Qa’id Jacobsin conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

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We start this conversation with Qa’id by talking about change. According to Qa’id change is an important attribute of things that are good. We talk about personal change, about businesses that need to change, and about changing office culture. Apart from being a specialist designer, Qa’id is also specialist on office culture since he’s one of the very few black designers here in the Netherlands. So of course we talk about inclusion.

I don’t believe that exceptionalism helps you in the long run. I think it isolates you. And it doesn’t help people around you who are not like you.

We also discuss one of the talks that Qa’id gave in recent years in which he argues that one aspect of being marginalized is that marginalized people have empathy. This can be seen as a superpower. And we also talk a bit about the music industry to see if we as designers can learn a thing or two from it. I’ll leave it up to you, dear listener, to decide if we can.


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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 Qa’id Jacobs, a Product and System Designer based in Amsterdam.

We talk quite a bit about the need for change. Designers need to be able to change, businesses need to be able to change as well. We wonder how to change office culture, both from a design leader perspective, and from a junior level point of view. And we wonder if we should try to learn anything from the music industry. Among many other things. But as usual we start with the question What makes a thing good?

Qa’id: It is a good question and I think it is even also a really interesting topic to explore. I can imagine how your own expertise and knowledge now is expanding simply through approaching this topic all the time and hear it from the different perspectives.

V: Yeah.

Q: But this question you know what is good. It is funny because I was listening to some episodes that you have already recorded. Smart people, really interesting ideas and as smart people intend to do I think often it was overthought and I also want to overthink it today but at first I thought of this simple version of the question you know what is good. And actually there is - I don’t know if people still say this - but like on a slang level you know you might see a friend and sort of saying how are you doing today you might say hey what’s good? That’s like slang in the last few years. Probably dead by now I am old I don’t know. So I first thought of that sort of slang oh what’s good. And the interesting thing is that we are asked this question all day long in various ways but probably to the determinant of the question in society we actually don’t make time to receive the question fully, pounder it and then give a real answer. If I ask you hey how are you doing or in other words hey what’s good? You gonna tell me oh I am fine. You know because it is that socially acceptable, we know that pattern. But I am glad today take some time actually absorb that question think about it and give an intelligent well thought out idea what is good, you know. But of course it depends right. And for me […]

V: That’s the answer I get most to this question. It depends.

Q: Yeah, it depends. Of course it depends. When you […] I guess any question when you give it time, when you take it seriously, the first part is well it depends. But you know the thing that is impacting me today as I pounder the question what is good, what does good mean. The thing that impacts me today is that my answer today is probably different than it was yesterday.

V: Ok.

Q: And if I sort of zoom out my answer to that question on a meaningful level has been changing over time. And I like that. I like to notice that kind of thing in my thought process in my character even. So you ask me what defines good 10 years ago yeah I might indeed have started in the context of yeah craft. Right so how would someone perceive my craftwork as being good. As a designer, as a front-end hobbyist, as a writer you know it depends on other people’s consumption of my work, right. If others think it is good than to me it is good. Because the thing is as a creator of course I have a vision of what is good. An that drives me and that drives what I am doing. But as sort of a […] well I am an user experience designer, a product designer, I consider myself a systems designer as well so I am putting pieces together for people to use. All those things are for people to use so if I make something that I believe is good and I want someone else to use it and while they are using it they don’t believe it is good for any reason than honestly that thing is not good. So I guess the first level of what is good is about how the user, how the consumer, the person absorbing the thing or interacting or experiencing the thing how they perceive it. Is it good or not for them. And the cool thing about doing commercial design work as opposed to sort of let’s say if I was a painter just creating you know figurative work for myself or just to express my own ideas I don’t really have to depend on others for the analysis of good. And if they say it is not good I don’t have to care actually which kind of maybe leaves me in a sort of very narrow space. I can operate in a narrow space without any problems but as a commercial designer I am putting things out there and people say it is not good I have to change and let’s say the measure of good is constantly changing as well. The quality of good is changing for the users, for the people who consume my work, so that keeps me on my toes, keeps me having to research, having to be interested like genuinely interested in various people’s experiences, views, attendancies, behaviors. So you know I feel like I am constantly moving around and trying to expand what I know.

V: So change is a very important part of this staying good I guess because staying good means you have to change if I understand correctly.

Q: Yeah, in my view. At least as it relates to what I put out in the world. That’s also true with my personal life, with my family life, I have a small child, I have a partner and the things that I […] okay for example with my partner the things that we found romantically enjoyable five years ago are no longer the case, right. We are both evolving, we are changing, our environment has changed, our family structure has changed so we need different things in order to feel satisfied, to feel good, to identify good. And of course yeah I have a 6 year old, every weekend something different with him as well.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah, they change. Yeah, yeah kids.

Q: So yeah I would agree with what you are saying change is a fundamental part of what is good.

V: Okay that’s interesting I haven’t heard that one yet. But I guess it is true. Right? You said what we thought good 10 years ago is probably not good enough anymore.

Q: Yeah.

V: So is it changing that fast or are things changing not fast enough?

Q: Yeah that’s an interesting question too because there is always this idea of the fundamentals. Right? The roots of things that are good tend to say the same actually. Maybe if we sort of think in a generic sense.

V: You have any examples of that?

Q: Yeah I have some basic ones like here is this black and white example around notions or concepts like math. Math concepts they need to stay the same at the root. Of course math and science is always sort of developing and changing on the forefront, in a radical space let’s say but all of those ideas are rooted in these fundamental notions that do not change until we have maybe big breakthroughs. So that’s one example and okay I have another example. Lately I have been trying to stay in shape but also have fun at the same time. And for me that means playing some sort of game. I can’t just get out there and start jogging I will get bored, I am not a gym guy I can’t get in the gym and lift weights that will just depress me So I have been playing basketball and trying to be you know good about it. Not just to play to breathe and sweat but to be good at that game. Learn the skills needed to be an effective player on the team. And those skills, which make you good, are fundamental and have been the same since the game was invented so yes.

V: And probably a few things changed along the way but yeah some radical changes and then most of it is fine-tuning I guess.

Q: Yeah I think so.

V: So are we in a fine-tuning phase right now?

Q: In what context?

V: User experience design. If you look at digital product design. Some people I know they say well at least if you look at the graphical user interfaces they say we have reached the peak graphical user interface. We are done; we know how to do this. We can let robots make our interfaces.

