Posted on

071: User Defenders Live – A Panel on Design Accessibility, Diversity & Ethics with Mina Markham, Derek Featherstone and Farai Madzima

User Defenders: Podcast – UX Design & Personal Growth
User Defenders: Podcast – UX Design & Personal Growth
071: User Defenders Live – A Panel on Design Accessibility, Diversity & Ethics with Mina Markham, Derek Featherstone and Farai Madzima

An Event Apart - A Panel on Design Accessibility, Diversity & Ethics with Mina Markham, Derek Featherstone and Farai Madzima

Prefer to watch the video from An Event Apart?

I had the great honor of being invited back to An Event Apart Denver (2019) to record a live podcast episode with Mina Markham, Farai Madzima, & Derek Featherstone on the important topics of Accessibility, Design Inclusion & Ethics, Hiring & Retaining Diverse Talent and Landing a Job in UX.

Amazingly, we were able to cover all of this in just under an hour!

Thanks to the co-founders of An Event Apart, Jeffrey Zeldman + Eric Meyer for letting me share a stage I’ve revered for over a decade now, thanks to Toby, Marci, Mike & company for the amazing work behind the scenes at every AEA event. Also, very special thanks to Todd Libby for capturing this amazing 4K video on his new iPhone he got just to do this for me. 🤗

An Event Apart Denver (2019)
Mina Markham’s Twitter
Derek Featherstone’s Twitter
Farai Madzima’s Twitter
Jason Ogle’s Twitter
A panel on accessibility, design inclusion and ethics, hiring and retaining diverse talent, and landing a job in UX [ARTICLE]


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: We are going to be talking about some really important stuff that as it concerns our design community, like inclusive design, accessibility, landing a job in UX. I know that that’s a real big design problem as well, that a lot of folks are kind of going through and so I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to my guests here to let them introduce themselves. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us your design superpower?

Mina Markham: Okay! Hi everyone! My name is Mina Markham. I am a staff engineer at Slack. I can say there’s a lot, but I don’t work on the Slack product you all know and love. I actually work on the Slack marketing website, so I do more. Mostly, my job was to explain what Slack is to people who don’t know what Slack is. My design superpower is I act as a sort of bridge or translator between the engineering framework and frame of mind and the designer frame of mind. I have a background in design and switch engineering, so I can think like both and can talk to both very easily.

Jason Ogle: It’s a great superpower. Farai

Farai Madzima: Awesome. So my name is Farai Madzima. I am a UX manager at Shopify. I’m in Ottowa. And I guess, I would say my superpower, my design superpower is actually around a building design teams and making sure that they are cross culturally aware because the teams that we’re building these days are built from people who are coming from all over the world and we assume that we forget small people in the room together. They go to work amazingly, but typically that doesn’t happen. And so, yeah, that’s my jam.

Jason Ogle: Awesome! And Derek?

Derek Featherstone: I’m Derek Featherstone. I’m the chief experience officer at Level Access. We’re an accessibility consulting and software platform agency company. I think my design superpower is including and remembering the people that are often forgotten.

Jason Ogle: Hmm. Wow, that’s awesome! So, I realized, I forgot to tell you how to join the list. We’ll get you right to the sign off. That’s bad UX. I apologize. So, I think we need to start with actually what may be the most important question I’m going to ask tonight. And that is Mina. When is Beyoncé going to hire you to make her website accessible? Come on, right?

Mina Markham: [Laughter] You know, I’ve been trying, I’ve tried for like for almost a year at this point. There’s a petition. I’ll talk about it tomorrow on my talk. So, come see. But yeah. I actually, I don’t know. I would love to do, I would love the job. It’s a dream job and I actually could do the job. So please, please, if you’re listening, just hire me. I could make your life so much easier.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, sign the petition. Awesome! Awesome! So, I’m curious, let’s jump into accessibility because this is a really important issue in our field obviously, and there’s been a lot of strides made, but I’m wondering, are you all happy with the strides made toward accessibility as becoming more of a standard this year, dominoes?

Mina Markham: So, I think there has been good strides made in getting like people more aware of the need for size to be accessible, which is the first step. I just still think there’s enough friction that we haven’t made enough strides in making the web a completely accept that inclusive accessible place. Seeing, you know, the dominoes of the worlds and even though I love her, is still not accessible. Like, there’s just so many major sites that still don’t think about people who can’t see the screen or can’t use a mouse and they just don’t see these edge cases versus like just actual use cases where I, I don’t think we’ve made enough strides where we don’t think of these as like fringe cases. More like, this is just something that is a part of your job and something that you need to do.

Derek Featherstone: So, I mean, there’s been a lot of strides, definitely positive movement, but the biggest issue that I still see that just doesn’t seem to go away is even with all the things that are happening in the community and with lawsuits and things like that. And again, the legal part of accessibility is like my least favorite part of it. It’s the thing that I dislike probably the most, but it unfortunately seems to be kind of necessary. I think the biggest thing that still bothers me or I see that’s holding us back is that people think that it is hard to do or it’s going to take a whole lot of time, a whole lot of money. And the reason that it ends up doing that is not because it’s hard in and of its own right, it’s because we’re talking about doing this stuff at scale and it’s because we’re talking about trying to change people’s minds about something that they’ve already made their minds up about.

And so, many people just still feel like, as you know, something where maybe it hasn’t touched them or disability hasn’t touched them in their lives, they’re thinking that it’s very much and other thing and it has nothing to do with them. And, Oh, do we really have to do this? Like, what percentage of people are we talking about? And they don’t realize that like it’s everybody, it’s 50% of us by the time we get to 70ish years old, it’s 50% of us. And people kind of just haven’t really woken up to the fact that that’s a thing, and we should really just be a lot more respectful and understanding of everybody that we’re designing for and not just people that we think are this fictionalized view of who we should be designing for.

