Anna Cook

The Value of Accessibility
November 22, 2022
Anna: We have so many conversations still about why accessibility matters. And the business case for accessibility, because that knowledge has not been widely known yet. And there's a lot of reasons for that. But... you know, I don't fault any individuals for not having that knowledge. Because it's going to take a long time to change that. I mean, we had standards for over 20 years at this point.

[intro music]

Bruno: Hello everyone and welcome back to the Design is for Everyone Podcast. A project that intends to explore the role of design in society, and how our decisions affect the world around us.

Today we’re talking with the amazing Anna Cook, currently working as Senior Inclusive Designer at Microsoft.

Anna is an accessibility designer and advocate, making her best efforts into helping share the word so that everything we as designers create is ever more accessible. Be it took a strong and clear stance on the role of accessibility in the design process. Or simply catch up design jokes. Fun fact, we recorded this episode a while ago, way before she joined Microsoft. Enjoy.

[intro music]

And I would say that. If there's this as any other episodes, it starts like this. Hi everyone. And we are live already and we have a lot of things that I shouldn't have said.

Hi, Anna and welcome to the Design is for Everyone podcast.

Anna: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Bruno: And I'm excited too. And really, because... the topic that you're bringing to the conversation today is one that I really, really think it's essential for what we're doing here. But before going into deep dive on who you are and what brings you here. I think it's more like the first question that I ask everyone is: how did you become a designer? When in time did design came into your life and how'd you get here?

Anna: Yeah. This question is always really interesting because it feels like sometimes when I look at, when I became a designer, there's no like exact point in time. I recently wrote this post about why. Proceed designing with ketchup, it's somewhat satirical, but the whole point of it was to talk about how design it's not about the tools we use. It's about the things we make and how it works and if it works.

And I realized... you know, writing that post that I've been designing things since I was a kid. Making birthday cards on Microsoft Word and working at the school newspaper on InDesign.

But I guess, you know, if I'm going to give a more exact timeline. I was lucky enough to have a graphic design set of classes at high school. And I took those and... I decided I wanted to be a designer and then in there, and that's what I pursued in college and... and it kind of went that way.

And at first, I didn't really understand the value of... or I didn't know that inclusive design was a thing. And I came to discover that in its own way, too. So it's kind of interesting. It's been a long but steady process.

Bruno: And that's a nice one. I would love to say that I had graphic design in high school. But design for me at least it was only like college. Because...

Anna: It was a privilege.

Bruno: Yeah. And it's also... depends a lot on the regions. I already talked about this a little bit, but in Portugal specifically, We didn't really talk as much about design as I don't know.

I started almost 10 years ago. And back then, when I wanted to go to college, no one could even explain to me exactly what was design, right? Like you're in high school, you have like this guidance counselors and everything. And they're going to tell you, oh, you should go to arts, or you should go to architecture or something.

But design wasn't even something that you would talk about in such ease as we do today, as everyone has like a more common understanding of what design is. At least graphic design. The other parts, not as much.

Anna: Yeah, it's interesting because I feel like even now we struggle to understand or really talk about design in a way that is clear. I mean, it's an inherently ambiguos field. Right? So... but yeah, I do. And. I apologize. I interrupted you there.

It was the first time, my school offered that course entirely. I was one of the first students to take it. And, that's a privilege, right? Not everybody is exposed that early. And... it's still part of the reason I... somehow I can say I have nearly 10 years of experience. And that's, you know, something I'm very mindful of. But yeah. I would say my family was nervous cause they didn't understand what design was. They were like...

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: ...why don't you go to business school? And I was like, no, thank you.

Bruno: And then that's, that's. I don't know, it's a fair experience. Design not being understood by other people, always creates those conversations, right?

And we're still at a point in time where most people are asked to decide what their career is going to be when they are eighteen... or close to eighteen like: "oh, you need to go to college. So, you know, you need to decide what you're going to be when you're an adult." And if you don't have all the information, if people don't have an understanding of what that is, it's also hard to tell like: I'm going to do this for... whatever. Um... yeah.

You can go ahead.

Anna: It's intense! Sorry. Um, it's intense, you know, I mean,

Gosh, I feel for youth these days. For kids, you know. For younger folks, I should say. Like, it's hard to know what the right choices are. I feel mostly lucky most of the time, you know.

Bruno: Yeah, definitely. And with this whole thing... becoming a designer. You've already talked a little bit about it, eventually you started going down the path of accessibility. What was it that. Eventually led you there? What was it that made you so focused on this very important topic?

Anna: Well I think it's a similar situation where... it was sort of a longer path and I was exposed to accessibility early, too. And that was, again, another situation that's pretty rare. I, you know, I was a designer at University of Colorado Boulder, and that was my first job, job as a designer. And we... in that setting, in higher education, people were somewhat more conscious of the need to make things accessible for students, faculty... You know, the like.

And so I remember I created this design, and I had a group of stakeholders. And I was very, very junior mind you, but I had one of one stakeholder. Who asked: " Is this accessible for colorblind people?" And I remember having no answer to that question. And I'm not somebody who's comfortable with not having answers to questions like that. And so I started digging and I haven't stopped digging.

