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Dan Mall on defining “good” design

Inclusive and universal design have gained wider attention and practice in recent years. Its goals are grounded in the belief that recognizing, problem solving for, and learning from excluded groups, yields universal benefits for all. However, these ideals can come into conflict with other desires or imperatives presented by stakeholders, such as speed or cost-savings. It can also be challenging for designers themselves to fully understand or embrace the needs of people who are different from them, even when they want to do so. How do we reconcile these tensions to push the needle of equality further? 

In this episode, our hosts Colleen Ammerman and David Homa speak with Dan Mall, who quotes friend and founding principal of User Interface Engineering, Jared Spool, to offer a useful definition: “Design is the rendering of intent.” Dan further expounds on this idea by reflecting on his own schools of thought, experience, and hopes for the design field. Dan is the founder and CEO of SuperFriendly, a design collaborative that aims to both teach and build design systems and products for their client base. 

Watch the episode with Dan Mall

Read the transcript, which is lightly edited for clarity.

Colleen Ammerman (Gender Initiative director): Today, we’re speaking with Dan Mall, founder and CEO of Design Collaborative, SuperFriendly. Thanks for joining us, Dan.

Dan Mall (design collaborative founder)My pleasure. Thanks for having me. 

Dave Homa (Digital Initiative director)Good to see you again, Dan. 

DM: Yeah, likewise. It’s nice to see your faces even though we can’t be in the same room together. 

DH: We’re going to talk about how design and inequity go together, and how we can actually make things a little better in the world. I’m going to start off with a question about bad design: When I say “bad design” and we talk about inclusion and injustice, are there things that come to mind for you that constitute bad design? And do those tie at all to what you would consider traditional bad design and technology?

DM: I think that we should define design. My favorite definition comes from my friend Jared Spool, who says, “design is the rendering of intent.” I think that’s important to the idea of understanding good design and bad design. A lot of it centers around understanding what it is supposed to do. What did the designer intend for you to do with this thing, or this object, or this technology, or things like that? When I think about bad design in the world, I think about either a thing that is intended to do something that it is not able to do, or something that is actually intended to do harm. There’s a broad range within that scope. So, to me, bad design is about whether someone actually uses something the way that it’s intended — assuming the designer was actually trying to make something really good — can people actually use it in the way that [the designer] intended? 

DH: So, it sounds like obviously the designer has a lot of control over this aspect of the work.

DM: Absolutely. And I think some of that is a little bit self-fulfilling in that when we are designing things, we have to admit that we have control over the thing. Otherwise, it feels a little bit, I don’t know, nihilist or something. So the idea is that if I’m trying to make something for someone else to use, I should take care in how I’m making it. I think this idea is kind of crucial to the discipline of design. 

DH: If we take “the rendering of intent” as our definition for design, what constitutes bad design when we’re talking about inclusion and justice?

DM: I’ll share maybe one of the more obvious examples around exclusion, which is the idea of someone trying to enter a building. There is a lot of design that goes into how to enter a building: doors, handles, stairs, ramps, things like that. A lot of entrances are designed for a particular type of person — usually a person who has full motor control of their arms and legs; usually someone who can walk; usually someone who can see and can hear. And we see a lot of examples where ramps for people in wheelchairs are around the side of the building, or wheelchair users have to go in the service entrance in order to get in the building. That’s maybe one of the more obvious examples. The designer may not have been trying to exclude people, but maybe they just weren’t thinking about them as intently as they were thinking about a different type of person. But people get left out because of that. That’s one of the more obvious examples that comes to mind that gets discussed. But really, that’s bad design. If you’re trying to let people into a building, and you’re not trying to leave people out, but you accidentally did — even though it wasn’t your intention — it still counts as bad design. 

DH: That’s really interesting. When we shift online, I always think about how designers don’t consider where everyone’s coming from, especially with access to online systems. I’ve heard various people say that to get services online — even in municipalities — you need to enter an address. If you’re homeless, obviously, there’s a real limitation there. Do you run into things like that with online systems?