Q: Okay, well I don’t believe that is true but I completely understand why people are saying that. And it is actually not surprising to me if we sort of think about it for a moment. It is clear that the forces that define these trends, you know where are we as far as UI design, where are we as far as technology. The forces that give the answers to those questions are typically in the commercial space. They are typically the big players and as you know on a business level change is something that is not really desired. They want predictability they want measurability they want standards. So I think what I am seeing in the UI’s base in the digital product space what I am seeing is conformity which is good on a usability level in terms of patterns that people understand, makes things easier for people to use. I like that. But I am also sensing a lack of adventurism a lack of experimentalism of course there is always outliers but if we look at sort of mainstream if we look at the way products look they to me are sort of coming into a conformed […] like a uniform space which sure people say hey we have reached the peak there is no need to change or to deviate or bring in new ideas. But that’s literally impossible. To believe that some aspect of human creativity has been extinguished or let’s say fully reached to me it does not, it doesn’t jibe with reality. That’s not how human creativity works. There is no limit to that. Now when we have let’s say when we have restraints yes of course there may be a limit to what you can do within a certain restraint and I think where are now these big players big corporations are defining these constraints and we I will include myself we as designers are sort of happily falling and lost out saying okay yes this is the way you do a button this is the way you do a dropdown this is the way you do a menu this is progressive disclosure. You know these ideas that make our jobs easier are being really swallowed up. And I don’t think that means that we have reached the peak, designer peak UI. I think it just means that the force of the players that are determining the trends is very strong.

V: Okay, yeah. But it can also mean that let’s say business, most businesses say oh this is good enough. I mean I wouldn’t be very happy because I think there is much room for innovation and there is need for innovation as well. But if everybody says this is good enough and we will let […] we will predefine all these patterns and you can just spit them out.

Q: Yeah, yeah, and what’s the problem. It makes me think of the definition of done versus the definition of good. And maybe this is something that resonates with you as a developer. You know I most often heard this definition of done idea in the developing context. Sort of yeah after work has been done on a feature can we release it right that’s the question. Is it good enough to be released. Which is not the same thing as is it good. So yes this question you know that we are asking ourselves as we are spending resources to put products out is it good enough for the people to use that is in my opinion is not a great kind of compass to use in order to figure out where to go. It is a perfectly good business developing question shouldn’t we spend more of our money on this direction when it won’t bring in the returns we are expecting. That’s fine that’s business. I get that. But if that business scope that business lens or that way of figuring out business decisions ends up being the mechanism we use for our creative decisions than I think we have a problem. Can the two co-exist I believe so. But not if every creative effort is powered by commercial decisions. Than we have problems. Because then indeed it is a question of what’s good enough as opposed to what is good.

V: Okay. So where […] if business is not the let’s say the environment where there is much room for this creativity where would that be. Or should business try to open up space for more creativity?

Q: It is a tough part of capitalism that makes little room for anything that doesn’t contribute to the bottom-line. If we describe it generally. So I am not optimistic that you know if we look at this question from a business sense like hey how can we get businesses to make more room for creative experimentation or to make more room for design decisions based on experience as opposed to will it convert to money. I am not optimistic that business will make space for that. What can we have in place. We can have institutions that are funded by mechanisms that don’t exclusively rely on the success of a commercial effort and you know I guess we have seen that work in history. In the US for example I think it was called the Work - my lack of historic knowledge is coming to […]

V: We will add a link. We will add a link.

Q: It was a government program developed to employ artists actually employ various sectors of the population although it was focused on men at that time so this was maybe the 30s, 40s, 50s. That’s a big range but somewhere […]

V: Yeah a long time ago.

Q: Indeed a long time ago. But there was a crisis of employment and so the government said okay we understand that if the population is unemployed and unhealthy and unhappy it is not gonna end up contributing to the GDP or whatever. The overall bottom-line. So they earmarked some money and they said let’s take these millions and we don’t expect a return on this like a dollar for dollar but we gonna invest in people. We are gonna invest in giving people the space and the tools to create. No matter what their method of creation was. For some people that was actually artistic enterprises or artistic works poetry, writing, music, visual arts and for others it was training in carpentry training in plumbing. So really to empower people and it takes money can’t deny that reality but the expectations on the money spend were different. So it wasn’t like we are gonna invest this money so that we can earn 4% on […] it wasn’t about that. It was we are gonna invest this money in people and have those people become empowered and thus contribute to the economy.

V: Yeah okay.

Q: And so it did that contributed to the economy but it also empowered artists. Created amazing artists that are still standard-bearers at this time in history. So you know this idea of using a not commercially dependent funds or resources to empower creators, to give them some space to experiment to be creative to put the human experience above the commercial experience I think that may be one way to do it.

V: That will be good I guess in businesses as well right. In big corporations, why not?

Q: Indeed and I do hear about it a bit like Google ’s, what do they call it, Google has a division Moon Charts or something like that where their goal is to develop ideas experimentally like this is their unique goal and they reward people based on you know I don’t say the way that they fail but the bravery for trying something that may indeed fail. Matter of fact I think there might be a failure compensation scheme that they have like if you are doing experiments you are putting out stuff and it fails you get rewarded. I believe that’s the case. So yeah there are some adventurist organizations that are actually […]

V: Yeah. I think it used to be, what was it, 10% time or 20% time that Google had I think even Google maps and G-mail came out of that so that’s some […] Some big successes.

Q: Yeah, yeah. I tried to bring a little bit of that idea into an organization that I worked at a few years ago. Because of the environment attitude the vibe. The vibe in that place was so just you know let’s sit down write code ship this database you know it was just so narrowly focused and I came in in my bright colors and my New York attitude trying to mix things up and I got a sort of a very negative response or just a protective response to my behavior. They didn’t want me to shift the vibe so much. So I said okay I stepped back and I learned and I didn’t simply propose that we a hackathon because a hackathon I think on its most scale is this idea that we are talking about. Normally and throughout the course of a day you expect your employees to spend their time on getting you closer to your business goals. And a hackathon is sort of stepping outside of that where you say well today we are gonna suspend our need to get to drive towards those goals and you guys just do whatever you want that is creative and interesting to you but of course if you look under the cover hackathons are great innovation moments that end up contributing to the bottom-line anyway. So I kind of tried to bring that idea into the organization. They responded well. They have had various hackathons while I was there and since I have left they continued to do them. And it is that kind of attitude about creation and you know the definition of good that I think is important. It comes inside of a risky space when it is powerful.

V: I think that is […] hackathons are a good example where you use the creativity of the whole organization. Right? If you just […] one of my frustrations used to be when I was a front-end developer that I wasn’t supposed to be creative. I was supposed to just do whatever the creatives whoever […] there was a small group of creatives whatever they came up with. And it was always my frustration that if you just ask me I would have had a better idea here at this place. We could have contributed.