And I realized that it wasn't being taught to me by default. Like most... none of my design... very, pretty much none of my early design classes taught accessibility, or focused on inclusivity on design and... So I found myself on a universal design course. I took that, and then I was exposed to things that I had never, ever been exposed to.

We had somebody come in who was a screnn reader, user, somebody who was blind and she showed me how she uses Google Maps to walk around the city, with the screen reader. And I was blown away. And then I watched, you know, it's a long story, but...

Bruno: So go ahead.

Anna: I watched... I learned a lot in that class, but then I entered the working force and employers weren't interested in it. They weren't focusing on accessibility either.

And early on in my career, I was just trying to get by and I didn't focus on it because I just needed to get paid. Get a job. Have a job and do what my boss said, to be honest. And my bosses to their credit, weren't exposed to things either.

So when I finally really pushed back, it was because I knew I had enough experience and I saw that we weren't doing anything. And like our industry, excuse me, collectively at that time, it felt like we were just... we were missing so many opportunities. And... one day I said: "why can't we do more?" And then somebody said: "you're the accessibility advocate now." And I said: "okay, yes. If that's the case." And I made it my, my responsibility.

Bruno: And it's as much as a path to something. It feels like a good way to start. Although someone, all of a sudden, saying like you are this. For me, at least it wouldn't work as much. I always feel like that need to define a little bit what I am by myself, and figure things out. But the fact is that's... from what I've seen from your content in the way that you've talked about these things. You always feel like that person that is always searching. That is always trying to figure out the answers correctly. And I couldn't see anyone better for such a specific, and important topic.

And honestly, you said something like, back then, about the industry not really taking that much care on accessibility. But I will argue the still we don't... I don't know.

Anna: Sorry?

Bruno: I was saying that... you were talking about how before, in the industry, there were still a lot of lack of care for accessibility in some levels. And I was saying that I would argue that we still have a lot of that. There's, there's still a lot of... I don't know. It might be because we're in a bubble. And we don't see it as much. I started seeing more because... when I joined the tech world and I started talking about accessibility, like never before. And like you, I don't remember, even in college, anyone talking about accessibility in any way.

But. What I've noticed more and more, and what I have chats with other people that I studied with don't work in the tech space, is that they don't even understand the need for accessibility in whatever comes in designing products or designing solutions or designing services. And they do it anyways, although they are not considered like designers in the tech space or whatever, but they do the same type of job that we do. But the context is so different that they don't really get many of these inputs. Even...

We were talking about tools. I had chats with people that didn't knew what like, I don't know, design system were. In 2021. That are designers for as long as me or you have been. And then if they are not familiar with those technical things, that we are already starting to take for granted in the industry, when it comes to accessibility, which has been struggling to become such a ground... I don't know. That's something that if it's a ground skill to understand. Not a ground. Like I'm missing the word. It's a baseline skill.

Like you need to think about accessibility when you're building things. Right? And when you don't even know all the other things that were already being taught to this point. That's like: "Oh, these make it so that your job is easier." When no one else cares about it. You also won't care about accessibility right? You were talking about how...

Anna: Totally.

Bruno: Business owners and everything. Many times don't think about it. That's something that is valuable. And... yeah. I still see it a lot. That's just it.

Anna: No. I agree, honestly. I think that... you know. It's been better. It's been getting better. Right? When I say better, I mean... and this is largely anecdotal. This is what I'm seeing.

We see big tech companies who are focusing on creating things like Apple, Microsoft. Google. They're they're doing better. And, um... that's great. But there is a gap, I think, between big tech and everybody else and their level of knowledge and advocacy. And that's not to say that big tech, and big tech companies are all doing it perfectly. It's just to say that there is a big gap. And we have so many conversations still about why accessibility matters. And the business case for accessibility, because that knowledge has not been widely known yet.

And there's a lot of reasons for that. But... you know, I don't fault any individuals for not having that knowledge. Because it's going to take a long time to change that. I mean, we had standards for over 20 years at this point. But it's still taken us a really long time to adopt them, and to understand how they apply in design contexts in particular. A lot of emphasis has been on dev up until pretty recently.

Bruno: Yeah, completely. And the fact that. In the states you have legal grounds for accessibility. Also pushes for the responsibility on companies on that, and then creates a little bit of a bubble where like: "Okay, this is not something that we would think before, but now it's getting more and more recognizable."

In Europe. Only very recently the accessibility acts became a thing. And you can see how that delay... is affecting how we design in a lot of ways, too. Because, not that people didn't really care about it. It's just that they were not aware of the importance of it. And again, it's I don't fault the individual too. It's a systematic situation, right? It's an issue that we know that comes from people not being aware of the whole panorama of the whole thing.

Anna: Yeah, you're right. Totally. I'm in a whole agreement.

Bruno: Cool. And... looking at the grand scheme of design. And as you said before, accessibility started, even in the standards and everything, that's something that is very focused on development. Looking at designers, something that has been evolving and everything. Where do you see the role of accessibility being?