So, lots of strides, but it’s still kind of sad. I feel like I’m totally bringing this down. Like I want to keep it real. That’s awesome. Everybody’s, but there’s a lot of things that just aren’t you know, it’s tough to convince people still. And it’s sad that we need to convince people, probably nobody that’s in this room, but it’s people in, you know, the other rooms that just need to be convinced still for whatever reason, they don’t believe it. They don’t believe it’s valuable. So I could talk about that for a long time, but I’m already getting sad myself, so I want to stop talking.

Jason Ogle: It’s happy hour, Derek.

Derek Featherstone: It was happy.

Jason Ogle: It was [Laughter]

Farai Madzima: So, currently, I’m working in Canada, but I was actually originally born in Zimbabwe and I worked in South Africa between 2011 and 2017. And what’s interesting there is when you say strides and you all have recognized strides, where I was working, there is no, there’s been none of that, right? Because folks are still, you know, the people who buy the skills of web designers and web developers are still just grappling with the idea of having a website, then having one that kind of works well, the idea of accessibility, the idea is around performance and even, you know, folks just hiring like a user experience designer or an information architect to make sure that this thing works right. Those are concerns that at this moment are way, way down the list. And the communities of designers and developers are growing and they building and they’re trying to have these conversations among themselves and then trying to get those conversations into business and all of those things. But the strides that you all are seeing here in North America, like on that continent, there’s like these even less that’s happening.

Jason Ogle: Why do you think that is stride?

Farai Madzima: This trade, what we do here is young there, right. And so, you are finding people who are getting into web development for the first time. Now, you’ve got people, you know the folks who run any events part of and building sites for days. Whereas on the other side, you’re finding people who are only just getting to grips with, okay, this is what we can do, this is what’s possible, right? And then getting those skills and finding that, well, there are not enough experienced people who can teach us the right stuff, the standards. Now, all this stuff is available on the web, right, and you could learn that. But the people buying the services and people who are saying, please build a thing for me, they’re not going to put that at the front of their list. All they want is to say, I’ve got a URL. I can point a browser I did and something will pop up that looks like my logo. And that can handle these transactions or whatever it is. And that’s satisfactory for a large amount of people.

I think there’s a lot that still needs to be learned in the people who are buying the services as well as the people who are doing the building around, you know, how do you make something that is great and performance and it looks awesome and delivers on all the needs of the business and the users? Those are questions that we’re still kind of grappling with and it’s not to save it, but if they are some great examples coming out, but that is not the norm. And I wouldn’t say that conversations around accessibility when any of those things are, you know, rife, it didn’t ship well.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, that’s good stuff. And Derek used to say that accessible design is better design and I think it’s a better design for everybody. And I really liked that. I think that’s something that is kind of really helping to shape what we do. Thinking about design that way. And you’re right. I mean we all just temporarily abled, right? I mean, like I had to get glasses a couple of years ago. My optometrist said I beat the odds by one year. I guess, yeah, 42 was like 42 or 41 or something is the normal age for most people needing eye care, eye eyeglasses. So, I’m kind of, my empathy levels are increasing all the time. And I injured myself a couple of years ago. I slipped on the ice out here and tore my tendon and tore my cartilage and then all of a sudden I’m in a chair for 6 months practically, you know, like just with crutches and I gained great levels of empathy. But I feel like it’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes us to actually go through something before we actually take it more seriously. Does it seem that way?

Derek Featherstone: Yeah. I mean, there’s one of the biggest challenges is like, people don’t understand, you know, how valuable it can be. You know, we do talk about that. When we build something and design something and make it better for somebody with a disability and, or take that into account in the design right from the get go that it ends up, you know, and I can point to lots of cases where it almost every single time it makes it just a better design. I think, I did a talk at an event apart in 2015 I think called Extreme Design. And it was literally case after case after case where every single thing that we did to make an example better from an accessibility perspective, it ended up being better for people without disabilities as well. And so, people kind of don’t understand that accessibility is a great tool for innovation, that it’s a thing that is for all of us and that it can actually make some really incredible you know, designs happen.

It’s a design tool in and of its own right. And inclusive design kind of takes us that way. When we with clients and they are embracing inclusive design, they come up with new solutions that they never would have thought of if they had not engaged people with disabilities in the research process and in the testing process. And they sometimes come up with, you know, new features for a product. Sometimes they come up with entirely new products that spin off of the original idea simply because they engaged people that were, you know, maybe they thought were like different than them. So, there’s tremendous value in doing it, but I just don’t think enough people have any experience with it either, you know, personally at touching them in their lives. But they also haven’t been through a process that incorporates accessibility and inclusion into it. So, they don’t necessarily know what it’s like.

And so, what they’re basing their feelings like, oh, this is going to be horrible or this is going to reduce my creativity or take away my creativity is all based on this fictionalized vision of what they think it is. Not on an experience that they’ve actually had. So, they’re using false data in the place of having actually gone through it. And so, that I think just taints their view of what it’s going to be like. And so, they maybe are less willing to explore it in the first place. But I know some of the most, excuse me, some of the most professionally satisfying things that we have that I’ve participated in have been things where we have been working really closely with people with disabilities to solve problems that ended up making things just phenomenally better for everybody else. It’s one of the most incredible feelings when you can contribute to making the world better like that. So I don’t even know. Did that even answer your question? I don’t know if it, either way I have given an answer.

