very good and then it is excellent.

D: Yeah exactly.

V: And two stars it is okay and one star I wouldn't recommend it something like that.

D: Yeah.

V: It is very different from how we perceive these things.

D: And does Good Read spell out what these stars mean?

V: Sometimes yeah. Because I did see it somewhere.

D: Okay because I mean that's actually quite good because you know you have a clearer understanding of what three stars means. If three stars means good it means good for everybody or what they think good means. Where as things like with IMDB for instance you know seven means whatever. It is just a number you know. And also […]

V: And it is actually pretty hard grading is very hard.

D: It is very hard, it is very hard. You know you can flip that around a little bit as well and talk about a film on IMDB that this a 100 reviews and it got a 9 average. Is that a better film than the one with 30.000 reviews and 7.2. You know it is so difficult to define. You know even with metrics it is you know […] there is lots of talk with data driven design for instance. I think data driven design it should be data influenced design it's you know the numbers provide a question to ask rather than an answer.

V: Yeah. Some people they tell me when I tell them I am working on web accessibility and they tell me that is a waste of time because it is gonna get solved with artificial intelligence.

D: Yeah I don't think that's gonna be the case.

V: It is not that easy?

D: I don't think it is gonna be that easy.

V: Or new interfaces right?

D: Yeah I mean things always evolve and you know where we are now we have no idea what's gonna happen in five years time. I could imagine what it is gonna be in five years time but it will nothing like what it will be. You know ultimately I think everybody that has an interest in accessibility hopes that the need for us to do our work or to actually you know champion and talk about it becomes less and less. Now so I think it is more and more important because there is lots of people that are entering design industry with no understanding at all about accessibility and no thoughts about it. But I don't think AI certainly in the short to mid term in my imagination is gonna be something that is gonna be a solution.

V: No, no, no.

D: I mean it is gonna be nice to be able to learn behaviour I think Léonie Watson posted something recently about […] you shall have to forgive me if I get this wrong but a website that I think it was even Facebook that asked if she was a screen reader user because of her behaviour and so it is obviously trying to learn, it is trying to learn and understand. I don't know why it is trying to learn and understand. I believe that's gonna affect behaviour. I hope it is something positive and it is in the case of how many blind people are using a website.

V: Yeah that could be as well.

D: Because if you break down accessibility into numbers then you know people will say […] people could say what is the point.

V: It is actually what people do say all the time in my experience.

D: Yeah, yeah. I was almost gonna say it depends which […] first time for an user experience designer to say it depends.

V: Yeah.

D: But I think it really depends on the client and their goals. So the companies that I worked for I was able to sell in accessibility and I was also to sell it in at the easiest level which is you know we should do this because it is the right thing to do. Which is you know in an ideal world everyone would nod and swell and say do it.

V: Sure.

D: It doesn't work like that. I appreciate that. For me my approach would be to try and sell in accessibility at that level and then to try and sell it in let's say a financial level.

V: Okay. What I am trying now is not to sell it. Just do it.

D: Totally.

V: Make it, at least for my students, the normal thing you do. It is part of the job.

D: Yeah and if you are in a position to do that that is definitely the one.

V: And I guess some things can be done. Right? A frontend developer can add labels when they are not there. You can just add them.

D: Yeah.

V: You can add contrast as a visual designer you can fix that.

D: If you don't get the buy in than just do it. You know it is […] but sometimes you have to be able to try and sell it in to try and get the buy in. I mean it is nice if everyone is going along the journey and you know why did you choose this particular colour I chose it because it is accessible. You know as long as everyone is on that field rather than I don't like that green make it lighter it needs more grey on white. And so I think there still needs to be compensation.

V: Okay yeah that's good. Yeah I think that is very important as well, right. Make it explicit that that's what we do. We design for everybody and that means it has certain consequences. There are some things that we cannot do but we can improve it in other ways. But in the end it will probably be invisible.