Q: Yes and I think this attitude is shifting a bit and we see evidence of that in this burgeoning field of design systems.

V: Okay yeah.

Q: You know they used to be called style towers they use to be called style guides, living style guides as they kind of moved into the web space. And now people have done what people do and they want to give it a fancy technical name to make it seem elite and exclusive so now they are design systems. But that’s also literally what they are, systems right various parts that you can put together or subtract and produce a system that informs design. I love it. I have been pushing for this in every space I am in but it is a big ask because of what you are mentioning. Especially when we talk about digital products if you want to broadly separate there is creative and then there is you know the code. What people see and how it works. And in that you know in that dichotomy there is also this feeling that yeah developers shouldn’t enter the space of creativity because it is not their strength it is not their focus. Quote: that’s not why we hired them. But I have always been about democratizing design because come on it doesn’t matter actually everything you have experienced up to today may not matter. You have been outside it is raining you might have seen something on the way into this building today thirty minutes ago that gives you inspiration for an idea that’s better than any design idea I can ever come up with. After all my years of working and studying and experiencing design, producing design you might have a better idea because you tripped on the doorway coming in. So I feel like it is a waste of talent it is a waste of internal resources to exclude people from the design discussion. Fortunately design systems should make it possible for everyone to participate in that conversation.

V: Well on the other hand once you have a design system in place it sounds a bit like then you just have to keep it in place.

Q: Right then it is like well you have these constraints and it just works A plus B. Yeah. Well I think that’s one way to look at it. If you look another level in those constraints can actually be the freedom that people need to be effectively creative. Because if […] let’s say we are building a site together. I know about all the visual components that go into this interface you have been building the back end and the front end you have a great idea you come to me and say hey I think the button should be like this or that. Now if I know all the forms that the button should be just because we are conforming to good design rules or whatever but you don’t know those it makes it hard for you to actually give me a constructive idea. If I shared let’s say hey the button could be any of these 10 variations what do you think. Then you like okay let’s do variation 4 plus variation 3. So as opposed to me saying hey we can make any kind of button what do you think. So I think those design systems that work effectively can give enough constraint so that people can sort of direct their creativity effectively.

V: I guess it depends on the kind of system that you have right? I saw a talk by Alla Kholmatova. Do you know her? She wrote a book about design systems.

Q: Okay.

V: it was pretty good it was a real good talk at BeyondTellerand a while ago. And she explained that some systems are very strict that indeed there is not much wiggle room. But others are just a few guidelines that you can play within. That you can use as a starting point to create new stuff. So it depends on the organization and I guess it depends on the business.

Q: Yeah if it was up to me I would opt for more constraints at first. Also in a business way right. The fewer the constraints the sort of more time you need to spend to hone your idea. And if I am thinking about businesses resources while I want everyone to be part of the discussion I also want it to be efficient. And I want to actually even reduce sort of the frustration let’s give it a name like the artist’s frustration which is you give them a blank canvas and you are torturing them. You give them a brief that says hey this canvas is 2 by 4 it can only contain black and white and it has to be three words. All right and they go to town. So and I think that’s a human thing right. It is choice paralysis or whatever. So the more constraints I think the easier it is. People will find their creative ideas in an implacable way so in that sense I would say design systems that have well defined constraints will probably be more effective in a collaborative environment, in a collaborative context. But I am also excited by you know the idea that a marketing professional can come and play around you know literally like touch elements and move them around in some sort of canvas to create something that no one has ever conceived before. That’s also really exciting to me. But I don’t think we actually have design systems that are at that level of flexibility. At least in terms of you know being able to get your hands on it being able to move things around and you know brand colors, yes. You know typography, fine maybe you know like components you know what we want the system to contain as far as what goes into a collection of things in the UI. But how do you sort of take that apart without having knowledge of the CSS how do move pieces around drag and drop even on that level. I haven’t seen that.

V: Did you see that sketch from AirBnB I think it was? Or a little movie where they actually sketch, take a picture of it and then they wrote something a robot which makes production code out of a sketch.

Q: Oh, wow. Okay I could see it.

V: So then you could just sketch.

Q: Okay. That’s pretty cool.

V: And that was two days I think before Alla gave that talk and everybody was there goes our job.

Q: Yeah, which I don’t think is true actually.

V: Probably not. But she says […] then she explained that this can work in certain environments but it won’t work in a more changing environment.

Q: Yeah. I have been thinking about that question you know. As our technology advances especially in terms of you know the creative part of making digital products. I have been thinking you know hey the more better tooling we get there is a tendency that I have to feel insecure about my role my effectiveness as a designer in the whole chain of production but the more I think about it the value of us as designers is not that we know how to turn a box into a box with rounded corners. It is not that we understand even how to make a design system which is quite technical and advanced. I think the power of us as designers is connecting this gap between human behavior, cognition the ephemeral moment like decide guys right this is also part of design. The fact that there are trends to me says that people respond en masse as a group to different things at different times. I don’t believe an animated system will ever be able to predict that or even understand it. Of course they can look at trends they can look at patterns and then say well I identified this well it wouldn’t sound like that but they can identify trends and patterns but that is not really what design is. Especially when it is time to alter the trend when it is time to break out into something new. So it is an interesting dilemma which I believe will be real. Pretty soon. Not as soon for creative and product designers as it will be for like the more essential skills providers in our society like transportation, farming, you know these sorts of like […] these roles that give us the foundation I think those are more at risk.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah oh absolutely. I mean if you look at farming in the Netherlands fully automated.

Q: Fully? Okay.

V: Fully. When you go from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train you go through all these glass houses. It is just […] that’s where all the food in the Netherlands comes from. There is no people there.

Q: Sure, sure.

V: That’s just machines.

Q: I believe it. I believe it. I have been seeing some interesting drones as well that are really focusing on automated drone that follows you as its you know user or whatever or yeah that can take a predefined route through space but is aware enough to avoid obstacles or unexpected challenges and yeah of course I could see that also in a farming context for example.

V: But then of course somebody has to design these things.

Q: Yeah.

V: So I guess […]

Q: But not many, not many people.

V: Fewer, yeah yeah. That could be, yeah. yeah.

Q: And you know if we see a trend that we see now in business and design which is like one successful pattern it gets replicated over and over again. It might be a small team of people that create the drone model that gets premiated throughout the drone industry so then yeah it is a small group of creative […]

V: Yeah but on the other hand I think every time something new gets invented we get new opportunities to start inventing yet again new things again. So for designers I think when you like change when you are good at change which is we said in the beginning is a good thing then I guess we should be fine.