Like right now, people like you, that focus on accessibility, but are designers in the first place. The people holding the flood gates and trying to make sure that things don't really go wrong to the other end. But do you feel like it's getting there? Do you feel like... You said that there's a long way to go, but do you feel like we're doing the right things? Do you feel like people are actually including accessibility in their design practices better? Or are we evolving into different ways of including accessibility? I don't know. Where do you see the role of accessibility being right now in the grand scheme of things?

Anna: What I'm seeing is a lot of interest and... I'm seeing interest at individual levels. I'm seeing interest at organizational levels. Some of those are... you know, individuals learning about how to integrate accessibility into their work. You know, finally... there's other people who have been accessibility and inclusive design advocates for longer than I have.

But we're finally getting to a point where for those advocates have the space and the bandwidth to teach others and make space. So individuals are getting more resources and hopefully we'll be getting them even more resources to learn and to create more inclusive and accessible designs.

At organizational levels I'm seeing more jobs being created. Specifically, focusing on accessibility and inclusivity in design. And some of those, a lot of those right now tend to be more principal or senior roles. Though, there are some like internships and things like that that I've kind of seen. So there was definitely like, from what I can tell there's market, the industry is responding to some of this.

Obviously, you know, from my perspective, I'm sure. You know, I'll always say there's more we can do because there is a lot more we can do, but.

Bruno: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Anna: It's starting to see that interest and... even a few years ago that did not exist. And I think, especially as we're dealing with all the stuff with COVID we're really coming to understand a lot of folks have long-term symptoms. Have been... having to deal with cognitive disabilities and we're becoming more aware of the impacts of inclusive and accessible design on those folks. And I think. There's a lot to be said there too.

Bruno: Yeah. I don't think... even on, just on the specific topic of COVID repercussions on individuals. We talk about deaths, but the amount of people that are going to be affected they're all lives from sequels, or whatever comes from having COVID. It's going to make a large part of the world have to deal with what it means to have tools and things that are accessible to them. Because that's a really a big change.

And then we don't really talk about accessibility in this way, right? There's a lot of... and correct me if I'm wrong, I'm just putting out what I know. I know that I don't know everything. There's a lot of... of assumption on accessibility being something that you think of, and design for people that are limited in a specific sense.

But usually most people tend to focus on: "Okay, you're a disabled person. As in you have an illness, you have a physical impairment." That almost defines those persons in those levels, but we don't really talk about how that could also mean, like you have the car crash, now you have your arm tied to your chest. Now you can't use an arm to control the computer. How do you do it? Right? There's still a lot of missunderstanding of what accessibility, is... For who assessability is for.

Anna: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a thing that many disability rights advocates will say and... It is that everybody is temporarily abled.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: And, so when we look at the way we consider accessibility in design, that is meant specifically for people who have disabilities, or are disabled by inaccessibility and barriers in design. The interesting thing about that, of course, is if we look at it from like Microsoft's inclusive design standpoint, they consider disabilities from the perspective of permanent, temporary, or situational.

And if we look at Disabilities, and we design for people who are marginalized by, or rather, I should say disabled In a more permanent capacity. We design for people who generally are disabled in temporary and situational capacities. And so the goal is to not only create experiences that are accessible, but also experiences that are equitable.

So that we're looking at folks who have been systemically marginalized due to having conditions and saying: "Okay. How can we make these experience not only work, but work well and be equitable?" And so it's really about looking past... unwinding the ableist beliefs. We all, in all societies tend to have. And looking within ourselves and saying like: "Let's stop othering others, because everybody is a possible user." And let's design for people. Let's make it work for everybody. And so when we solve for one, right? We extend that design for many.

Bruno: Yeah. And it's... I tend to have very hard conversations around the concept of norm and normal... and medium. Because it always outcasts someone. Right? And I think it's one of the biggest mistakes that we ever did as an industry was start designing for an average. Because it's never taking into account that we need to design for people as a whole. And not just what we believe it's the perfect user. I have a lot of issues with that.

Yeah, I get it. And the word equitable is not many times used. Yet. Or you don't hear it as much, right? It always ends up being we're designing for someone that is an edge case. And the concept of edge cases is very... demeaning to that. We should all be on the same level and not be treated as someone that has... is like that: "One guy that can't use our software or something."

Anna: Yeah, it's interesting. And forgive me. I love this. I really, this is always an interesting point, so you'll have to forgive me for being like: "I have to tell ya about this one." The thing about averages is like, there are situations, right, where obviously averages are going to make sense. And those are like hugely broad situations. That is largely medical.

And I mean right when we're looking at COVID data. We want to not only look at averages, other things, but averages can be useful. But when we look at users, it's a very different situation. And when we start to say like, this is the average user and we, we create edge cases. We create disability. And we create barriers by assuming one person is an average.