Farai Madzima: I really liked the point that you raise around thinking about accessibility, inclusive design and using that as a framing for innovation and coming up with new, better ideas for everybody as opposed to just ideas that will serve this what people think of as a small community. And I don’t think, you know, people are thinking about it that way or working it that way. So, that’s a cool idea.

Derek Featherstone: I don’t think, I think almost nobody thinks about it that way, right. And I think that’s partly just because people haven’t been, like I said, people haven’t experienced it or gone through it. You know, what does that design sprints that’s like a thing. Everybody’s like, oh, design sprints, we’re going to I want to do like an inclusive design sprint with teams for a week and just like, it would be incredible. I think what people would learn in that. I think I just created something. But like we should be doing that, right? Like to give people a chance to experience it so they learn about things in a different way than just thinking it’s something different. I know a lot of people, they kind of get, you know, they think it’s going to take so much longer and the reality is it’s only taking longer because they’re learning it, right. If a developer – if everybody was doing something in react and they suddenly said, okay, we’re going to switch everything from react to angular or you know, or vice versa, or whatever it was, that’s going to take time because they have to learn the new ways of, you know, the new ways of doing things and accessibility is no different. So, it’s not that it takes longer because it’s accessibility. It takes longer because they’re learning, right, and they just haven’t got the experience to back it up. So, yeah.

Jason Ogle: So, I want to ask this question in kind of two parts. What are the major obstacles to accessibility you’ll still see needing to be addressed to continue down this road? And for those of us just getting our feet wet into accessibility, what are some quick wind things that we can try to better empathize with disabled folks that we may not currently be considering in our work?

Mina Markham: So, touching on the small wins you can do to empathize one very easy thing you can do with unplug your mouse for a day and just use a keyboard to navigate and see how easy it is or how difficult it could be to get around and actually do things, interact on the applications and sites that you build. And it may surprise you, like maybe you built everything using semantic HTML and it’s pretty much, it’s almost there at the beginning, but you’re more than likely you’re going to find some keyboard traps or you’re going to not know where you’re focusing on to begin with because the focus state’s been removed. So, that’s one very simple thing you can do to kind of build that empathy muscle to see how can someone not use a mouse? Can they navigate and do simple interactions on this site that I’ve made? If not, then that’s your first step.

Jason Ogle: That’s really good.

Derek Featherstone: Number one best way, even though, and this is a simple way to get started, even though it might seem like this is a big step, go and talk with somebody that has a disability. Go sit with them, watch how they do their work. You know, obviously get permission and that sort of thing, but that’s real. Like that you learn stuff that you just never thought you would learn. I see a lot of stuff going on where people are you know, they’ll write a medium post about it. They’re like, I use a screen reader for a day and look how woke I am, you know, like stuff like that. And it’s like go and sit with somebody that actually uses a screen reader and talk to them. Like just talk to them, talk to them. You don’t have to go and start using a screen reader yourself.

I mean you can, cool, but your experience is not going to be what the experience of somebody that actually relies on that screen reader is. And I would bet that many people are going to be, you know, one of the things that people always think of is like, oh my gosh, people with disabilities have it so bad because I use the screen reader for 2 hours and I sucked because it was so fast I couldn’t understand it. I’m like, you have no idea. Like people that actually use a screen reader are listening to it five times as fast as you are and they can get through a heck of a lot more than you can. So don’t be, you know what we talk about empathy and what there’s a lot of things that we do or try to do that end up generating sympathy rather than empathy. Empathy is like go and sit with them and learn about their lived experience, not like some other thing. Although, I love like unplug your mouse for a day that is fantastic. Like that’s absolutely a great way to go because that teaches you a lot of stuff.

But if I can implore you to do one thing is find somebody with a disability next month, this month, well it’s almost November, right? So in November, go find one person that has a disability and go learn a bunch of stuff from them and then go find another person in December and a different person in January. A different person. Do it one, one person every month for the next year and you will transform you. That’s it.

Jason Ogle: Love it! That’s awesome! So I’m going to, this next one is kind of a big one and I’m going to kind of set it up, but hopefully not bias it too much. A couple of years ago, my daughter, I think she was probably like one and a half or so, really young still. My wife was away out of town visiting her mom and my daughter was having some real breathing challenges and I kind of laid down next to her and because I was really concerned. It was getting really bad. And then I finally got to the place where it’s like, okay, I got to go, I got to get her to the hospital because it was that bad. The thing is that I wasn’t really prepared. I didn’t know which hospital to take her to. Exactly, that was kind of on me, but when I did find it figured out the hospital, I went to the website and then here I am just like scrambling and panicking, trying to find a phone number and even an address for the hospital. And I couldn’t find it on the website and in a visible location. And that was a bit of a challenge.

And then there’s the James Lang a VW emissions engineer. You all familiar with that story? He was coding the emissions test to favor the VW vehicles during the tests, but then after the test was complete, he had some sort of trigger that said, okay, now you can go back to, you know, polluting the environment or whatever. So, he actually got locked up for that. He’s in prison I think for four years. And so, I guess the code you write can and will be used against you in a court of law. And so, that was a really interesting example. And then of course, there’s a lot of other things, you know, Facebook has done a lot of things. Unfortunately, I know Eric has been, you know, has really felt a lot of a lot from that not a positive way. And, you know, Uber’s doing tracking stuff.