D: Yeah hopefully. I mean you know the more and more sites that do create you know beautiful appealing accessible websites the more and more companies to do this the more familiar it will become to people and I am not saying that every site should look the same of course. You know you need to have this differentiator you need to show your own personality and you need to convey what the message is that you are trying to get across but I think equally that we should avoid as much as we can championing the ones that don't consider accessibility.

V: Agreed. So what should we do with these […] but I think there is two sides to this coin. So on the one hand you say you have these sites that don't follow accessibility at all and they are the awards winning sites and then on the other hand there is this trend of or is it a trend, there are these Spartan accessibility examples that are incredible in their thought of how they work and what they do but they are really on another spectrum. So can we get these closer together? Should we maybe add a layer of awardness unto these Spartan things and maybe take these wonderful examples like the one that you talked about in the beginning with the animations, the illustrations and just copy them make them accessible and say hey here.

D: Yeah I mean grab a Wordpress theme as simple like that get it out there make it popular just to get more familiarity with this sort of style of […]

V: I should do that with my students. That's something they can do.

D: Yes. This kind you know style of design. I mean we are talking ideals. I am a fairly realistic person.

V: Okay, yeah.

D: I would be very very very surprised if we see anything moving in that direction. I think we are doomed to be championing the beautiful and the visual and having these conversations for a long time.

V: Okay

D: The only kind of hope really for us to be taking it more and more seriously as horrible as it is is the same thing that is happening in the United States with section 508 in the American disability act where you have to make things accessible if you are within this sort of area.

V: Yeah okay so a law.

D: So it becomes law.

V: Yeah.

D: And I know that there is a new EU law which is coming. I know there is Dutch laws but you know the danger of that is the fact that in the States the first thing that people do is they say I am going to sue your company. And that to me is the worst thing to do. That is the last thing that you would do. You would build it, build a site because it is the right thing to do. If you don't do that you would build it because it is gonna bring your company more money or you know […]

V: It is a very negative approach.

D: It is. It is very negative.

V: I remember we use to have the "Webrichtlijnen" in the Netherlands so that was a set of […] and it is was treated as a checklist and it was pretty negative. So it was said okay we need this. We want a stamp on our website which says we are compliant to these […] this list of things of how we make our website accessible. But this was always done after the fact so there was a beautiful design and the website was there it was live and then it had to be accessible.

D: Yeah.

V: And this was always a bug list actually for the developer.

D: Yeah exactly. You know accessibility is not the sexiest thing ever. It is kind of you know it is being an interruption for quite a long it has being just a checklist at the end. And it isn't we know that we should be doing it by the start. But I think there is this thing where you need to also try and make it more appealing more interesting because I am gonna get into trouble for this but it is fairly grey thing. Accessibility is not […] you know interaction design, visual design is kind of like appealing it is you know it is something that people are interested in. Accessibility is not kind of that you know.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I am looking for ways to make it that.

D: So am I. Welcome to my world.

V: So I think there are a few things. For instance now my students they had to make a website for one person who doesn't want to use their mouse because they are motor disabled and they have a hard time using a mouse or track pad so they prefer using their keyboard. And the interesting thing is these are students here they study interaction design. They have been studying that for 2,5 years and they had never used their keyboard to navigate their computer. They didn't know this existed. Okay that's an issue that me as a teacher I have to solve this so but […] I mean that means that these are people who are interested in interaction design that means that out there there are all kinds of professionals who don't know you can navigate their website with a keyboard. And once you do that it is fun. It is actually really nice, much nicer than using a mouse. If you get your interface to work with a keyboard.

D: Yeah I think I mean you ultimately don't know how people are gonna interact with your product. There was an usability test I did once with a teenager in Canada and it was a remote usability test and he used his iPad and he used his tongue to navigate. It is so repulsive. And you know people will use wands or they use you have sip and puff devices you have no idea what the actual input device is gonna be. And I think you know there needs to be some sort of awareness that you are not your user. You are not the person […] you know everyone that is coming out of these courses are you know the majority I imagine are healthy youngish individuals.