DM: All the time. Same thing with [people] who need to deposit money. Well, not everyone has a bank account. So, what do you do then? It creates this cycle of systemic exclusion that, again, may not be intended by the designers. Some of them are [intending to include] and some of them are somewhere in the middle, where they didn’t intend [to exclude]. But they didn’t really think as hard about about those things as maybe they should have. 

CA: So, I kind of want to ask the flip side to the question that you’re getting at with regard to how design can exclude. I think what I’m hearing you say is that there are a lot of examples where we’re not thinking about how a decision might be exclusionary, or might marginalize somebody, or might diminish somebody’s experience. And it sounds like you’re saying that one thing to do is to anticipate those things and kind of prevent them and think about how we can make sure that we’re not excluding. But, if our goal is to advance equity and advance inclusion broadly, are there ways that you can not just prevent exclusion, but harness the power of design to meet that goal of advancing inclusion?

DM: Absolutely. One of the things that I love about being a designer (and this is why I continue to love it) is that it gives me the ability to learn a lot of things that I wouldn’t have had a chance to learn otherwise. I’ve worked with companies that specialize in marine biology. And so, I as a designer now have to learn about marine biology in order to do a good job in helping them. I think a part of a designer skill set is some amount of empathy; some amount of being able to say, “OK, let me act as if I were in the shoes of the user I’m designing for, or the person I’m designing for.” A lot of that is built into the discipline of design, where the designers have to adopt a mantle of someone that they are not. However, one of the things that we’re seeing a lot in society — especially with tech today — is that some designers just don’t have the ability to have the empathy for certain people who they just don’t have any experience with. What I love about what’s being discussed in the last decade or so with the idea of inclusive design is not just about, “OK, designers, try to put yourself in those shoes,” but actually to include people from the demographic that you’re trying to serve in the design process. 

“I think a part of a designer skill set is some amount of empathy… where the designers have to adopt a mantle of someone that they are not.”

So, for example, I have two legs and can walk on those two legs. If I’m trying to create something for people who can’t walk, there’s only so much empathy that I’m going to be able to have, I think, as much as I might try. Instead, maybe I should talk to people who can’t walk. Maybe I should talk to people who have different abilities than I do in order to understand their experience. And I think that’s where a lot of psychology fields, like ethnography, and behavioral science, and things like that, come into play where talking to people is a good idea; observing them; watching them; watching them go out; [watching them] go throughout their day. I think a lot of that gives us insight into things that we wouldn’t know otherwise, as designers. And so I think including [the] people that you’re trying to serve in the actual process of design is becoming more and more popular in the field. And I love that idea that there is a limit to our knowledge. So, instead, let’s be humble about it and let’s talk to people we are trying to serve, so that we really can serve them best. 

DH: Do you have advice for younger designers who are just thinking about inclusive design? The idea that you are able to know where your blind spots are may be difficult for people. Some things may be very obvious [to some], but for other designers, [they] may have to actually think about where their blind spots are. Any advice for them? 

DM: Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough thing to do. It is a tough thing to think about. It requires humility. It requires self-awareness. And, you know, not to be overgeneralizing here, but sometimes that doesn’t come with youth. When you’re a young designer, or a new designer, or a budding designer, you don’t necessarily have a lot of that. A lot of people got into design — myself included — just to be able to make cool stuff. And I think that there should be space for that, too. So, I suggest that young designers do as much design as you can. Get that part out of your system. Get the fidelity. Get the ability to stop fighting your tools: whether that’s pen and ink; or it’s a computer; or it’s Photoshop; or whatever those things are. Get that fidelity out as quickly as you can. Put in the hours to do that and then start to round that out with [learning] how to talk to people. How do you understand more things than just what you’re designing? Is this [product] really cool, or is this something that I’m proud of? I think that’s a big part of design. 