There’s a lot of things happening that aren’t ethical in our field, sadly. And all for the sake of engagement or you know, more numbers or more growth or whatever it might be. So, I guess here’s the setup that was the setup and I’m just wondering, you know, medical doctors have to go to school for eight plus years and take a Hippocratic oath to ensure their treatment of humans is ethical. Architects sometimes spend over 12 years on their education and certifications to design structures humans will dwell in. Are you all sick of this? Should designers thing, everybody’s sick of that. Should designers go, should design, well, I’ve got a new one for you. Should designers have to agree to a code of ethics and or become certified to design for other human beings? Why or why not?

Derek Featherstone: Yes, because that’s the right thing to do.

Jason Ogle: Alright.

Derek Featherstone: I’ll add a little more to that.

Jason Ogle: Drop that mic

Derek Featherstone: But, so I say this coming from Ontario, Canada. I live in Ottawa. And one of the things that we have a long history of in Ontario is we have a registered graphic designer society and that actually requires people to go through certain parts of training as part of their schooling. And they get certification and they get that and they’re part of this registry. We did the same thing for teachers. We did the same thing for you know, for lots of other professions. I would be in favor because that’s one of the ways that we can actually you know, help make sure that secondary school and post-secondary school curricula have some of these topics woven into them. Because there’s lots of teachers that would, you know, unless it’s part of the curriculum and somebody says they have to teach it, they wouldn’t necessarily think to include it.

So, if that pathway and I don’t even, haven’t even considered all the knock-on implications of this. Like I’m saying. Yes. So, I don’t know what that does to the industry or all the other things that go with it. But from a pure idealistic perspective, I think that would certainly put us in a better position than we’re now. Maybe, I don’t know. But that’s my thinking anyway.

Farai Madzima: I had not thought about that. I think I would feel bad for saying no. I don’t know if I’ll feel bad for saying no, but you know, like, I mean that would be probably based on like, as you say, the impacts of, you know, what does that mean when we already can’t get people into the industry and then, you know, is this a new barrier, you know, on all those different things. But the other side of it I think is along with that is a recognition that the impact of the products that we are working on has got gravitas and has long lost in your impacts that are nontrivial. And as an industry, we do need to recognize that. It may not be that you need, maybe for when you’re working on certain products you need this or something like that. But I think it is long past time that we recognize in some sort of way that what we are doing has got non-trivial impact that is on a global scale. And that, you know, like Spiderman, you know, Stanley like, you know, with great power comes great responsibility. And you know, we need to have better conversations around that and we need to be able to help you hold each other to account for some of those choices, I think in a much better way than nothing right now.

Mina Markham: I’m kind of a combination of those people actually. Idealistically yes, I think we should definitely do it because we’ve kind of proven that without that kind of governing sort of entity or body or whatever you want to call it, we’re not good at policing ourselves. So, it would be just from a sure, like empathetic, like human point of view. Yeah. We should probably all do this because otherwise we’re probably not going to do it on our own volition. On the other hand, I do recognize that adding another barrier to entry to this industry, for some people who already have a hard time going into it could be a problem. So, I idealistically yes, we definitely should practically, I don’t know how it would work, but I would love to be able to figure that out.

Jason Ogle: Interesting! Very interesting! So, those are very thought provoking responses on now and I know that one’s a heavy one, you know, that’s kind of like there’s a lot of gravitas. I liked that word for, I said there’s a lot of gravitas to that question and I guess it’s kind of one of those things. There’s really maybe no right or wrong answer yet to that and maybe there won’t be. But it’s interesting to see that conversation kind of happening a little more, especially just in light of some of the ethical things or unethical things that are happening or that have happened as well. So, that’ll be interesting to kind of watch unfold. Now, we know that big problems are, are best solved with a diversity of perspectives. However, building diverse teams is proving to be a difficult design problem that needs solving. And I’m wondering for the folks listening who may be hiring and building design teams, what’s your best advice and strategies for them to get better at this at building diverse teams?

Mina Markham: So, I think maybe the first thing, if piece of advice I would say is stop looking in the same places for [inaudible 26:28-26:29] you know, recruits. People tend to hire people they know and like-minded people. So me working in Silicon Valley, it’s a lot of the same schools are going to recruit graduates. And I’ll just say stop looking in the same places and go look somewhere else. You’re not going to find a different type of engineer, a different type of designer, if you’re looking at the same place you hired the ones you already have. So, find another place. I don’t believe there’s a pipeline issue. I don’t believe that at all. [Inaudible 26:57-26:58]. So, just go find where these people are and stop looking at the really the Stanford’s of the world is pretty much what I want to say.

Farai Madzima: Yeah, I’d echo that. I think definitely like looking in the same places and also looking in the same way. So, coming from South Africa, you know, I see, you know, from where I was, you know, I’m with Shopify two years ago, I would look at job ads that are across the ocean and I’d be like, that can never be for me. That doesn’t speak to who I am and where I’m at because the challenges that and when I say challenges, I mean the mental barriers and some of those other things that somebody who is on that side of the world is facing when they’re thinking about moving over here are very different to what somebody who is in, you know, Arizona’s thinking about when they see a job ad for something in New York, right at Facebook. And I think being able to understand what are the things that the people who are in the places that you aren’t looking as well, what message do you need to say send to them to tell them about what is it like for you to take this job, right?

So, for example, a simple thing, relocation, right? Relocation is huge, right? And sometimes a job ad would just say “Relo is Possible,” but if you’ve worked in North America and you see “Relo is Possible,” you’ve got an understanding of what that means. If you’re posting that same job ad in a market that has no understanding of what that means, then you need to be much more clear about what are we talking about here? What we’re saying is we’re going to bring you and your family, we’re going to pack up your house and we’re going to bring you to the side of the world and wouldn’t get you a visa, right? That is an entirely different proposition from just one line that says, yes, we do relocate. So I think, yes, look in places that you aren’t traditionally looking, but understand what the barriers are that are stopping people from applying.