V: Yeah.

D: And they will be entering an industry with that perspective. And I think having that knowledge that people get old, people have fading vision.

V: Yeah this is something that you […] as a kid that is the hardest thing.

D: It is the hardest thing. It is not impossible. You know for myself I am not disabled I got into accessibility because of a workshop I went to probably six years ago now with Derek Featherstone.

V: Okay yeah.

D: He is an accessibility specialist.

V: Was it here in Amsterdam or […]?

D: It was in Leiden actually.

V: Okay.

D: The Ready to Inspire conference. I think they only did it for one year. And I went into this workshop as an user experience designer who you know tackled these problems for myself and for people like me and as much as I tried to factor in the user case I couldn't get my head around I didn't know what it was like to be an old person. But it certainly flipped a switch for myself and since then I have kind of tried to tackle every problem that I have come across through this lens and the beautiful thing for myself is that I feel that the designs that come out at the end are much much better.

V: Okay yeah, yeah.

D: So if you come at things through this lens then you solve problems differently. There is a thing that I did for Europeana which was a […] they needed a way of showing where all of the head offices were of these organizations. So straight away as designers we would think okay a map. Put a map on there put on some dots and there you navigate you take your mouse you move your mouse you tap on a dot. It becomes bigger and it gives you all the information that you need. But if you flip that around and think of that through an accessibility lens there a few things going on there. So you need to have good motor control. Maps are quite complex they need a lot of movement. You need to be able to press down your mouse button and swipe and drag and do all of these sorts of things. So if you got a problem with your hand and you are not able to do that that becomes a little bit problematic. And there are ways of tackling that technically you could use like Leaflet rather than using Google maps for instance. You could use your up and down arrows and your plus and minus to zoom in but then you have got the problem of how do you get to the dots to tap on. And you have got these sorts of things to factor in. And then you also have to factor in things like okay what if somebody has a visual impairment. What if somebody is blind? You know maps are the most complex thing to build for blind people. But then I broke down this problem okay take it down right to the core. The core problem is we need a way to show where the head office is in this country. Okay so you type in France and then you get your information. You know so […]

V: It is a list.

D: It is a list. And so they way that I actually tackled that problem was there was a map. The map was still there. So if you were able to use a map, if you want to see visually where these places were then you could see that. But below that there was a box where you typed in France. As you typed it in you had your auto complete sort of thing and then you hit return and then it read it out.

V: Yeah.

D: And so this worked you know this was tested with a screen reader. And you know it was fun. It was an accessible map in a way.

V: I did that once with a […] it was for, I think it was for KLM that they wanted to or Schiphol I don't remember anyway they wanted to show all the incoming flights. So all the flights that were coming in in the next hour or something where they were on a map. And that was basically a list as well. So we really made it as a list. It was a html list which was plotted onto the map later on.

D: Yeah. I mean for something like that with arrivals you know what is the key information that you need to get, what is the purpose of this thing that you are trying to tackle. The purpose is to find out either […] you need to know what the flight number is, where it is coming from and when it is due to arrive. So that is the key information. You are actually plotting that on a map. It might be a visually […]

V: That was actually really the reason why they wanted to do it because they wanted to […] what does it look like.

D: Yeah, yeah. But that obviously with the amount of congestion that you have in the air now it probably becomes less visually appealing more and more.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I thought it was interesting. It is probably one of those things where suddenly you have this data and they wanted to do something with it. Which was interesting. I mean we have to do all these kinds of […] I saw another thing a very interesting thing that you did a ramp requester.

D: Okay.

V: Right? This is an experiment I think you […] a thought experiment you did is that right?

