Design and Exclusion

John Maeda – A message on Design and Inclusion


Amy Choi [AC]: So John, why are we all here today?

John Maeda [JM]: Well I’d ask yourself or ourselves the same question. Why are we here? What are we hoping to learn? What are we hoping to break through in what I think is a moment where the technology industry can make a huge difference if it can figure out how to be more inclusive, less exclusive. And I know that in the Design in Tech Report last year, we began to scratch away at this question of inclusion and how technology excludes certain groups. And recently you can read anything out there – when I say out there, that’s not just United States but all over the world. About how technology is moving so fast but humanity is moving much more slowly. So we have to tune the relationship between ourselves and our technology. I think that’s why we’re all here.

AC: Well why is this topic so urgent right now?

JM: Well it depends upon your political leanings and that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people and – first and foremost I know that as an American I find myself stuck in my American stuff. And so for all of you who are not listening from the United States you are also considering this question of how certain people are excluded – how certain people are included and how do you make that work better? I will note that the opportunity is important to focus upon. The opportunity being that if you’re a designer, it turns out that you naturally care about diversity and inclusion. I wanna pause there for a moment. Why is this important? It’s important because it says something about creative people. Creative people are inherently inclusive because they love to learn new things. They love to be motivated, shocked, moved. Be taken to a place that they aren’t used to. They’re okay being uncomfortable. They want to learn something that they don’t know with the intent of being able to serve more people. People not like themselves. So in a sense the moment that the opportunity for designers to take a lead on how inclusion and diversity are being metabolized in the technology industry – that moment I find exciting.

AC: So where do you feel the most potential is for change?

JM: If there’s one thing I’ve learned by working in the open source domain – a domain that – I laugh because my former graduate students, Ben Fry and Casey Reas kept pushing so hard with their processing foundation work. And only recently do I realize how important this prospective really is. How open source – making things in the open, sharing, working inclusively has revitalized my entire worldview of creativity. And that’s why when I joined Automattic, the makers of Jetpack for the WordPress world, I began thinking how this open source world is so powerful. It’s so rich. And it’s time for it to come into the foreground. that’s what excites me. With the publication of the new Design in Tech Report, recently launched at South by Southwest, it was exciting to see how the inclusion message has been picked up globally in the context of design. Design broadening beyond its original definition. Design making a difference in the business world and especially now in the technology world. I’m exciting that we’re all coming together as designers in tech to understand – what is this exclusion stuff? It’s kind of icky. What is this inclusion stuff? It’s pretty hard. How do we put these ingredients together, look at them and figure out a path where design can make a difference in the products that we craft, create, distribute all over the world in the matter of milleseconds. I think I’m hoping that designers who are tuning in can feel this moment and want to own it and take hold of it.

Now that I’m 50, I think I think of things in terms of not the wow of what design can do, but of the why – why design can really matter today. And I think it has something to do with how designers care deeply about inclusion. Much more so than say a non-designer. Why? Because designers want to be more effective. They want to create better products. They want to understand more people. And the only way to understand more people is to engage them. To engage people unlike themselves. And in doing so, they’re able to serve more people. So for designers, it is a natural course of action to work more inclusively. That’s a special power, I think.

AC: Thank you John.

JM: Thanks Amy.