Mina Markham: Okay. I’m sorry. I had a quick addendum to the relocation part of it. Also, pay for relocation upfront. I’ve seen many jobs who do location on a reimbursement basis, which is a huge barrier for people who don’t have a flux of cash to do that on their own. Like so, offer location, yes, but also just pay for it and don’t rely on the person you’re hiring to take care of it, ready to submit all the paperwork later.

Farai Madzima: Yeah, that’s is just a nonstop, it’s not going to happen, right, because to pack up my house and bring it from so that I forgot to Canada is going to cost $12,500, right. If I’m earning a salary that is like, I don’t know, $1,500 a month, I’m never going to be able to raise that money. It’s like I’m paying so that I can work for you. Does that make sense? It’s like that’s not going to be a jam.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a good arrangement.

Derek Featherstone: Just one last quick thing on diversity, which, you know, I’m the white dude talking about diversity.

Jason Ogle: You’re welcome. [Laughter]

Derek Featherstone: Yeah! So, one of the things that I kind of, I think about it because we see this in our industry a lot when we talk about accessibility and what that means. We usually think of, and I’m not saying we, am saying like the industry. We usually get excited and happy if we have made something that works well with a screen reader, right? And so, my response to that often is like, cool, but that’s like, you know, 1/100th of a percent of what diversity and accessibility actually means. It’s not that it’s not important, it’s just we have to think broader than that, so we have to diversify diversity. And when we see a lot of initiatives these days where there’s companies have diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives and things that they’re doing. And what they usually mean is we’re going to hire people of a diverse racial profile or gender or gender identity profile.

But we almost never see them publicly talking about what they’re doing for hiring people with disabilities and a variety of disabilities in the process. Or I say this as an older white dude, like not very good in terms of hiring diversity in terms of age. Like I’m at a point where I’m like, there’s going to come a point in my career where I’m not far away from maybe being like not doing well in any job interview ever again because of how old I might be. And so, that’s, you know, when we’re thinking about hiring diverse teams, I just want to, the only thing that I’m trying to contribute, I guess is diversifying what we mean by diversity and not just thinking about the things that usually get brought up in some of that. So you know, socioeconomic profile, things that we just don’t often think of.

Like, you know, I know my, one of the things that we did at our company before, like before we got you know, merged and acquired with by another company. But one of the things that we tried to do, we actually looked and we were like, we don’t have anybody on our team that is older than 45 or whatever it was. I don’t remember what it was at the time. We were like, we should actually actively start looking if we find some equally qualified candidates and we’ve got the choice to bring in some of that other perspective from older, some people that may might be older than what our current pool of you know, people that are working for us is, we should really be considering that. So, that’s the only thing I would throw out is to diversify what we mean by diversity when we’re thinking about building diverse teams.

Farai Madzima: I’d also add to that. It’s one thing to say you want to get people in the door. The other thing is, are you keeping them, right? So may not be that people try to about the pipeline thing, but there’s a leaky bucket thing, right? Where it’s like we’re getting people in but we can’t keep them because we’re saying, well, yeah, we hired them, so we checked the box. But the reality is that once you rock up and you’re the first one, that’s tough and it’s a tough journey to wait until this two, three, four, five of you, until you are represented in a way where you don’t feel like you are a minority and that you have a voice and all those things. So the work is to get folks in and then the inclusion work is to make sure that we understand what are the difficulties that someone faces when they’re one of a kind and how do we make sure that we can help them to navigate those things and give them the support that they need until, you know, we build up, you know, that crew, that squad. So, those things go hand in hand.

And it helps you when you keep people then other people were looking to go, oh look, it’s growing. There’s something going on over there and there’s a gravity. Well, that’s happening over there. Right? But on the other hand, if your bucket keeps leaking, that’s also a signal, right? Where people go, you all was there for a few months, but I didn’t stay. So, those things go hand in hand. It’s, you don’t want to get people in, but you want to make sure that you keep them as well. And that is, if not even more difficult.

Mina Markham: Yeah! One way to keep them as to promote them. I’ve seen so many people of color and women who just stagnate at a company because they can’t get past whatever level they’re at because whatever the criteria for promotion is, it’s very skewed and biased towards a certain type of person. And that’s what triggers leaky bucket. They’re like, well, I can’t progress here, so I have to go somewhere else. Like that’s actually how a lot of marginalized people advanced their career is by doing the job hopping, by getting that next level a title at the next company they work for. So, get them in the door and then keep them there by supporting them. And that includes promoting them.

Jason Ogle: Well, that’s good. I am going to open it up for questions. So think about it, some questions to ask. But this awesome panel, we have a few more here that I like to squeeze in though. So, let’s talk about like landing a job in UX. And I mean, I guess there’s a lot of different challenges in that, but one of the ones I keep seeing, especially on Twitter a lot is the whole three to five years’ experience required for an entry level job. Do you all have thoughts on this? And doesn’t that sound weird? But that’s really kind of the what – that’s how a lot of people are being served in the industry and it’s kind of, it’s really odd. So, I just, I’m curious, do you have any thoughts on this and then how do we fix this?