D: Yeah that came about because it was a bit of a personal project so after I left Europeana I worked freelance for a shop here at the time and during that time I was kind of tackling the less interesting problems, let's put it that way. And I wanted to look at you know accessibility problems alongside of that. And I was actually commuting and I was at Duivendrecht waiting for a train and it was rush hour lots of people on the platform. And a gentleman was in his wheelchair and lots of people crammed onto the train and the ramp hadn't arrived for this person to be boarded onto the train and what I noticed when I was looking around the train carriage were people were looking at this guy and they were like totting and you know the focus of blame was on this individual. And this individual is the least […] the person that should not be blamed in the slightest and I found that really really frustrating. I felt really annoyed with my fellow commuters and so I wanted to see okay how could we go about tackling that problem and so first of all I obviously thought about okay you could attach things to the trains and go do all these sorts of things. But then it is not my familiarity it is not my expertise I deal with digital solutions.

V: Okay yeah.

D: And so I kind of wanted to look at cheap ways to make the process easier but also to add in the accountability. I wanna clarify by accountability I don't mean blame I don't want somebody at Duivendrecht to be you didn't arrive at this time this is your […] we are going to dock you your wages. You are gonna get a formal warning. You know it is not about that. What it is about is how we can improve that process how we can make sure this happens less and less and so the idea behind ramp requester was very very simple really. It was basically you would enter where you are going from where you are going to and choosing your train much as you do with the NS app. And then after that you would put in a request. To be able to put in a request you have to have a disability rail card so you have to […] you know it can't be misused by people you have to be registered to be able to use this. And then when the request goes in then the train stations would be aware of what is happening we need to be here at this time. And then after the journey the person the traveller is able to then give a star rating […] how good that service was. Whether it was a poor experience whether it was a good experience and to leave quality feedback to say what went wrong and what could be improved. And that information then could be used by the individual stations or NS or whoever British Rail to actually look at ways to improve and to what they could do to make that better.

V: Because I was thinking a friend of mine he is in a wheelchair I mean it is really if you think about it it is crazy I think a day in advance you have to tell exactly which train you are gonna take or […]

D: Yeah, it is horrible.

V: I mean that is not something that we want to do right. If I want to keep on talking a little bit longer with you I take the next train. They cannot do that.

D: Yeah.

V: They cannot take another beer.

D: Yeah absolutely, absolutely. And I mean the thing is as well you get so many other elements with that as well because you sometimes change travel, you change train to get into another train. So it ads that level of complexity. I spoke to somebody in the UK and her son regularly commuted from Sheffield to Doncaster or something like Leeds or something like that. And what he relied upon was somebody and that involved a change and what they relied upon was that somebody was actually going to be there in the middle to help them off the train and onto the next one. And that didn't always happen. So this person would then have to travel to the end stop and then get back to the stop that they wanted to go to. For us that is not acceptable, that is not acceptable. So why should it be because somebody is in a wheelchair.

V: Yeah, yeah.

D: You know the problem is not on the individual the problem is on the service. I think that's the issue that we sometimes have. We sometimes think of accessibility problems as you know this is a blind person it is their thing to deal with rather than us as individuals as a society to fix these problems.

V: That's a very interesting definition of disability. It is the hurdles of the society. So in some ways right you can take away some of the hurdles. You are more disabled when the curbs are not lowered when you are in a wheelchair and that really solves a problem.

D: Absolutely. And you know for that example with the curbs. The curbs were designed for that purpose. You know for people with strollers, for people with shopping baskets, for […]

V: Students with crates of beer on their skateboards.

D: Exactly. You know those sorts of things. There is lots of good reasons why […] Even things if you look at inventions of the past. Lots of inventions in the past were designed and created for an accessibility need. And they got integrated into society.

V: Cassette tapes.

D: Yeah SMS.


D: You know all of these things that were introduced which yeah we just take as […]

V: I had another question. I forgot which was really good. I do have another question but that's really something else.

D: Okay.

V: That is about aesthetics because I saw in your […] if I saw it correctly that you had a record label.