Q: Yeah. My feelings of doubt and fear are less strong. They are weaker than my optimism about yeah my role into the future.

V: Yeah. You gave a talk a while ago about office culture where you said that office culture is broken but fixable. I found that really interesting. I have experienced office culture as broken but not really as fixable.

Q: Yeah of course.

V: How is it fixable?

Q: Yeah well you know […]

V: And what is broken?

Q: Yeah I think there are many things broken. Unfortunately what is fixable is gonna depend on you know what’s broken and also it is gonna depend on the organization the environment desire to be fixed.

V: Okay, yeah.

Q: I think there are many business environments or let’s say businesses, organizations that know that their culture is not optimized for the people working there. They can tell it if they are you know collecting measurements on satisfaction happiness conflict but unfortunately this area of productivity right how our workers feel, how we feel in the office is not really in my opinion, in my observations, in my research it is not a prime motivator for how organizations spend their resources. Especially when we have a market like now which is pretty much flooded with skilled people if we are talking about digital products. A lot of skilled workers out here and all over the world so there is quite an availability for talent. So the need for an organization to keep its current people feeling good, satisfied, healthy, motivated I think is quite low on the list. But so culture is broken because people can walk into a building, walk into an office space and not feel safe. You know feel safe to say what’s on their mind, they don’t feel safe to express themselves as they see themselves, they don’t feel safe to offer ideas. Not because everyone should always have the right idea but because when you share an idea, when you share yourself the response shouldn’t be suppression, it shouldn’t be denial, it shouldn’t be I am right you are wrong, it shouldn’t be this binary things. But that’s the business feel, that’s what businesses thrive on predictability, binary, it either works or it doesn’t, you are right or you are wrong, you fit or you don’t. And so I think that reality makes it […] that reality creates the other reality that office spaces, organizational cultures are typically broken. So how do you fix it? It depends on what’s broken but if we generalize […]

V: If you look at it from your perspective.

Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well I think it is about understanding who you have, who is in this organization. My body is an organization actually. It is an organization of cells and tissues and so forth. So if something is wrong in my body and I go to my physician and I say hey there is something wrong in my body they are going to give me a remedy that suits my body and my particular make up they can’t you know use something that’s not relevant to me. So if there is an organization that has a broken culture the first thing they have to do to fix that is understand who makes up that culture, who makes up the organization. It might be that yeah it is out of balance in some way. You know if I go to the doctor, hey doc my eye is always red it might be that I am not hydrated enough. So I need to restore the balance of water in my body. If I am in an office space where all of our meetings are terrible, everyone is scared to say something and they are too long or they are always dominated by one or two people there is an imbalance there and you need to understand what the imbalance is to try and undress it. But it is always gonna be on a people level. Technology is not gonna do it right. There is all kinds of tools in the market place that say hey use this serving system to measure you know employee satisfaction and then you have a good culture. That can be part of the solution of course but you have to start with the people first. And if you have a culture, if you have an organization, even on a HR level and I want to talk about soft skills because that’s part of the problem. But if you have an organization on a HR level that is genuinely disinterested and the state of the people working there then yeah you are not gonna have solutions that come out of that […] you are not gonna get any solutions around fixing the culture. It has to be about the people. And it is hard, it is hard, I understand it is hard but I don’t see any solutions coming from digital tooling, workshops are nice, off sides are nice but […]

V: I guess they are good to acknowledge that the problem exists right?

Q: Yeah.

V: I mean when you talk about for instance in a meeting that is always dominated by two people if these two people don’t understand that this is a problem then probably nothing is gonna change ever.

Q: Indeed, I think so, I think so.

V: Yeah.

Q: Yeah and how do you make those two people aware while you need someone who can teach them about their soft skills and […] I want to bring this up because I notice that as a researcher you know there is often a sort of two lumps that we put our research work into quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research we can describe in empirical numbers you know. This is 30% of this or this many times this thing happened. Qualitative research is more about the anecdotes how do people tell you about their experience. And you will probably agree with me, I am actually curious would you agree, that quantitative research has a different value than qualitative research in general. I would say that quantitative research usually wins out if you are trying to make a point and someone says well proof your point to me than you bring them a piece of quantitative versus qualitative the quantitative has more impact.

V: It usually does but it shouldn’t if you ask me.

Q: It shouldn’t. I agree. It shouldn’t. And I don’t know you know if there is sort of okay well it should always be this percent quantitative and this percent qualitative I don’t know if there is that kind of measure out there but what I do believe that in the business environment and I even want to connect this to patriarchy but bare with me. In the business environment the qualitative aspects of work and research let’s say are considered the softer side and we have this term soft skills which relates to the way people communicate with each other, the way people are emphatic or sympathetic to each other. It is soft it is not hard. Hard stuff we put upfront to protect us and move us forward. I think that’s a problem. And I think that’s the cause of many organizations’ inability to fix what’s broken in their cultures because they are more valuing also in the product […] they are valuing more highly the quantitative the hard the empirical over the qualitative the human. But we as humans are the ones not only making products but consuming products as well. And I think you know sometimes you can feel when an app or something is put in front of you that it is lifeless. It may be quite nice functionally but it feels like there is nobody behind it. There are no humans behind it. And for me I don’t enjoy using those apps compared to things that I can tell is a labor of love or that is a product of the coordination of massive amounts of people around the world. That’s impressive, that feels really interesting to me. But these soft skills, the qualitative, the human aspects of work and of interacting with people is devalued in a business context and I think that causes a lot of cultural problems.

V: Yeah. Is it devalued or was it always […] has it always been this way?

Q: I don’t know. I don’t know enough about sort of the history of the modern workplace to be able to say that. But it certainly feels old.

V: Yeah, yeah. But it is changing right? At least if you read the blogs. I am not sure if that is really true. I mean I am not in practice […] I don’t practice design any more. I just teach.

Q: Yeah well. Is it changing? I mean so specifically like organizations paying attention to their culture. Is that what you feel is changing?

V: Yeah.

Q: For the better?

V: I guess so but I am not sure.

