For the past three years the annual Hue Design Summit has been an informal and creative un-conference providing a safe space for Black creatives to talk about their experiences, their desires, and the obstacles facing people of color in the design profession.
The gathering typically takes place over a summer weekend in Atlanta, and as an un-conference they are specifically anti-panels, anti-stages, and anti-large crowds. Hue Design Summit opts instead for fireside chats, workshops, breakout sessions, and familial offline gatherings with plenty of unscheduled time to connect and learn from the other attendees in a comfortable setting. The conference brings together industrial, UX and visual designers to explore professional, educational and inspirational/community growth. The speakers & workshop leaders attend the full conference, making them more accessible to attendees in order to foster networking and mentoring possibilities.
For 2020 the Covid-19 health crisis made the in-person gathering impossible, so the team has retooled their program into a two-day online event taking place on July 25th and 26th. This year's event features workshops on creating inclusive products, exploring the future of 3D sketching and expressing your identity through lettering among other topics, with a keynote by American graphic designer Cheryl D. Holmes Miller.
The event is organized by the Hue Collective, a team of cross-discipline creative professionals who work to support diversity and inclusion and build community in the fields of industrial design, user experience and visual design. Jasmine Kent, one of the members of the Hue Collective, explained how the idea for the conference grew from a Blacks In Design message group that she joined after graduating from Georgia Tech. According to Kent, "The Hue Design Summit is a manifestation of all the things I needed as a young designer, but couldn't find - community, opportunities, and support. I still need those things now...I have grown exponentially as a designer because I've been able to surround myself with like-minded people who look like me through the Hue Design Summit."
Nick Phillips and Sergio Marquina leading a workshop.
We caught up with Nick Phillips and Sergio Marquina from Studio 2133, two designers facilitating a workshop on inclusive design. Their session is titled Inclusive Design Workshop: Understand to create. Create to understand, and they will be examining how designers approach the research and prototyping process, and how those approaches can have a pivotal impact on the products and services created.
Core77: Who is your workshop for and what can attendees expect to take away from it?
Nick: This workshop is for designers of all levels. Students and recent grads who want to start building mindful habits into their design process; Mid-Level designers who might have fallen into the "bad habits" or dated methods in how they go through product design and want to reduce friction so they can move forward; and for more experienced designers it offers an opportunity to audit their process to see the areas where they excel where they may need to improve. Following the self- assessment participants can act as ambassadors to encourage this thinking in their teams and projects moving forward.
Sergio: Design is not very prescriptive so there is always room for improvements in the process. Each new project comes with a new set of challenges and opportunities to better our approach. This workshop is helpful for any designer, no matter their level of experience. Whether they are already well versed in Inclusive Design practices or not there is always an opportunity to be a bit better and bring in new tactics and new ways of thinking.
Nick: One of the biggest takeaways we'd like people to leave with is how they go about conducting research and prototyping in their design process. Design is not linear - It is messy and cyclical and full of feedback loops. The biggest misconception we've seen is people checking off steps in the process and thinking they've done a good job. Just having a recipe does not make you a chef and just because you go through the design process it doesn't necessarily make you a designer. By the end of the workshop we will provide some of the tactics we use early on in the process to make sure all voices have a chance to be heard sooner than later. It is hard work and we want to encourage people to not take the easy way out when designing.
C77: What's one of the most important inclusive design principles for each of you, and what does it mean to truly put these principles into practice?
Sergio: We've been influenced by the work of Kat Holmes at Microsoft. While working on their approach to Inclusive Design, she outlined 3 key principles or ideas that drive an Inclusive Design process. While they are all certainly important, the one that sticks out the most to me is the idea of "Recognizing exclusion." That is something that even now I struggle to remember and practice. Recognizing that everything we do as designers has a bias and that no matter how good you think your design is, it's going to exclude some people takes humility. Design can be very ego driven, so it can be easy to get carried away and take it too personally. It takes work to recognize that we don't have all the answers.
Nick: Design for one, Extend to many. Designers exercise their creativity and problem solving skills when they are faced with constraints. Niche solutions can make people feel excluded since they don't get to use what others are using. It can highlight even further how they are excluded from what is "normal." I love the challenge of designing with constraints and making sure I can capture the largest audience possible without sacrificing anything in terms of function, price or accessibility. Great products should just work well without slowing anybody down.
C77: How can current design processes be improved when it comes to inclusivity?
Sergio: One key factor is who we bring to the table. As human-centered designers, we like to say that we bring in other perspectives and voices, but who those users are and how we define them is crucial. The greater diversity of thinking, experience and opinion we bring into our process, the more inclusive our results will be. This extends beyond user research to all stakeholders in the product. We make an effort to include as many different people into the design process as possible. Not just Engineering and Design teams but also the Marketing, or Fulfillment, or Support and others.
Nick: As designers, we often fall into the "friends and family" plan of conducting research and validating our design concepts. We lean on those around us to help understand and validate what we make. Nothing is wrong with that as long as we are aware and mindful of who we are leaving out and the ramifications it can have on how we design. Ideally we should be talking to real users in real situations as much as possible. The best way to be more inclusive is to not lean on our own biases and develop a more holistic perspective.
C77: Can you explain the difference between designing for and designing with, and why it's important to understand the distinction?
Nick: 'Designing For' involves taking a more rigorous approach to defining our target audience. What are the situations and who are the people interacting with our solutions regularly? One of the worst things we can do is speak for others without context, and then try to create solutions on shaky foundations of our understanding. When we create user personas we try to go beyond demographics to include psychographics. Our designs will not be used in bubbles and we should be mindful of the variety of situations our user might consider using our product, and work to consider how it might be experienced in all aspects of the products life and the life of our customer.
'Designing With' ensures all stakeholders are given a chance to speak while the product is developed. Not only target users but also our Engineers, marketing, sales, and manufacturing partners. It means being mindful of how our design can impact the assembly process. Is that screw hole hard to reach? What are the order of operations we can consider to make the product look better and also be a positive experience for our manufacturing partners to assemble.
C77: Has the current demand to address race inequity highlighted any roles for designers in creating more inclusive practices in the workplace?
Sergio: One answer to that question is the idea of responsibility. Designers play an active role in defining and shaping the world around us. Recognizing the impact that our work has on the lives of people and their communities leads to accepting the responsibility we have on ensuring those products and solutions help create a better and more inclusive community. Design can also serve as a direct line of communication to users. The products we create communicate our creativity, our style, our taste, and also our values. The details that we include, the materials we use, the inclusivity of our design can say a lot about what we stand for and what matters to us, which hopefully makes a positive impact in the world.
Nick: For me one idea is identifying why this issue exists in the first place. Why is the design population not a reflection of the actual population? What systems are in place that are keeping others out? When we finally get the chance to create a more inclusive workspace does everyone feel welcomed or do they feel like they don't belong. Let's understand the issues and not make excuses so we can move forward.
And while it is a lofty goal to create a truly inclusive workplace we should strive for it and not be discouraged. Being pessimistic in the design process and feeling like you never will accomplish your goal can stop people from trying. Once we stop trying we truly fail. I like to take a more optimistic approach and believe that striving for excellence itself is a worthwhile goal.
Sergio: Initiatives like the HUE Summit go a long way to bring more diversity in design to the table. Through this platform we are able to share our experiences and grow the design community collectively which in turns spearheads this necessary change. Change towards a better and more inclusive future.
The 2020 Hue Design Summit takes place July 25 & 26. Professional passes are $109 and students are $59. Register now!