Derek Featherstone: I don’t know how to fix it, but I do know that I have like as a person that used to hire people, I always wanted this probably one of my biggest, I don’t regret a whole lot of things that I’ve done, but one like thing that actually sticks with me is that we did not do a good job of hiring people that were at an entry level or very junior and mentoring them as like the next wave of professionals in the community and in the industry. So, we wanted to hire people that could hit the ground running. That was what we always like, why do we need, we don’t have time, we need to go faster. We need to go faster. And it was, you know, as I look back, it’s probably the one thing that I wish I could change. Like, we should have put ourselves as a company in a position where we would have had the luxury of having the time to be able to do that so that we didn’t always feel like we were so, you know, got to go faster, got to go faster, got to get this done, don’t have time to mentor junior people.

I feel like as a company, we could have done that better and that would’ve been much better, not just for us but also for the industry. I’m talking specifically about kind of the accessibility industry, but I think it probably translates to a lot. So, I don’t know how to change that other than to, you know, like if we could have done that, I would have very much liked that. We would have not always been in such a situation where we were so running, you know, very much agency life we’re running. So tight to every deadline, to every little thing that needs to be done. If I could’ve, I would’ve put ourselves in that position where we would’ve been able to you know, have that luxury of being able to do that. And maybe it’s not a luxury, maybe it’s more of a necessity, but that’s the thing that probably sticks with me the most, we couldn’t do that for more people.

Farai Madzima: I’m thinking that as, I’m just making stuff up as we go along. As an industry, we like to reap the fruit when it is right. But we are not interested in planting seeds. We’re not interested in looking off the saplings and seeing them grow. And that’s a thing that we need to do. I think that so I was at, I remember there was a show, sorry, conference and Quinn from Adobe was speaking and he was talking about “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” So, this idea that in software we talk about the idea of, I’m going to get this wrong. But the idea of the Cathedral is that the ideal piece of software is written in the one book. And the book is released every once in a while and everybody gets to kind of access that and you know, and you do this thing and there are other, the clergy or whoever it is who make all of that happen. If you want to make a change in that, you’re probably going to need to join the clergy.

Whereas the market idea, the Bazaar idea is that, you know, there is a market of ideas and it’s open source and you know, you can make a thing, you put it out there and somebody else might take a bit of that to my work with that and do something different. This is what we see in engineering. Engineering is open. Engineering says come by and join us. Here’s how we work. You go to GitHub and you will see so many examples of how, you know, like literally you can go through every single commit of a piece of software to see how it was built. You can see every single comment and understand how people improve the thing that they made right up until the point that it was shipped. But when we look at designs, you can never see that, right? All you see is finished product.

You know, in my mind I’m looking at, if you think about looking at get help and going through like the commit and the commit history and all of those things, you’re pretty much seeing a design reviews history. Like how this design or how’d this product evolve. But in the work that we do, we don’t do that. So, what the point Quinn was making is that the design industry is very closed. We don’t really, we don’t welcome people. We don’t say everybody should design, only the people who know how to design should design. Whereas engineering community is like build a thing, here are all the tools. It’s, you know, it’s cheap, it’s free and all of those things. And that means that more and more people can come to the party and they can actually get on with that.

Whereas, you know, in design I think we could do a better job of kind of inviting other people to come to the party. And you know, internships are great things. Bring people in, make them meaningful, pay them to be an intern, you know, give them meaningful work. They’re not here to work and you know, at the coffee machine, you know, give them meaningful work that’s actually going to grow them and give them an opportunity to, you know, be something and do something meaningful. I think, you know, in design industry we can do more of that. I think in engineering they do way more of that then than what I’ve seen in design anyway across the board. I think there are a few large organizations that do it for designers, but it’s not general across the board. You probably find more computer science people being able to get corps in internships than you would designers. And I think, yeah, so that is the growing the saplings that’s planting the seeds. You know, how much our design is being involved in what’s happening at university. And making sure that people know that this is a thing that you can do. And having access and role models and all of those different things. I think, yeah, we got work to do that.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. I like that. Jeffrey was on the show recently and we were talking about web design and keeping the spirit alive. And I love what you said. He said, we just, we need to jam, we need to jam more, you know, as designers have that jam session. And I really liked that. That’s an interesting point about the engineering community versus a design community. What can we learn from the engineering community to kind of invite people to that jam session a little more? I like that. So let’s do one more and then we’ll open it up for questions to the audience. Let’s see.

So, I like soft skills a lot. I’m biasing the question again, but I feel like the hard skills like, if we have a growth mindset, which hopefully we all do, we realized that we can learn anything we really, truly want to learn and apply ourselves to learn. But I’m curious in your experience, how important have you found soft skills to be when landing a job and also, or just in the job in general? And also what are your best ways you’ve found a growing them?

Farai Madzima: There are no soft skills.

Jason Ogle: There are no soft skills.

Farai Madzima: No sir. They might be a bunch of things that fit into that bracket as you describe it. It’s all hard. It’s all hard. I’ll tell you, in the last two years of my job, since I moved to Shopify, the hardest thing has been I have never needed to be as introspective for any aspect of my life as I’ve had to do for the move and for the job to be effective and to be leading people really, really well. And that is just hard. And I think when we call it soft, we are not characterizing it as with the gravitas. I will bring that word back that it requires, it is justice.

You know, the skills that we need to make our product better are just as important, just as difficult as the skills that we need to make our teams better and our companies better, right. And those are the things that some people would call soft skills, but yet there is nothing soft and they are absolutely necessary. And we just, you know, to get to your question, we don’t focus on them enough and not enough people have got what it takes. And we excuse a lot of people who don’t have that because we would say, well, you know, your craft skills are like off the charts. And so it’s cool. You can come through and you can do whatever. You know, but you need to not only have the responsibility of making our product better, but you need to be able to make our team better. And that means that everything that you’re doing when you’re not at your desk punching the keyboard, like you need to have skills in that and you need to be great at that as well.