And... people are not... You know, there's this perception that, and there's a book that I really recommend that talks about this called What a Body Can Do. The author talks about how this perception of edge case, and more rare, rarity in the form of being a disabled person.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: Is not actually reflective of what it means to be disabled. Um... and not reflective of people and our experiences. Because the reality is that disabilities are human experiences. It's 26% of the American population. 15% of the global population is reported to have a disability. These are numbers that I believe where reported before COVID and...

Bruno: Yeah. And that will change most likely after COVID.

Anna: Exactly. And even if it weren't like, even if it weren't 26%. Even if we had 5%. The reality is if we design for those 5% of users, in this hypothetical situation, even though it's 26%, that's going to meet the needs of many users. And so edge cases are powerful, capable. Like when we look at them, we only should be calling edge cases, edge cases when they've described situations, not people.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: So people are not edge cases basically. And that's why... I'm rambling here, but I hope I'm getting it...

Bruno: No. But you put it out in a clear way. Like it's this solution that splitting up what one thing is and the other isn't like. It's not like I want to call a person an edge case, but when someone puts a case study in front of me and what they are trying to define, where the issues that they want to solve are and they want to talk about people with disability. The word edge case as many times is associated, not with the problem itself, but with the people that have the problem.

And that's. Yeah. It's wrong. It doesn't make sense. And it's it's right. It's a case. It's specifically worded the edge case, as in situation, not person. And it's...

Anna: Totally.

Bruno: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Language is a bitch. That's all I got.

Anna: But I agree. I don't know. It's... I mean. So much of what we do. And I mean, you, I'm sure have been, have dealt with this plenty too, is getting people to change language. The way we use words. Because, I mean, in situations like this word inherently othering people... and when we do that, we're just saying: "these users don't matter."

That's... and they're not you and I. But like when we describe people as edge cases we say: "Those people." Or "those people, not us people." Basically.

Bruno: Yeah, so. So it's that separation that, that creates the harm. And now rewinding a little bit, and you talked about it. You mentioned it a bit before. Do you think that, communities and education as a whole, have been helping in this matter? Or you know any communities that you would suggest or any... any type of projects that you know of that might be helping people getting better prepared for accessibility. Or talking more about accessibility.

Anna: Yeah, I think... well, I'll say that what I know about educational institutions... I'm still learning, but my understanding is that there aren't, there are a few programs. I can't remember them off the top of my name, that have solid accessibility education for designers and tech folks.

I would say that I would generally keep an eye out on what is out there. What is coming out is sort of what's the word I'm looking for? Uh... courses that you can find from independent accessibility advocates. You can also find some courses out there currentlyfrom like Deque. Deque university has a pretty robust program. The... what was I going to say? Microsoft's been releasing more and more accessibility content. They just released a video game accessibility course, which should be pretty cool. In terms of design. Yeah. Right?

Bruno: That seems to be really interesting.

Anna: So I'm keeping a temperature check on some of our, especially Microsoft as they continue with that. And then some other accessibility projects like, or sorry, companies and organizations like Deque and... IAAP which I, the acronym, I forget. The international Americ... I can't remember the acronyms, meaning I'm terrible with acronyms.

But I also, you know, like, Sara Soueidan who is an accessibility advocate who has been inspiring me for years now. She's going to be really saying accessibility courses. So keeping an eye on like, some of our, the folks who are even more practiced, far more practice than I am Sarah. I know shell little, who is amazing. If you have an opportunity to speak with another person in this field, chanel is fantastic. I know she's got her... the opportunities that she's thinking through in terms of educating folks. And...

So long story short, I'm rambling. So, uh... you know, big organizations that have a dedicated... who have been dedicated to accessibility consistently like Microsoft, smaller organizations that are accessibility focused to have some courses and then individual creators.

Like really. The accessibility folks who have been doing this for a long time, they are just a plethora of knowledge and so much respect to them.

Bruno: It's great to know that there are that many more people out there trying to do this type of work. And part of the why I ask also about the education, is also about the fact that standards change. And things that we talk about accessibility change.

This week, specifically, for example, we're starting to talk about the way that we are changing the standards for colors accessibility under the WCAG, right? I'm not sure if you've seen that one.

Anna: Actually I'd love to talk about that.

Bruno: Yeah, because for me, at least that one has been one of my biggest struggles. I was always like, it feels like... accessibility started being implemented in some companies, including mine and everything. Where people would say, okay: "These guys defined the norms. And we're going to follow them." But then there was also like a challenging if those norms of if those models work or not. I've read about the model that is now starting to be introduced, the APCA right? I think that's it.

Anna: Yes.

Bruno: A while ago. And I started looking at it like: "Yes! These make sense because even in our own company, we have a lot of issues specifically because our main color is red. And every time that we wanted to talk about contrast in red, for people to cheat... to see. The models failed us. Because it said that red works best with black, and no one could read... black text, black text on red. And this is a very practical thing.

And I was always challenging the model, and people were like: "Oh well, but these guys know best." And I was like, but how do they know best? Because this is always evolving. This is always changing." Like technology changes, why would the standards stay the same. And...

Anna: I'm just saying, it's interesting that you mentioned that because I, it... this week in particular, it's been coming up a lot. And the past few months more and more designers have been coming to me and saying, have you seen this new method? And, here's the thing, that I've been trying to emphasize to folks.