Q: I don’t know. I am not sure either. I would agree with you that I am picking up on some signals that small organizations are paying attention to culture in that they you know they have Friday beer nights, they have ping pong tables and spaces inside the organization where people can get together and this is how one of the ways I feel like it is connected to patriarchy because those mechanisms are indeed useful and feel good for some of us. For some people out here. I enjoy a good ping pong match in fact I enjoy a good beer with my colleagues but that comes from what I believe is a very sort of male dominated view of what’s good in the world. And yeah there is a lot of freedom for […] especially in the start up culture, there is a lot of freedom for companies and organizations to define their culture and of course it will come from sort of the core participants, the founders or whoever the investors you know whoever see themselves inside of the organization. So it is not a surprise to me that the way we see culture being expressed it feel sort of very male, very […] sort of one sided. And I think that’s part of the problem. Yeah that’s part of the problem.

V: Yeah. But how do you change that? Because that’s very hard I guess.

Q: Yeah.

V: Because I see that as well and if I look at for instance I talk about this a lot on this podcast but if I look at my students they are definitely not 100% male and they are not 100% white. But if I look at the organizations where they work at I think things are changing a little bit if I look at the bigger organizations where they come to work it is changing a bit. It is not as just a 100% white males. Things are changing.

Q: I see it changing a bit as well

V: Yeah. But how do you change that? Is there anything that we can […] well me as a white person, a white male with a beard even. I mean […]

Q: Yeah.

V: What we can do to change this?

Q: Yeah. I think there are a bunch of things that can be done. I would start with authenticity and genuineness is that a word. So I wouldn’t even suggest that every person who manages or owns an organization or start up or whatever don’t try and be something you are not, right. What I see out here right now is a lot of arguments that are compelling start ups and tech business to diversify so that they can make the most money. Because there is this sort of business principle like the more diverse your input the better […] you know the more interesting, the more affecting your outcomes. Which I believe in that actually I believe that is true. I have seen it as well. But I think that’s the wrong way to push people to change. Some people will use their organizations if you are in leadership position you will use your organization as an extension of yourself as an expression of yourself. Your values, your identity I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But I think we are setting ourselves up for failure if we expect people who are using their work and their organizations as expressions of themselves to express themselves in ways that are not genuine. So if you don’t have it in you to authentically and naturally believe that a better organization can be achieved with a diverse staff I don’t know if it is worth being pushed into that corner. And I don’t know if it is worth the effort of advocates of people who do believe that to spend the energy on those kinds of leaders. So that’s one part of the approach to me is like […]

V: So if we let’s say force organizations to have quota things like that by law or things like that.

Q: We know that I mean that has a limited effect and you know quotas just on the surface are not going to address the root of the problem. They may it is like having a symptom and you have something to address the symptom but it doesn’t affect the root cause.

V: Okay.

Q: I think quotas can be that. And you know when I have the flu and I want to stop sneezing and I want to have my fever go down I want something to address my symptoms that will help me. But that may not prevent from getting the flu again. So I am not discounting.

V: Yeah, yeah. Maybe on the long term it may change but slowly probably.

Q: Yeah, but alone quotas won’t change the status quo but I do think they have a role. I think they can be impactful for the people who have the symptoms right. For the people who are suffering from the illness. But no, yes so overall quotas I don’t think will solve the problem I don’t believe that convincing business owners and business leaders that they get the most money from having diversity of gender of nationality of abilities I don’t think that’s an effective long term solution either because the moment those business leaders see a down turn in their finance, in their progress they are gonna say oh this technique doesn’t work get this diversity out of here.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q: So it has to be a genuine interest in what it means to let’s say we are business leaders we have to have a genuine interest in what it means to employ people. To have people working towards a cause. That cause can be commercial that’s fine but we don’t come to work every day and say all right I wanna do this work so that this company can make money of this product. You know well if you do come to work every day saying that than you are not gonna be happy in the long term. What you wanna do is come to work and say I am here to do this work because it is fulfilling to me. It may indeed end up producing value for a business or make people consume this product that’s fine but while I am putting my effort into making it it feels good to me. That’s what you want. And you want that from your leaders as well you want them to have that vision for you. So to me it starts at helping business leaders understand what brings value to people who are working. And you may or may not be you know as business leader you may or may not come from the some cloth that your staff, your employees, your workers come from so maybe it is about creating empathy or sympathy first, empathy consequently. Maybe it is about understanding these qualitative aspects of making the product or consuming the product. And I think the focus needs to be more there than on the sort of economic bottom-line, this financial bottom-line. So yeah I think it is possible to make these changes but there has to be a willing and genuine interest inside the organization at the high level just not to make more money but to want to see people feel good. To wanna see people do work that’s meaningful for them in a safe environment where you can experiment, you can be wrong, you can learn, you can be there for a short time, you can be for a long time. You can be there with friends, you can work with family I mean there is all kinds of things that make people feel good at work and in business environments that I have been aware of very few of those things are put into play and many of them are sort of shunt and not even allowed. So yeah I think this approach would be in the long term more useful

V: Okay. And from a junior designer perspective so okay from a leader point of view I can imagine a few things but from a young designer who just finishes university and they are in a minority do you have any tips for them?

Q: Tips for them to get into a space that […]?

V: Yeah or yeah because I can imagine that can be pretty hard right when you are the only black designer in a big organization.

Q: Yeah, yeah, okay. Sure. So it is interesting because I have had to try to become comfortable in so many different ways. Because I have been in different environments. And it started even at school. So you know it is interesting there is a narrative […] by the way I can only approach this from a black American perspective because it is very different depending on where you are on the world how you conceive a race itself you know you obviously your actual experience will differ depending on where you are in the world. For me I often had to content with being a black American and what that means for me as a black American but then also knowing what it means for other people who are not like me and the challenge there, the conflict there. And there are some times when I have said okay I am gonna beat this by being better than everyone else in the room.

V: Yeah.

Q: That’s one. And I think that’s a very familiar angle to take. But that’s not a very compassionate, self compassionate route to take, that’s not a very progressive route to take.

V: It is interesting as well. I had a conversation with Alper Cugun who is from […] has a Turkish background and he said well I was always the best one at school and in business as well but he said I don’t know if I had a Dutch name, my company could have been bigger maybe he doesn’t know. There is no way of course to proof that.

Q: Yeah.

V: So yeah you have to work harder and be the best but does it have the same result?