Mina Markham: I kind of took my thunder there a little bit, but no, no it’s fine. I’ll just build on top of that. I was going to say that I don’t like the term soft skills because it’s kind of an inherently gendered and it gendered towards these skills are more likely to be a skills that a woman has to be [inaudible 43:57-43:58] born like that. And it tends to lead towards women do a lot of the glue work inside of a company. And what I mean by glue work is that they do allow the organizing and a lot of like the community building that is just as important but doesn’t get recognized and doesn’t get, that’s not a line in the promo packet that gets you the next level. Like it’s important work that’s invisible work, but no one really rewards it. So, I don’t like the term soft skills because it kind of implies that these skills are more things that like not true hardcore engineers do or need to learn how to do or whatever you want to call it.

So, but as you said, they’re just as important and I think that they are skills that everyone should build up and learn to be more effective as engineers, as designers, as whatever your role may be. And so pick one that I think is a good one for everyone to have. I would say empathy is probably the biggest skill that is not very, I haven’t, I don’t know how to teach it. It’s just something I think that I just don’t know how to build those empathy muscle. Like I don’t know how someone builds up that muscle, but I think it makes everyone more effective at their job if they just are able to have like basic empathy for people who are outside of their lived experience.

Jason Ogle: I love that.

Derek Featherstone: So, you asked about, you know, how do those skills, we’ll call them something else. Those hard skills like the hard people skills, whatever we want to call them, but you know, how does that have a role in getting a job, in keeping a job and yeah, like they’re almost everything and to a certain extent, right? Like if you can’t negotiate and read people and understand people and communicate well with people and be part of a team and all of that, then you might as well, like, this sounds super harsh, I’m realizing as I’m saying it, but like, you might as well just go be your own company of one, right? Like to be part of a team, you have to have those skills. So, they’re critical.

And I know lots of people that just don’t have those skills and they, you know, they couldn’t maybe talk to clients or and I’m thinking like in my past to like people that just don’t have those skills, those people skills at all, and there, it ends up that they’re not successful. So how do they play a role in getting a job and keeping a job? They’re like, I don’t know, they’re probably part of everything. And I know, so this was another thing that I’m super proud of. When we used to hire people, we tried very hard to basically get people to do like a little bit of contract work with us first. And so, we would have people going through an interview process because we wanted to see what does it like to work with these people. The only way to figure that out is to work with those people.

And so, we would do like a, you know, a 10 hour, even if you were like, if you got to that point where we were like considering hiring you, we did a 10 hour $50 an hour, you know, because we didn’t want it to be spec work, but we also didn’t want it to be like super onerous but also like not paying people like ridiculous hourly rates. So, we would pay people 50 bucks an hour for 10 hours to work on a thing with us so that we could get at least some idea of what it was like to work with people. And one of the things that we were always looking for was can you communicate? Can you teach somebody else? And do you take feedback and learn right from the things that we do. And so, those were the things that we tried to hire for all the time. And I say all the time, I don’t mean all the time. Once we got through to a point where we realized that that’s how we should be doing things, that’s how we did it.

So like to me, I don’t know if more people hire like that or are thinking about hiring like that, but we picked it up from reading a book called “Joy, inc.” and where there the entire premise of the book and the company was, what if we based this entire company around the concept of joy, right? And therefore, it brings us great joy when we are working with people that we know we can work with. And when we’re working with people that aren’t, you know, that, where it’s not a good relationship that’s not joyous and therefore, you know, how do we maximize joy in the company?

And so we read, read that book and that kind of changed our perspective on hiring and it had a huge a huge impact on us. And I think many of the people that we hired, if they didn’t have some of those skills, then they wouldn’t have been hired. And so, I think it’s just, I’ll go with my first three words. It is critical.

Jason Ogle: That’s, I like the idea of that book. Maybe that’s like an onboarding. Like here’s a book, check it out. This is kind of how we try to work together. And now we try to, I love that. I love the joy aspect of it because it is really joyful when you’re working with great people and that you’re really all striving for to make things better for other people. I like that. Does anybody have any questions? We have a few more minutes. There’s one in the back there.

Listener Question: Hello! My name is Leo Kardlice and I’m a visual designer at Capital One. You guys covered a lot of topics and I kind of want to address just some of them. I think they’re extremely important. Starting with how do you teach empathy? This is just me sharing, I’m not telling you this is the way, but if I were to share with you, how would you go about that? I would say definitely going through therapy is one way you can find out more about yourself and understand how other people may or may not feel. And also this idea of vulnerability. So the work that Brene Brown is doing in terms of research and what that means to the human experience. There’s a lot that you can gain from that. Just dive in deep into that whole thing. With the mention of the age, what do you do when you get older and you’re a professional and you know, are you still relevant, are you still in the game? Like what’s that about? Something that came to mind was the idea of soft skills.

So in this sense, I’m being a little bit of a contrarian, but I think if anything, that’s one thing that the age and the experience can bring to the table in terms of saying no and I’m not having anxiety about problem solving and quick decision making, just let that play out. That’s something that you have to gain and like learn about and that’s just not going to come up right away. And then the last thing I just wanted to mention was this idea of meeting the customer where they’re at. So a young person, you know, has different needs and specific stands, someone that’s been through this that is older and has gotten a lot of experience, so how do you design for that? How do you prepare for that? And you really do have to dig in deep to kind of understand what that means for that particular individual at that age or that experience. I don’t if you can maybe commented on that.

Jason Ogle: What was your question exactly?