But I [also] think design has a larger responsibility. When I work with younger designers, or newer designers, one of the things that I tell them is, “The skills that you have when designing an interface for people to submit a form, those are the same skills that it takes to redesign the way that insurance works in our country. It’s the same kind of thought process — very different execution, very different scale. But those are the same kind of skills that you employ.” I think that if you think about it as a practice in order to get to do something larger, or something that’s your calling, or something that you’re going to do over the course of your life, those [intentions] are practiced when sitting in front of a computer and drawing things that look cool. I like to encourage that, but I also like to remind younger and newer designers that there’s more to design. This is a good stepping-stone into something else that you might be able to have a larger impact with, if that’s important to you. 

CA: I wonder if there’s a tension sometimes between design[ing] for the needs of people who are going to use a product or use an online service, and the people that are paying you to create the design. I’m just curious, when you’re not early in your career, (or maybe even then), but, as you have the ability to navigate those tensions, and maybe push for something that’s more inclusive, how do you manage that?

DM: I find that when you cater to the audience that is less served, a lot of times that ends up helping everyone, and ends up helping everyone more. So, a famous example of this is a staircase, I forget where it is, and built into the stairs is kind of this winding ramp. So, if you are in a wheelchair, or if you’re on a scooter, or if you have crutches, or [even] if you can walk —  you can walk up the stairs or you can use the ramp. It is a beautiful design. So, from an esthetic point of view, it’s lovely. And from a functional point of view, it is excellent and useful to everyone. Now there are different schools of thought on it, where the grade of the slope might be a little bit too steep. [However] those are all things that are solvable. But I think what it takes is the mindset of the designer to say, “Is there a solution that works best for everyone? Is there a solution that doesn’t leave anyone else out?” And that’s the thing that I see designers not doing in their process. 

I think that designers see it as, “I don’t want to compromise my vision just for this.” We see it on our teams all the time. This happened a couple of weeks ago, where one of our designers was kind of talking about some of our work in that way: “Well, oh, no, no. We’re not catering to blind users on that site. We don’t have a big blind audience, so we don’t really have to worry about the screen [reader].” Which makes sense if you look at it from that point of view. But if you look at it from a different angle, to [ask] “How can we serve everyone best?” Actually, writing better HTML, which is better for screen readers, actually makes the site faster. How about that? It makes it better for everybody else. And so, I think those are the kinds of things that designers are not educated enough in. So, there’s an education problem there. And then also designers are not taught that, however they learned — whether they are brought up on their own, self-taught, or went to design school. I think it takes people to go, “Well, let’s stop for a minute and let’s just take 30 minutes, maybe, to think about how this might work, and see if there are better solutions for everyone.” And I think more often than not, just taking that time to do it, yields some really good solutions. 

CA: Yeah, I love that. I’m smiling because there’s such a parallel to people who study organizations, who know very well that, so often, problems show up [that are] affecting people who are in the minority. But so often, making things better for people who are in the minority, typically by their race and/or gender, makes things better for the majority. I think it’s the exact same thing. And getting away from the zero-sum mindset allows you to identify those things that actually are going to improve everyone’s experience; improve whatever the goal is. And I think that’s a really powerful insight. 

DH: Can we can we talk a little bit about the diversity of audience? You mentioned that making things better for some groups will sort of make it better for all. What are the challenges of designing for all today? Technology reaches so many people in so many different areas, just millions and millions of people in some cases. How does a designer think about that? Where do you focus? Do you focus like you’ve suggested? Do you narrow in on the biggest part of [your] audience? Or do you actually step back and think, how do we make this work for everyone, when certainly, not everyone has the same experiences with technology?