Q: Yeah well that’s a great question and I am sure that it does not always. I am sure that you know in some scenarios especially with […] we are talking digital products there is a lot of interaction that people can have with the products before they ever sort of see or meet who is behind it. So I imagine there are some teens out there cranking away and then when they get in front of investors or they get in front of customers and these customers or investors see sort of who is behind this there is you know an undesired reaction. I am sure that is happening. When I talk about being the best in the room though this is […] I think it is an effective technique to increase your exceptionalism. You say well look at me the other part of the sentence is I am not like them. So this is exceptionalism. Philosophically for me considering my philosophical point of view I don’t believe that exceptionalism helps you in the long run. I think it isolates you. And it doesn’t help people around you who are not like you. It doesn’t help them to say oh look at him he is not like the rest of them that I have seen before therefore I have been wrong. They say oh look at him he is not like the rest of those people, those people are not like him. So it is not like being exceptional and individual pushes the cause forward, it doesn’t. It just isolates you. And maybe more importantly to me at this point is it a very difficult and punishing path to take if you have options. You know to say at all cause I am going to outperform anyone means that failure is very hard for you, it is very punitive and it means that you don’t give yourself the space to relax, to breathe, to be yourself, to be different, to have new ideas that may not work and this is not where good productivity comes from. So I am not a proponent of the exceptionalist path. I understand why people take it. I have taken it myself but it doesn’t lead to happiness. It just leads to isolation. So5 for a young person who finds themselves in a room and they are only one of a kind whether it is their gender, their nationality, their ability, perhaps they have one arm, whatever their case is I think the risk is let’s say the most sensible thing to do is risk being your whole self. Risk saying what’s on your mind, risk appearing the way you want to appear, risk speaking the way you’re comfortable speaking and risk is you know is there. There is a risk. Because if you behave that way there is a chance that you will be rejected, there is a chance you will be excluded. But what you find out is valuable if you become rejected, excluded or punished what you find out is that you are in the wrong place and you need to get out of there You need to keep […]

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q: So maybe it is a question of you know what do you value at this point in your life. It might be that you need to take that job where you are uncomfortable because you need the money. That might be that’s a reality. I have also been in that situation. But if you are in a position if you are in a circumstance where you can think about what makes you thrive, what keeps you healthy, satisfied and comfortable then those should be the things you put forward. Find an environment where those things can thrive and of course your work is gonna thrive your work is gonna follow suit. I am sure.

V: Yeah or create that environment. I am starting to think about that. About educating my students to start their own businesses. Maybe that’s a good idea as well.

Q: Yeah. I think it is a good idea.

V: Yeah

Q: I started a business in my 20’s and it was a horribly difficult experience but I learned a lot and skills I am still using to this day. So I think that’s a good advice.

V: Yeah. Okay so you had […] last year you did a talk about empathy. I saw that one. Really nice.

Q: Thank you.

V: But it was just not the empathy that we read about in the books. It was […] you had a very different approach.

Q: Yeah, yeah.

V: Can you explain a little bit what it was about?

Q: Yeah for sure, for sure. It is even related to what we were talking about just now.

V: Yeah exactly yeah.

Q: Actually I am relooking at that talk because I am gonna give a different version of it at Code Motion in May.

V: Oh good.

Q: So I am looking at it to bring in some new elements and maybe root it more to what’s happening today you know. But yeah the empathy the main thing is that people confuse sympathy and empathy. Which is understandable not only because they sound the same but because in reality the notions are quite similar. The thing that is powerful to me about empathy which is the ability to actually feel from an experiential point of view to feel something similar to what someone else is feeling. The power there is that you can’t learn it by reading. You can’t just see people experience something and then be emphatic for their experience there has to be some lived connections, some shared lived experience. And the reason I talk about this empathy idea in the context of digital products is because as a designer who is being good about who is being diligent about my work I have to have an understanding of what the potential user or customer is going to experience when they are using this product. So on some level I need to have empathy for my intended user because I want to make sure that the thing I am creating actually suits their needs or helps them achieve their goals or their tasks or does what I claim it will do on an experiential level. So that’s a talent having empathy for an user is a skill, a talent, it is an attribute that’s powerful in the digital product design rump. So I think it is important to talk about. The angle that I take in the talk is that certain people have this advantage over others and the people that I identify as having this empathy advantage, this empathy super power over others are people who have been marginalized, people who are the minority in their space, people who have had challenges their whole life, people who themselves consider to be outsiders. So that’s not […] and I say that they have an advantage not because people using digital products feel like they’re outsiders. But as product designers what we are trying to do is identify pain point and friction and address it with solutions. So being able to identify those is an important step and seeing a user, seeing a customer or a person use something and then have a problem with it if you have no sense of what that problem can be like you are not going to probably be able to properly identify the pain point and definitely not gonna be able to bring some solutions.

V: No.

Q: So if I zoom out, you know in the talk I try to zoom out and talk about people in our digital industry, in our IT industry, people in the app industry who are in the minority have necessarily had experiences that connect them with those who are up challenged. Because those people are challenged. They have had to you know not say something when someone said something inappropriate in a meeting, they have had to be the person in a meeting where there is a joke that is offensive and everyone looks at them, they have had to navigate challenging conversations with managers around their worth, their performance even though it is not based on reality but based on perception. So I believe that marginalized people have been unfortunately placed in circumstances that have given them an internal sense of challenge that they can use to connect with customers who are in moments of challenge. And I had a face, you can hear it, but I had a face when I said that because it is not that I am equating the difficult experiences of being marginalized with the difficult experiences of using an app I am not equating them I am just saying that there are some hooks there. And there is a graphic in that presentation that I use that I think really summarizes this difference between sympathy and empathy and apathy even and it is like if you imagine a target with rings so in the middle you have the bull’s eye and you have one ring outside of that and finally there is a third ring that is the most distanced from the center. In the middle of the ring is somebody who is sort of sinking into quicksand and they are like help, help me. So in the adjacent ring, the middle ring, there is someone who is standing not on quicksand. They are standing on solid ground but they can see the person in the middle in the quicksand and they have a hand into them saying grab my hand I will pull you up. That’s the person who is emphatic. They see that someone is going into the quicksand. They know that that’s paralyse and they are there to actually do something about it. They can give a hand and pull them up. On the outside ring the third ring this person is the most distanced from the center from the person who is in the quicksand there is a person in that outside ring who is looking at the person in the quicksand and saying oh men that must suck.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q: And that person represents sympathy.

V: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q: Because they’re right that must suck and there is much that we can observe in our world we don’t have to have experienced it but we can tell oh okay I don’t want to experience it that’s not good. Oh that looks great. So you can be sympathetic. And actually there is an apathetic person as well who just doesn’t give a shit. They don’t care. So they see everything and they look the other way. So the idea of empathy is that because you had some sort of experience that can provide a hook into the challenge or the friction that someone else is experiencing you have the ability to better identify the actual friction itself and then you have some internal resources for what the solutions could be.