Listener Question: I guess the last one. So meeting people where they’re at. So what does that mean? If a customer is let’s say a new young person or if there are older, more experienced, what are those differences, what are those nuances and how does that apply to design?

Derek Featherstone: So, I’m not sure if this will address your question or not, but I know we do a lot of work with clients that are doing you know, they do somewhat of research at the end or evaluative research to figure out, Hey, did we do this thing right? But many of our clients are getting to the point, particularly within the accessibility space where they’re starting to do more foundational research and generative research and including people you know, diverse populations in that, that’s how we connect, right? We need to not just do all of our research with, you know, 24 to 32 year old males, right? We have to embrace that diversity in the research that we’re doing. As well. And you know, the lens that I usually put on that is people with different disabilities, but you could extend that very easily to people with different disabilities, people in different age groups, people with different, you know, different gender and gender identification or gender identity racial profile you know, nationality, ethnicity, wherever you, you know, where you come from.

So that diversity in my mind that needs to be better represented in the research that we do. And that is how I would connect all of that together so that we can find out what those things are. Because I don’t know the differences between a young person. I mean, I know what the difference is between a young person, an old person. That sounded horrible. But I understand differences in age, but what I don’t understand is how that impacts their mindset about the problem that we’re trying to solve, right. So, you know, representing that more diverse perspective in our research is probably the number one way to make those connections.

Farai Madzima: Could I ask, how have you found the experience of trying to I’m guessing you’ve lived and worked agency life, is that correct?

Derek Featherstone: Yeah.

Farai Madzima: How have you found the experience of trying to get your clients to do what you’re describing?

Derek Featherstone: I mean, it’s hard. It takes a while for some clients to come on board to it. But we try to do it in, as, you know, like as meaningful but as least with as little impact on timelines and everything so that they have less to worry about. You know, a lot of our clients are very much into the like tell us we did it right and they’re doing that research at the end. That’s what they think of as research. They don’t think of it in the generative sense. And so, some of them are into it, but it’s definitely something that I would love more people to do because that’s where like, you know, I’ll talk about this on Wednesday, but that’s what inclusive design should be, is about, you know, incorporating people with diverse backgrounds into all phases. Not just at the end, like tell us we did it right. So, you know, it’s hit or miss and it takes a while for people get to that point. So yeah, I mean, mixed results. I don’t have any, like, I wish I had secret formulas, but I don’t.

Jason Ogle: So do we have time for one more? Okay. One more question. Fairly quick one. Anybody? There’s Jason, right? Yeah. Well, Toby’s making our way there. We were speaking a lot about people and teams and all that. I guess this is a little plug. I just released an episode today with Braden Kowitz, Google Ventures and the “Sprint Book.” And he talks a lot about teams and the importance of building great teams and people. So, I think the title is people may be the most important design, most important thing you design or something like that. Check it out.

Listener Question: Hi, this is Jason Pamental. I guess my question is for Mina. Well, I guess, you know, I’m more of a hire of designers more than I am of engineers or developers. And for me, the act of being able to describe the design is almost more important to me than the design work that the person has done itself. And I’m wondering, I was just thinking about your question about empathy and I’m wondering like what would be the analog for you about evaluating a potential hires work and their ability to talk about it?

Mina Markham: What, sorry. What would be,

Listener Question: I guess in terms of, so if I’m thinking about how can a designer talk about their design solution and why they think it’s successful, I guess I’m wondering from your perspective maybe you can evaluate or teach empathy or feel like you can, but like what is the thing about a developer that you might be evaluating that’s not the technical work? What is it about how they present themselves, they talk about it or communicate about it that like really stands out to you?

Mina Markham: Okay. It’s not really a, it’s sort of about empathy, but not really. But there is a thing that I have seen other people do and I’m kind of trying to adopt myself. Particularly, I want to see how they respond to just, I’ll just be very clear. If it is a white male that we were interviewing, I pay attention to how they respond to the feedback to females or people of color in the room. I’ve been in many interviewing processes where they tend to ignore if there’s more than one person, they may focus their attention on the other white guy in the room or something like that.

So, I see how they pay attention to the women in the room and to the people of color in the room and how they speak to them and the tone in that manner. And that gives me a decent indication of how they will react to their teammates in a certain sense. Also, I usually ask when I’m reviewing their work, I asked them about, I checked to see how accessible their work is. I do like a quick little test of my own and I asked them, have you consider how a person who X, Y, Z would be able to use this? And even if they didn’t consider it the way that they respond to that question, it tells me a lot about how they respond to being challenged and how they respond to a use cases that are not what they’d considered before. So, just being able to see how they respond to something that’s outside of their realm will tell me a lot.

Jason Ogle: Awesome! Well, that’s it. Thank you so much everybody! Thanks Jeffrey! Thanks Eric for letting me do this. And Toby, Marcy, Mike and company, all the hard work that they put into these events. Like I’ve been at this for a while. This is still my favorite event. I’m not just saying that because I’m here on the stage. This is my favorite event and I’m just glad you all are here after a long day and thanks for being here. Subscribe to the show. Drop me a line. I’ll do the random drawing later and on the community.

Thanks so much everybody! Fight on my friends. [Applause]

Hide transcript

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pandora | Amazon Music | Stitcher | Android | Google Podcasts | RSS Feed

Here’s your chance to use your superpower of support. Don’t rely on telepathy alone! If you’re enjoying the show, would you take two minutes and leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts? I’d also be willing to remove my cloak of invisibility from your inbox if you’d subscribe to the newsletter for superguest announcements and more, occasionally.