D: Yes.

V: And then I clicked on the link where I found it and all the music is online. I could listen to it. And this was not mainstream pop music or rock and roll. There was another aesthetic. Can you explain a little bit about it? What was it?

D: Okay so that record label. Interestingly as well I should say with that website for instance that is a really poorly designed website. It is a terrible website. And it is totally inaccessible.

V: Okay.

D: But this was kind of something that I did before I knew what accessibility was and like many things that you do and you create on the web you move on to other different things. And so […] but the whole thing about Rack & Ruin records was to actually promote music that was I want to say the word inaccessible which is kind of funny. It is not mainstream, it is not popular. It is things music that was recorded in somebody's bedroom it has a gritty quality to it. You perhaps don't make out all of the words. It is a little bit rough around the edges.

V: It is hard sometimes to find a rhythm. It is not what it is about.

D: Absolutely.

V: Usually the music I listen to and I am very eclectic music listener I can bob my head usually. But this […] It was very interesting though. I really liked it. And there is lots of 200 records or something.

D: Yeah it is about 200 and they are very very varied. And so for instance some of them would fall into like an Indie pop category where you know you could perhaps get some head bobbing going on but there are definitely others which are far more experimental and you know noise related and it is like it is just working with noise. Working out how it sounds and how it makes you feel and things like that. There are some things on there for instance which a very very harsh noise where the actual the feeling the sensation you get from listening is actually it is not a pleasant feeling but you know I think it is worth exploring.

V: Absolutely.

D: And you know it is something that if it wasn't explored further you would be able to find what is appealing to you as an individual.

V: That's interesting because in visual arts this is common, right? If you go to an Art academy in the Netherlands it is not about beauty it is about all kinds of things and it can also be about making people feeling very uncomfortable but in music this is not very common yet.

D: Yeah again it depends really on the individual on where your boundaries are. You know you could be very uncomfortable listening to a hard-core rap album or something like that where […] you know it is I am very uncomfortable listening to Adele.

V: Okay, yeah, yeah.

D: You know it is […] You do have these boundaries where you […]

V: And things change of course.

D: Things change. Things totally change.

V: I remember in the early '80s, not early '80s but in the '80s when I started listening to punk rock. Oh this is incredible how can I get used to this and the first time I heard it I thought it was awful but then I wanted to be a punk rocker so I had to start likening it. But now that became mainstream music. It is not even something that people are offended by, not at all.

D: Yeah,

V: Back then they were. It is was too hard and too loud and […]

D: Absolutely I mean I remember when I was growing up the Beastie Boys were banned from all of the UK and they were not allowed entry and things and if you listen to License to Ill and it is just very you know it is not that extreme. You hear more extreme things now on the every day radio before 5 pm. So I think definitely times change and people change.

V: Yeah.

D: You know when you look at films for instance. I remember I was 11 or 12 and looking around the corner watching my brother watching Nightmare on Elm Street which was a horrifying terrifying horror movie. And you watch it now and it is more comedy than horror. You know so yeah I think as time changes our sensitivities change as well.

V: So these things need to explored right? It is just something that there might be interesting things that we will never find out if we don't explore these kinds of […]

D: Absolutely I mean I am all for experimentation. You know in whatever media I think it is super important. There was a quote in the talk that you mentioned earlier which I really liked. It was some designer who said just because we can create an atomic bomb should we create an atomic bomb.

V: Fantastic yeah.

D: And you know that is totally right. There is these whole ethical decisions that need to be made into everything that we do. You know we are in a fabulous position as designers. We are also in a very very dangerous position. And I think we have to be mindful of these dangers that we have. There was an interesting thing that Mike Monteiro posted recently about the fact that you would not go to a lawyer who has not been to law school and got all of these degrees and bla bla bla but you would come to a designer and you know I was nodding furiously with this article I totally agree with it. I would actually one of the people that would be called from design because I don't have a design background. It is kind of funny. But I think for you know ultimately if the goal is to produce these things then we as designers need to have something to answer to.