V: I really like this how you look at this because I can imagine that instead of that it generates empathy it can also generate anger. Lots of people get angry when they are not included right. That’s another logical result but I really like this that you can no, no, no instead of becoming angry you have this super power now you can imagine what it is like, you can really really feel what it is like.

Q: Sure.

V: I think that is really interesting a very interesting approach.

Q: I even […] I like anger too. I think anger gets […] because anger makes people scared we sort of wanna get it out of there, we don’t want to deal with anger. But anger is very powerful and anger is everyone’s right. Now what you do with that anger that’s different right. If you don’t process that anger well and you end up hurting or offending others that’s not appropriate that’s no good. But anger is a great source of power, it is a great motivator, it is a create way to clarify things as well. So I see your point about anger and I just wanted to say that I wish we found a way to make anger more accepted and more useful.

V: More useful. I guess it is accepted.

Q: I don’t think it is accepted.

V: No?

Q: At all. Well do you think it is appropriate […] well okay this might be a cultural thing. If I think about my work experience in the States, in the US, anger is definitely not accepted. It is completely inappropriate to be angry in the workplace. If I compare it to my experience here in the Netherlands occasionally I see anger in a business context come out it is not as let’s say forbidden it is not as you know people don’t try as much to quell anger here but it still doesn’t achieve good results.

V: Yeah it doesn’t achieve anything. In the Netherlands no, no.

Q: Yeah it shuts people down.

V: Yeah.

Q: And I feel bad, I am sad about that. There are times that people should be angry you know. Maybe there is a difference between passion and anger I don’t know.

V: Could be, yeah. But even passion in the Netherlands I found that passion is also misunderstood.

Q: Okay.

V: It is not really very […] not too much emotion.

Q: Yeah, yeah I have seen that as well. Yeah. But it matters you know. I am just thinking of like protests you know when people are upset and angry about an injustice they should be able to protest and that voice should be paid attention to. And so that’s not […] that has no connection to violence or abuse or you know being inappropriate.

V: I guess it depends on what you do with the anger, right.

Q: Yes I agree.

V: There’s many ways to express anger. And there is creative ways to express anger as well. I guess that can be a very good way.

Q: Yeah, yeah.

V: So well we talked about it a little bit but how do we demarginalize. Do you know any ways are there […]?

Q: Well one way I would suggest is related to what we were talking earlier in terms of freeing the process of being creative. So we were talking about how can business you know make space for people to do creative design. I think it has to do with spaces, time and resources that are devoted for that kind of work so we are talking about marginalization. It means that there is a center and then there are people outside of the center. And right now the centers are these organizations, these companies, these start ups and then we have people who are marginalized. They can be effective in those start-ups and those companies and organizations but they are outside of them they can’t get in. Well, what if there was an alternate space where people could be productive and creative that doesn’t rely on those formerly established centers. Of course there is a whole question about logistics how does that happen I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know where the funding comes from but I like the idea of institutions or let’s say institutes. I like the idea of think tanks that don’t have political agendas but I like the idea of spaces where professional level behavior and accomplishment is encouraged and facilitated but not reliant on commercial interest and corporate needs. I think that is part of the solution. There is an excess of money in this world. It is true. I mean come on like recently I saw something, what was that, some show they were looking at the net worth of Bill Gates, Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. Okay. So there is an excess of resources out there. It just takes hard decision-making, honest decision-making and long-term decision making to put some of those resources into spaces that are going to eliminate some of these problems we have. It doesn’t mean breaking down everything that’s already in place it might mean creating new things. So I like the idea of institutes as part of that. Yeah institutes. The other thing is safety. So you may not know let’s say you had a start up and you wanted to staff it and you wanted it to be diverse. You personally may not know a you know one person of every ethnicity on the planet. I don’t. So that’s okay, let’s not feel bad about that. That’s just the reality of our lives but what we want to do is make it safe and possible for one person of every ethnicity or every ability or every gender to be able to consider us. This is not us bringing them in this is them auditioning us. We have to realize that the people that are making these things there’s the ultimate source of power. The things make money, yes money brings power, yes but without the things there is no money there is no power. Without the people making those things okay. So it goes on. So I think it is a matter of shifting the perspective about how we are bringing people in. Like this is a safe environment and you have to be genuine and actually that has to be true. It has to be something that you market it has to be true and that’s another way. So make sure that your environment if you are a business leader is full of safety mechanisms, safe spaces, make sure it is absolutely clear and true that the people come first. I think those are ways as well to address the problem. And then also moving away from this […] moving away from the idea that the only reason to do it is because it makes more money.

V: Yeah, yeah. But it is a good reason as well.

Q: It is one good reason, yeah.

V: It can help. Okay. And there is another you have a background in music.

Q: Yeah.

V: Are there things from music that we can learn? Is the music industry something that […] or […]?

Q: Yeah music. Well the music industry has changed so dramatically since I was working in it. You know […]

V: Well and it is a huge industry there is all kinds of industries within the industry of course.

Q: It is true, it is true. To be honest I would not look to the music industry for lessons in design. And I will tell you why. If you look at the trends of popular music what we largely see is sort of a replication of patterns so a song becomes popular and it has some features you know certain rhythms, certain sounds in the music, a vocal style and there is a huge response from all […] from not all but a huge response from many artists to mimic that style. Probably partially because they want success but also maybe they like it you know it sounds good, it feels good to perform, that’s cool do that. But what happens is that you just have this monotone in popular music and I don’t think product design should necessarily follow that path.

V: It does remind me a little bit though of the […]

Q: And patterns are not bad don’t get me wrong but this one saying let’s not look to music for inspiration for how we should change. I think product design product let’s say commercial products both music as a commercial product has the same attributes as software as a commercial product. Business leaders look at the industry what’s exceeding let me dissect why it is exceeding and then take those same principles and apply it to my own product. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but it is not […] I don’t think that’s gonna be a source for interesting […]

V: From a business perspective I think I agree with don’t look at music. On the other hand what I think is interesting is that there are lots of small businesses I mean if you look at music at pop music then it is about becoming famous and very rich. To say it simple. But if you look at the industry there are lots of people who just earn a living, a decent living, they are not rich but it is just a business but not a big business. It is not about growth it is about doing something that you like. I think that’s something that could be interesting […]

Q: I agree. I think it is beautiful that that’s possible. And I think it’s more possible now then 10 years ago. Precisely because of this long tail the big internet thing you know before to be successful you might have had to have a million fans which were hard to get but now indeed if you have a good sounds and some sensible approach to sharing and spreading that sound and finding the people, the tribe let’s say that really digs your vibe, that enjoys what you make than definitely even because of the long tail you can get a million customers and not be world famous. So yeah in that sense I think the way music industry is changing now or like the way we see success happening can be also seen in digital product. But yeah growth is a different thing though. Once you start to grow your digital product you know […] so if we compare the growth of a digital product fan base let’s call it compared to a musician fan base there is very different needs at play. You grow your digital product fan base let’s say and you need to up your infrastructure which is expensive. As a musician you grow your listener fan base and you just keep making good music like you do. Maybe you pick up a few keyboards or whatever but you know it is a very different kind of equation you have to work with.