So what we know is that the current evaluation method? It has not been prone to... causing, at least as far as we know, major issues for folks. So we know it's working. Or at least to some capacity. But color is kind of a funny thing. It's very wibbly wobbly, right? Like it's perceptions are so difficult for us to know because we can not see through other people's eyes.

Bruno: Exactly.

Anna: And so the way that... you know, I will not say that the system that exists now is perfect. But that's because I don't know. But what I will say is that it's peer reviewed and everything that WCAG has put together, and that they release, and every release has been peer reviewed. With, you know. Some caveats and people are not always perfect. And there are things that will likely need to improve.

But what I will say about the APCA method is it seems like it could be effective, but it is not yet peer reviewed. And..

Brno: Okay, got it.

Anna: It is. It's so it's... uh, I'm not opposed to using that method, but I usually have been recommending, if you're going to use it, use it with the existing method to make sure that you're being conscious of what we have reviewed, and what WCAG as an international organization of folks who are specialists have worked through already. And know that it. APA... AP... Oh, goodness. APCA is something that they're looking at.

And it's not to say that you shouldn't use it. It's to say, for now I'd recommend waiting because the release for that. That's expected for what? WCAG 3.0. Right? Right now we're on 2.1 with 2.2 realeasing next year at some point.

So. I know this is all semantics and stuff. But the long story short is I just recommend to folks, if they're going to use it, use it with the existing method too, just to validate. Until that has been peer reviewed and has been, prepared. And that's, I have some... forgive me if I'm on this one a little bit, I have.

Again, color is so odd. I mean, the way that we look at color and design, it's emphasized so significantly that it's hard to avoid these conversations. Not that I look to.

Bruno: Completely.

Anna: To do that, but, um... you know. What colors are rendered on different computer screens can be completely different. Your TV screen. Your phone. Your phone in the sun. All of those situations. I mean, People already have settings available to change the entire design of your website based on their preferences.

And so when we think about color, it's an important thing to be conscious of. And definitely check your contrast with the existing and the new methods. But now that like color is Flexible these days. It's exceptionally flexible. And to be more comfortable with design as an interface that goes beyond just color. It's really... it's something I'm trying to, to learn myself too. So. Long story short I use both methods, if you want to be sure. Until WCAG 3.0, and everything's all like good to go. Checked off. All that jazz.

Bruno: But it's... 100% with youon that. Like, I'm not going to stop using one method because of the other, but it's. And then now, there's a little bit my main point of view is like... color is only as important as it is, because we as human beings started defining ourselves by our sight. And that also implies a lot of conversations around what a person with disability around sight needs to take into account, right?

There's a lot of issues there that, because we became a world where what you see is much more important than what you feel with your other senses, because it was almost like part of our evolution. And now we're getting to a point where we're turning to start to talk about seeing things a little bit more in a complex way.

And for example, even in design ... more classically, we already thought more about form before color or even any type of visual intent in classic design training, right? People talked about content being structured in a specific way, or photos being structured in a specific... so that it would make sense independent of what colors they had. But then we got to a point now where design has become much more than those classic guidelines. And it's hard accessible.

Because I don't think accessibility makes it so that you can't be creative. I'm completely against that point of view. It doesn't make any sense. Because I heard it a lot of times. And it's just annoys me. Um.. But, I mean, it's interesting for us to try and understand that we can challenge perceptions and colors and shapes. And how can we make things that look at these models and turn them into more complete models, more... I don't know, interesting models that really look at people.

Again, my fear with some of this things like the WCAG. When they come from development first, that makes perfect sense that it's structural, it's readable, so the software can read it and everything. Many times it's so focused on the analytical part of things that I for example, the concept of being able to look at perception instead of a mathematic combination of numbers. To control color contrast. That's just, it.

Anna: Totally. I mean, in the world of interface design, you know, we have to... we have to be mindful that interfaces are just so flexible. And there there's so many layers that live within one interface that the design has... I mean, that's, to me, that's beautiful.

Like we have the ability to now create experiences that have layers of experience baked in. Both for, you know, for all types of users. Whether they're sighted or they're blind or, anything, you know, using assistive technology or...

To me, I think when we look at access... you know, I wholeheartedly agree that, you know, accessibility does not necessarily... I don't feel like it's limited my creativity at all. It's just changed the way I see. The way I perceive beauty in design.

And so I just am so eager to... to see how designers who become more tuned to accessible and inclusive design practices.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: Change their perception of what beauty can be. And that's not to say again, the ways that we've traditionally perceived beautiful designs is not... you know, it's not disappearing. It's just expanding. That's that's what I see as a possibility.

Bruno: It's evolving. Yeah. It's evolving in and it's also part of what I already talked a little bit. One of the best quotes that I got on the first episode of this podcast. My guests back then Matt, he brought a quote from an African-American designer, phD teacher that she was saying, like, she wouldn't identify with classic design because it didn't really represent her, represented a specific culture. Of the white men classic agency design and everything that you brought from many types of different chains, from Bauhaus to whatever was developed during the sixties and the seventies.