V: But on the other hand there is lots to say against this article as well. I mean you have to go to […] you cannot call yourself an architect in the Netherlands you have to have a degree. But on the other hand the things they put out there that are not really meant for humans sometimes I have that feeling if I look at architecture so what's […] it is not really. It is an is there is a school for design if you have to be licensed it is not a guarantee that the school will be good.

D: Yeah but so with the architecture thing is that an aesthetic thing or is that […] you know why are you saying that something these produce is not good for you?

V: I sometimes have the feeling that things are not created for the people that live there but more for the architect themselves. So it is also from the rendering […] the renderings of the future building. They look realistic but they are not. So it is always there is a big square and there is happy people in the sunshine having a […] there is little groups of happy people having a moment of rest in a square. But if you look at a square that's not what people do there. People don't stand on a square having a nice chat. They go somewhere else.

D: Yeah.

V: And glass is always transparent but if you look at the building glass is never transparent.

D: Unless you are Apple.

V: Yeah, but it is either black or it is reflecting the grey sky.

D: Yeah.

V: So I do think that the user is not always part of the design process of designing a building.

D: Yeah.

V: So I am not sure if licensing people will solve things.

D: No I agree but also you know with architecture itself and you know city planning for instance there is things about you know the way that NYC was designed with the low bridges. The low bridges were put in place to stop public transport from going underneath. Busses going underneath the low bridges to get to certain areas of the city and they were designed because people of colour were using were more likely to use public transports and so you know […] there is sort of like these sort of design decisions that have been made which you know are terrible. They are terrible but […] you know somebody went to school and gone through a lot of things and you know can get into ethics and all of these sorts of things.

V: Well at least you can be sure that that building will not collapse.

D: Yeah exactly.

V: Because somebody knows what they are doing.

D: Exactly. And so on that level. I wouldn't go to an architect who didn't have all of these degrees but we are all going to designers who do have […] who just designed a Wordpress shop for their grandmother selling her knitting online.

V: Yeah and it used to be much worse.

D: Oh yeah.

V: I mean when I started out a colleague of mine was a cook before that so he was a cook and then one day he said I don't want to be a cook anymore I want to make websites.

D: Yeah.

V: And he learned a little bit of html somebody helped him out on the forum and that was enough to get a proper job.

D: Yeah. Well that's my career. You know I was a support analyst who decided to get interested in design development created a website for music and then that started my journey into where I am now.

V: Well fantastic. You did a very good job.

D: Thanks.

V: Yeah. So I asked you all kinds of questions. All kinds of subjects.

D: Lots of tangents.

V: Yeah, yeah. Do you have anything to add? Do you want any last thing or do you have any […]?

D: Not really I think really want to get across the point like I mentioned earlier as designers we have such an important role. I think we need to internalize a lot and make sure that we are doing the right thing. There is lots of talk online, on Twitter and all the social media about ethics and design. I think it is hugely hugely important. There is lots of discussion about diversity which is hugely hugely important. I think as an industry moving forward I hope that we don't shy away from these discussions. I hope we stop championing the things that we shouldn't really be championing and we promote things that need promoting.

V: This is really interesting. So you say, and I agree with all of these right, inclusion is important, diversity is important and we talk about them within the design community. I think within a niche of the design community if I have to be honest. I think it is a part not everybody is talking about it. Shouldn't we be talking about this in business schools because that's where the decisions are made of what gets designed. I mean in the Netherlands, in the bigger agencies it is usually business that decides what gets made. So shouldn't these questions be answered there?

D: Yeah shouldn't be exclusive to design. Definitely not. It needs to be much broader. But you know you use the word inclusive there and if you look at […] if you go to Wikipedia and you do a search for inclusive design. Inclusive design on Wikipedia and it seems to be the common what people are saying about inclusive design is for persons with disabilities. There was something maybe a year ago a video of a black person that was using a soap dispenser an automatic soap dispenser and they put their hand underneath the soap dispenser and no soap came out.