V: Yeah.

Q: So I don’t know how much we can rely on the music industry’s success at the long end of the tail to mimic in digital products.

V: Okay so no wise lessons from music.

Q: I wouldn’t say this about music as it relates to the individual designer. What I have been doing, trying to do over the past couple of years is project more not only in sort of what I create visually but also in what I present as a human and that involves like having public talks or having conversations like this one and what I am trying to do to get better ‘cause I am not that good at it actually. I would like to get better. What I am doing is training my voice, musically, because that involves actually breathing, it involves posture, it involves understanding your personal sound so I have been taking voice lessons to try and find my actual personal sound so that when I am in front of stakeholders or in front of an audience, a presentation I know how to speak confidently, comfortably, I know how to generate sound, I know how to hold my body and I know how to connect with people in front of me that’s also part of it. So that’s coming from music. That’s coming from trying to be a good musician. So in that way I would give that advice to the individuals out there whether you are a designer or not if you want to you know project, if you want to impact people with presence and your sound train it. Train that voice, go and get some music lessons.

V: It is interesting that you say that. That you actually take lessons because it […] well maybe you took lessons before the last talk that I saw the video of that.

Q: The London one?

V: Yeah the London one.

Q: Well I have been […]

V: Because that looked very natural and you don’t need any lessons.

Q: That’s so funny you say that. I am flattered by that because when I look at that recording it is so crunch worthy.

V: Oh yeah I hate looking at myself but people liked my presentations. So yeah.

Q: Well I am gonna keep practicing.

V: Yeah sure yeah that’s good. Do you have […] So you are not from the Netherlands but you have been working here for the last 5 years.

Q: Yeah.

V: Anything that we Dutch people don’t know about ourselves? That we should know?

Q: No I think Dutch people are quite self-aware actually. I didn’t have a deep level of cultural shock when I first arrived but what I have noticed over the past 5 years is a continual unchanging sort of ongoing level of cultural shock.

V: Okay. That’s very interesting.

Q: Because it is not big. It is not like I come here […] well aside from the language which has been difficult for me to possess. Aside from the language you know socially and environmentally it is quite similar to most modern Western European based nations so I am used to the environment, the way things work, public transportation. But there are certain behaviors that are […] they are not grant you know it is not like people hop on one foot instead of walking on two, it is not big like that. There are small things that have been little shocks to me and my family here and there and it is nothing that […]

V: For instance?

Q: Okay so what’s a good example. Here is a small one. So I have a child he is in school, now he is in a Dutch school and in the US when you have kids in school and you need to let’s say do some traveling, you take him you just say hey school my kids is gonna be gone for a week or whatever.

V: Oh yeah.

Q: And you just go and they will say fine. You know it is up to you to make sure his academics stay strong. Fine. Here it is very different. Here in fact if you want to travel with your child outside of certain pre-sanctioned periods of time you get penalized for it. So a small […] it is a small detail.

V: Even one day.

Q: Even one day. It is a small detail but it translates into like a big thing inside of my family routine or rhythm. So there is things like that. I am trying to think of another one but […] Okay another funny thing. So cuisine or culinary with food wise the Dutch pail is very different than the American one of course. And I have been so shocked and surprised very often when eating with colleagues who are Dutch to see their adoration, exaltation and supreme love of sliced bread. Now I like a good bread okay give me a bread fresh out of the oven I am there for it.

V: But this is not fresh. It is sealed in a plastic bag.

Q: I have seen colleagues with plates of food at lunch and there will be and I am not exaggerating okay six slices of bread mainly some slices of cheese or some slices of meat in between but literally like a tower of bread and extreme excitement and enthusiasm on their face for a fantastic lunch they are about to have. So small things like that you know.

V: But this changed you know. 20 years ago it was impossible to have a good lunch in Amsterdam.

Q: Okay.

V: A warm meal. It didn’t exist.

Q: Okay not for lunch.

V: So the last 20 years, 25 years culinary culture changed incredibly.

Q: Good.

V: Well, in the right direction. I am very happy as well.

Q: Yeah there are ways to go.

V: Yeah.

Q: No it has really been like I said you know coming here was an experiment. I had no knowledge of Dutch culture before coming other than just meaningless stuff. You know in America we really focus the education for children on an American stuff to the …. of the average American person’s awareness so I didn’t really have a good sense of what this country represented and what it was like. So it was a true experiment we kind of came blank slate and it could have gone much worse I think so like I said there wasn’t a huge shock, there weren’t huge differences but I have enjoyed and also I have been miserable sometimes but I have enjoyed having to understand how we […] how I can maneuver in this society while still being me and without destroying you know the things that are already built here in order to accommodate me. Because I don’t think that’s the way to do it either. So it has been interesting. I suspect as we continue our lives we will do this kind of experiment in different places around the world and I think it will be fulfilling.

V: Great. Do you have anything to add to this conversation?

Q: Only that […] yeah for anyone listening definitely check out all the previous conversations because it is really you know I looked at the titles and there is like a range right some are similar but people’s perspectives are so different and this probably isn’t shouldn’t be surprising but it is kind of surprising and presently delightful that you know people with such different ideas can talk interestingly around this core concept of you know what makes something good, what is quality. So yeah I recommend listening to as many of your previous discussion […]

V: Lots of them. They are all very long. Good luck with that.

Q: Yeah especially if you don’t speak Dutch. But there is enough […]

V: Yeah there is quite a few English ones. Yeah. That’s manageable. Okay. Well thank you very much for this conversation.

Q: Yeah well thank you it was a pleasure.

V: This was episode 56 of The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting with Vasilis van Gemert (that’s me) and Qa’id Jacobs. 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. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

This transcript was funded with the generous help of CMD Amsterdam, Paul van Buuren, Job, Ischa Gast, Remi Vledder, JanJaap Rijpkema, Peet Sneekes, and Peter van Grieken. If you want to you can help as well by donating a (small) amount.