And we still have that as the baseline off a lot of design that we do today, even on interfaces. Like that came from editorial and graphic design into what we have now. And the expansion of what design means by mixing up more cultures, more people, more realities has made it so that it's now really growing into this beautiful thing that doesn't have a definition as squared off as it was before.

Like, right now I have on my side, because I've been using it the last a few days, this classic book called Grid Systems. Really orange book that many designers have on their bedside tables. I love this book. But I know that the world can be seen through this squares. And I think that's, that's where having assessability being part of that growth is really beautiful.

Because I've seen. Incredible things being made by people that don't see design as this squared off thing that exists for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. That has the same rules.

Anna: Totally. Yeah. I mean, there is... in this space, I like to show folks things that... like, there's a few articles, I believe some from the New York times, happy to send it to you, where people creators, and this gets a little bit more into physical design objects and utility. But where, they'll take objects that have been largely designed to be...

I mean, they're useful. They're things like canes, wheelchairs, you know, certain types of clothing and things like that, that are meant for people who have certain disabilities. And they take those and they take out the sort of medical utility of it.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: And build on it to to expose the beauty that can be built in to those designs. And I think the same possibilities exist for our. You know for digital and user experience design spaces. That we can create experiences that not only look cool, but are accessible and are delightful for people who have disabilities, as much as people who, who are, who don't have disabilities. And I mean, of course these are, you know, I'm sure there are situations that can provide some level of complexity there and...

But I believe that's possible. And you know I believe it's so much that I will die on that hill. Accessible design absolutely can be beautiful. If anything, I think it's just so much more powerful.

Bruno: I would add one thing on top of that. One of my favorite quotes from Stefan Sagmeister is that beauty is a function or has a function. As anything else, like. When we think about how things were built and in the way that they were interpreted in different times, Styles and everything. Came with a function.

Like beauty helped you realize if an object was more practical, less practical or anything. But now-a-days, that also means that we got to a point where when we produce, and this comes a lot with our... our... sorry, I lost the word. Our industrial world and our capitalistic world too, which has a lot of bad things.

But also brings us to the point where we can actually build things and, from ground up make those things accessible, being beautiful. And giving them all the meaning that we want to give them. Without having to compromise anything else.

Because we are in a space and in a time where we can do that. Like not just digital spaces. Objects, physical objects like we talked about that many times are. We forget that they also need. This process of design, this process of creativity. As much, because we started talking about designing such enclosed digital spaces that we went from talking about the boxes and the graphic design and design was just like doing posters and what's not. And now there's a lot of movement into like design is doing things in squares and rectangles in screens. But there's only so much more than that. And then, yeah, it's...

Anna: Totally.

Bruno: It's interesting to start rethinking on all those little fields. All those things where we can put accessibility in. Where we can put beauty in. Where we can make more exciting and better things for the world.

Anna: I think... I mean, that's... you're putting down the something I'm picking up there and I hear you. I think, you know, so much of the amazing part of accessibility in design is that we can perceive our experiences as more adaptable.

We see them as capable of meeting unique individual needs. Not just, I shouldn't say unique, but like individual needs people who have. And, and so we can, you know. We have an experience that's capable of being malleable. That is, it is so customizable now that there's design... there's so much different power there. I don't know. I could... it's very abstract, but it's, I, you know, you think about how far we've come. You know?

Bruno: Yeah. But I will argue that anything that has to do with design and includes a level of abstraction. That's where we create the barrier between what are professional designers and what are people that understand and want to talk about design or want to do some design.

Because the professional designers, in my opinion at least, should be the people that are able to talk on that abstract level. And try to discuss and create some understanding on that abstract level. Even if they can do it enter the industries, and they can start doing things by following some rules and some things that they learn. Like we all did.

Like I started with multimedia design that basically was like graphic design, plus some multimedia things like video and audio and whatever. And I learned tools and I learned the basics. But 10 years ago, I would never be taking that I would have a conversation with you right now, where I would be discusseing what design might be and how accessibility might change what beauty and design means and everything. And what nowadays is not a straight, like what you build is not one thing, because for everyone it can be a different thing in the way that they perceive them. In the way that they can interact and change it. Due to their devices, their homes, whatever they went through it. I don't know.

There's a lot of levels there. And I think that. What it really means to be a professional designer and dedicate your life to this profession is to be able to talk about that abstract level and to be able to discuss and evolve that abstract level. Then create more solutions from that, I would say.

Anna: That's fair. Yeah, I appreciate that. And it can be hard to teach in general. And hard to talk about in general, because it's so abstract. And I think that's part of the reason that design teachers, and... you know, I know that they're already, especially in like higher ed, they're behind generally because that's the nature of tech and design.

It's moving so fast that sometimes it's hard for anybody to keep up. And so when designers come out without accessibility education, I go: "Well, you know, that's what what's, what's happening. And we're going to try to change it." but I also know that educators are having to learn these things themselves too. Right now.