V: Yeah, yeah.

D: And a white hand came and did exactly the same thing and the soap came out. That is broken design. That to me is you know why isn't that inclusive design. Inclusive design is not just persons with disabilities. It involves people of colour, it involves gender, it involves sexuality, it involves so many other things and other components. And so I think we really need to broaden you know what we talk about when we talk about inclusiveness in design. And again there are so many good things out there but you need to actually look for them you know. There are stock image sites, there are four or five stock image sites now which focus on person of colour, focus on disability, focus on […] but you know designers we go straight away to the ones that we are familiar with which are just white people with business suits and you know that's wrong. Diversity is in humanity we are all diverse and should be. Which is something again which is kind of you know as myself as a bespectacled white bearded UX designer just like every other UX designer out there. It seems kind of funny but I would much prefer that there were more people in the industry certainly in the Netherlands who where from more diverse backgrounds than myself.

V: And then you said certainly in the Netherlands. So is there something specific in the Netherlands?

D: I don't know. Not necessarily I spend a lot of time in […] obviously I live in the Netherlands but I spend a lot of time in Australia. In Australia there is a little bit more ethnic diversity. In the Netherlands generally I can probably name the individuals who would you know […] I could name an individual black UX designer because he is the black UX designer.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

D: Which is kind of interesting.

V: I think that is a very big problem.

D: Yeah.

V: Because if I look at my students they are definitely not a 100% white male but if I look at certain agencies they are.

D: Yeah.

V: Any ideas how to change that?

D: Just be mindful when you are in a position than you know with AssistiveWare it was really interesting because my last role in AssitiveWare was to find a person to replace me.

V: Okay.

D: And this was not […] this was pure chance it was something that was definitely in my mind but it was pure chance that the best candidates that we had, the four best candidates that we invited back, three of them were minorities.

V: Okay.

D: Which was you know to me as an individual that was kind of brilliant and I was super super happy and so I think ultimately if you are in a position in a hiring position you know be mindful of that. Don't just get the same pale faced male designers to sit in your […]

V: Yeah, yeah. I mean I can understand it right. If you have a few people working, you start a company and you […] I mean you hire people that are like you because then you will think that they will be as good as you. I mean it is […]

D: That is the business problem. So you know if you are the CEO of an organization and you are a small organization and you are bringing in people don't bring in the same people. Just don't do that.

V: Yeah, yeah, because it is also a […] there is enough research that indicates that a diverse team is […]

D: Is more innovative. Far more innovative. I mean I am actually more excited about what AssistiveWare is going to do in the future now that I left. You know which is humbling to say but I think they are gonna come up with some really really good stuff and I think that is because of the ideas that will go into that will be different. There will be different perspectives and so I think yeah I don't wanna talk myself out of jobs here but […]

V: Don't hire this guy.

D: But yeah. Certainly if you are in a hiring position then yeah look a bit further.

V: Good, okay. Thank you very much for this very interesting conversation.

D: Thank you very much.

V: Thank you.

V: This was episode 55 of The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting with Vasilis van Gemert (that’s me) and Dean Birkett. If you feel the urge to give any feedback you are more than welcome. You can send me an email via vasilis at Or, if your feedback fits in a tweet you can find me on twitter via @vasilis. Another thing you can do is helping me pay the bills for the transcripts of this podcast. These transcripts are necessary for those of us who can’t, or don't want to listen. They’re handy for robots or people who want to analyse the contents of these conversations as well. Support can be done in many ways, and they all make me very happy. You can find all options on, like bitcoin, patreon or a virtual cup of coffee. A steadily growing list of wonderful people are donating monthly, like Paul van Buuren, Job, and my employer CMD in Amsterdam.

I don’t know who I’m going to talk to next time.

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