Bruno: Yeah, all of us. We keep just trying to learn whatever comes next. And it it's like inherent to of what we do as a profession. Okay. Anna. Shifting gears a little bit. And moving into a different, more personal topic and more into the conversation that we like to have about things here and the podcast.

As a designer. You individually. Do you think that being a designer has changed the way that you see and interact with the world? And if so, in what way?

Anna: Oh, of course. I mean, I'm sure... there's no way.... I don't think it I could have been unchanged by my experiences as a designer. And I think, when you've been a designer for a while, you realize that almost everything can be considered a design problem.

For example, You know, there's a book called Nudge and there's some things in there that I, I'm not, I'm a little... you know, some folks have debated about it. But they talk about something called choice architecture. And they use a couple of situations to describe this. For example, they were doing... there was a study, right? And they, the people conducting this study designed a salad bar. And the options within that salad bar, in a certain order, and in certain locations. And they studied how those locations and the orders of that salad bar would change people's choices according to like the amount of vegetables they were eating versus protein, like chicken and eggs.

And when you look at stuff like that, you realize that, it's so hard as a designer when, when you've been doing this to not see almost everything as a design situation. And you start to look at, I mean, maybe I'm... maybe it's me, but like you look at.

Bruno: It's not just you.

Anna: You look at like, okay. No, I don't mean to, I don't get too political, but you look at systems. That are created by different governments and you kind of go, what are the choices that they made here? What was intentional and what are the effects of those choices? And you start to realize that design systems exist in all spaces.

There are reasons for certain choices. There are the words we use and the words certain people use over other words they're intentional, for example. Global warming versus climate change. For example. Global warming. If I, hopefully I don't get this mixed up, but, global warming being reflective of the human impact of climate changing. No, that's not the best way to put it. I'm not an environmental scientist.

Bruno: But it, it kinda, it kinda matches, like if you talk about global warming as the biggest side effect of what people did that creates climate change, but climate change is not in itself isn't really negative. It just says that climate change. It doesn't really say anything...

Anna: Exactly.

Bruno: a good way or by the way. Global warming clearly talks about how we're doing harm to our planet. For sure.

Anna: Exactly. And the term climate change was. I sound, I'm starting to sound like like I'm... but the term climate change was manufactured to make it sound like a natural phenomenon.

And that's the reason that you'll hear more, a certain, you know, like are. The Fox News broadcaster say words like climate change over global warming. And things like that. So everything, everything you see is a design opportunity.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: Whether intentional or not. So it's really, really different way to look at the world.

Bruno: Yeah. And I guess the, that intentionality on how you do things, tends to be what defines when you are designing things like. At the end of the day, to design is to put intention into things. Uh... Because that's the thing. Like when you think about when you build a product and you want to make a product work in a certain way, you're putting intention into how it works.

If you build it in a certain way, just because: "Okay, this is how everyone else does." Are you really designing or not? Or the intention is a little bit different and it's hard to say that we do not design. Because it's the question. What are conversations that we have in the beginning of the show also was like: "What would be a road without road signs? But then again, what would be roads without design?" Like if hadn't designed road signs, there would be less, a layer of control, but then. Are roads not designed? Do we not think about them when we were just building our paths and making them clear.

Those type of things that we take for granted, they need it... they have to be taught out. So they had to be designed in a certain way. But...

Anna: Yeah.

Bruno: So what, when does design not exist in the process of creating things?

Anna: Oh, this is really cool. Sorry. I was like, that is interesting. It's interesting that you bring that up. And I've been thinking about it, what it means to be designing right.

For example, when I mentioned earlier that as an eight year old, I made my own birthday cards in Microsoft Word, and like that was an intention. The intention was to create a card, to serve information, to "users", my friends. Make sure they had the proper information to act and know when to act. And go from there.

It's interesting that you mentioned intention to me. I always think... or rather, I think that's, that's accurate. I also think about how to me design means to think about users. Now I say users, not just humans, because I feel like as designers we sometimes also design for like pets and stuff too. So I say users a lot, but...

The interesting thing to me is like: "Are we designers if we're not actually getting user feedback?" If we're, you know, designing based on product owners opinions. Are we designing? Are we just implementing? And I mean, I'm not sitting in meetings going, are we designing right now? Like, but, but I'm like ... it doesn't feel like you're a designer sometimes if you just get handed an idea, and told to make that idea, you know. I mean.

Bruno: It gets to the point where you start feeling like a technician building something. Which is, at least in our education system in Portugal, it's the difference. If you are a graphic technician, you're basically the person that knows how to pick someone's idea, turn it into what is considered graphic design, and then print it for example. While the designer would be someone that creates that idea for you.

And many times we use that metaphor, for example, in our, in our work. In our day-to-day. I work in design for marketing, when we have to deliver campaigns that weren't really thought by or delivered by also our creativity with someone else's, and then we just need to turn it into a reality, with very little space to think and to do that design with the user feedback. It's still just like someone's idea and you're making it right.

Anna: Totally.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: We don't have that, that job title out here. I don't... I mean, maybe we do, I've not heard of it. Design technician or some graphic, or graphic technician, was it.

Bruno: Yeah, it's more like that. If you split it up between... well, now there are more professional design courses, where people don't need to go to college. They just take a professional degree and they are designers by title at least. But we have a definition where someone is going to college to study design. Most likely they are going to be studying to become like a graphic designer, or nowadays a product or UI UX designer.

But there's this difference between you being a technician. So it kind of, they kind of give you more technical knowledge on printing software. On that whole area of like working at printing factories and something, and less on the creation of stuff. So, you know, how to design, how to use the tools. But they are not taught to think creative creatively. You're taught to know how to prepare artwork, and do final artwork stuff.

Anna: Huh that's really interesting.

Bruno: Yeah.

Anna: ... I, yeah, I don't think we have those titles in the United States at least. But I kinda like... I mean, I'm not saying one is necessarily more valuable than the other. I think they're...

Bruno: It's just parts of the process.

Anna: Exactly and personally I'm a big, like, I want to find the problem. Identify it. Work through it. You know, in terms of finding out what people want to do about that problem, that our users and then work through, I mean, in the UX space in particular, and work through ideas and then evaluate those ideas.

But there are also times when you get a product owner who said, okay, this is what we're gonna do when you go: "Well. What about our user research?" And they go: "Here you go. Just do it." And you go: "All right. Well, that's... that's fine." But I think more situations where they, they both can be valuable.

Bruno: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then, and it's not a matter of value. It's just a matter of purpose and definition of what you need to do. Again, it's... we don't live in a world where only one job exists for a reason. Right? Like, we all have different goals and design has also different goals in different stages of production. In different stages of ideation and everything. So, that definition of roles is also very important.

And on the segway of this, I would like to ask you my final question, and the one that I ask everyone that comes to the show. Which is is design for everyone? Do you agree or not?

Anna: Oh, that's an interesting question.

I would say that many people that we did not expect to be designers are designers. In that, I mean, let's put it this way. We're going to connect this back to accessibility. Disabled people are some of the greatest designers. Because they will create experiences and look at situations to solve problems in depth.

Particularly problems because of barriers that have been created for them. Because they were, you know, a system or a process was not thoughtful of, and created that disability for somebody who has some form of condition.

And so I would say that to get comfortable with accessibility is to know that your best work will be based on the design ideas of somebody else. Because you cannot have the lived experience of somebody who is born blind, if you're not born blind. You can't have the lived experience of somebody who becomes blind , you have not become blind. You can't, you know, if you don't have ADHD, you need to talk and learn from people who have ADHD.

And so, I don't know, like, there's obviously different schools of thought in this. But there's, you know, Typewriters, and email, and Telephones and things like that. Those were all designed really intentionally to make an accessible experience.

And so, to me, I think, I don't know if everybody's at ... I mean, I think it's about intention, right? You want to do something that does... that solves a problem or does a thing. And that's really the difference. Everyone can be a designer, but obviously, you know, it depends on the context and the intention. And I'm sure somebody will disagree with me and that's fine, but that's what I think.

Bruno: That's it. I am still looking for that one person that totally, completely disagrees with this sentence. I haven't caught one. I have my, I have it as a goal to, even if it's not in this first season at some point in time I have a conversation in this show with someone that like is completely the opposite of me. I want that. But until then let's see where it goes.

But yeah. I completely agree with you. And even the point of this show and the project is like: I do believe that design and even design education, even if it's just the basics, should be something granted for everyone. Because it just helps everyone put structure in the way that we think about things during our life.

Because as you said, when you were a kid, when I was a kid, we were already, in a way starting to design and think about designing and giving purpose to things. And eventually we figured out that that was our profession. But we did it didn't really have to be. And there are other people that would most likely had experienced like ours, and nowadays they wouldn't be designers. But they would have that knowledge and that would help them most likely understand the world in a very different way.

And yeah, it's just, let's see if I can change some minds with this. If there really are some lines that don't think like this. If not, if everyone is thinking like me, yay! I'm already wining a point.

Anna: Well, what I will say is I wouldn't hand somebody, you know, I wouldn't be like: "Go in Figma and make these mock-ups now." Like maybe the difference, you know, again, design is such an abstract subject.

But I, of course, you know, like I... there are situations where you're like: "Well, do you know how what's the intention? And what's the tool?" And if we define design by just the tools we're using, then we would say: "Well, not everybody can be a designer because not everybody knows Figma." But that's... that's silly..

Bruno: Again, ketchup.

Anna: Ketchup is the ultimate design tool.

Bruno: Design tool exactly. At the end of the day, it's all about ketchup.

Anna, thank you very much for being here with me today. This was a really, really lovely conversation. And I hope that we can just keep learning with you and that you can keeping up with ideas about ketchup or whatever helps people understand how to be better designers in to bring accessibility into design for sure.

Anna: Thank you. And thanks for having me. It's been really fun to talk with you today.

Brno: Yeah, thank you very much for that. And for everyone else. Thanks for listening to Design is for Everyone podcast. And I see you all next week. Bye.

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