DM: I’m glad you brought that up, because one of the things that I see in training designers, and as a designer myself, is that the hardest part is not making the shapes in Photoshop or Illustrator or whatever. It’s not the craft part. The hardest part is decision-making and prioritization. And Colleen, as you were saying, organizationally, that’s a hard thing to do in leadership. [It’s] hard to say, “We’re going to focus on this.” Because by virtue of saying that, you’re also saying [that] we’re not going to focus on this other thing, either temporarily or ever. That’s a really hard thing to do. So, how do you balance that with designing for all? You know, one of the things that I try to to tell a lot of the designers that I work with is that in most cases, they are not designing for all. There is a point of focus. I kind of come from the school of thought that focusing, and specialization, and niche is important, useful, and helpful. I also think that there is some kind of exclusivity that is advantageous at points. An example is a Jewish dating site. That’s not a site that’s for everyone, nor should it be. I think there are spaces that are designed for particular people to be able to flourish. And, for better or worse, I think that that’s part of our society right now. I think that being able to design for that is important. 

Where it gets really tricky is when designers come out of design school and go to work at Facebook. Now all of a sudden, they’re designing for a two billion-person audience, right out of school. Even if you had 10 years of experience, or 15 years of experience — that is an unprecedented design challenge. Now you’re designing a platform globally that takes into account governments and race and all of these factors at scale. Who has the training for that? I think that there are generalities to kind of fall back on. One is the idea of universal design. Universal design is creating a set of principles that can apply to everyone. And a lot of that comes down to, not skill and craft, but belief. I think what’s really tough about that is, what do you believe about what people have access to? What do you believe about their rights? What do you believe about who should be able to do what, and who should not be able to do what? Those are hard design problems. It’s the same skill as drawing an interface for people to submit a form. It’s just scaled differently. So it’s a really tough problem. 

“Universal design is creating a set of principles that can apply to everyone. And a lot of that comes down to, not skill and craft, but belief.”

How do you design for all? I don’t think that a lot of designers have experience doing that. And how could they? Only now, in the last few decades, have designers had the opportunity to deploy something to two billion people across the globe and see how they work with it? That’s a new phenomenon for us. And so we’re screwing it up. And hopefully it’ll get better. But I think we need to be conscious and intentional about it. Again, back to design being the rendering of intent: What is the intent of this? You know, what is the intent of what we’re actually making? And how does that not get manipulated? I think that’s the other part. That’s the flip side to what you were talking about [Dave], which is, I think we have to now take into account where this goes wrong. Where does this fail? Where does this get get screwed up? What are the things that we don’t anticipate? I think those are the right places to include other people. As a cisgender male, there are the things that I don’t know about people who are not in that demographic  who are going to use this. I need to get their perspectives. This is very important. Otherwise, my work is going to be incomplete because there’s a whole side of this that I’m not considering. 

CA: Dan, we’ve talked about “designing for whom?” You’ve talked about how important it is to include a range of people who might use a certain kind of product or service and how often it doesn’t happen and how important that is. I want to flip that on its head a little bit and think about who is doing the design. Just like many, many other industries, [design] is not as diverse as the population. I wonder if you can tackle it from the angle of what happens when the people doing the designing have some limitations in accordance with their particular identity and their place in the world?

DM: Yeah, wow. What a deep topic that is. I think that a lot of it is thinking about how tech start[ed]. In the tech world that we have right now, who gets to design, and why do they get to design and other people don’t get to design? I like the school of thought that everyone is a designer, or everyone can be a designer. So, I try to take a more broad worldview. Part of that is because that’s what I want. So, it’s certainly biased in terms of that. But right now, or at least when it started, tech was expensive. Tech is still expensive to get into for a designer. If you think about just the equipment, a designer has to have a MacBook probably, because that’s what the tech world uses, and that’s a couple-thousand dollar machine. And then you have to have software that cost hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands of dollars. Then, you have to have education that cost thousands of dollars sometimes. Or if you’re self-taught, you have to put in the work and the rigor of finding the things that are applicable to you. So, there’s a lot of barriers to folks that have lower incomes to just getting into tech. And that in itself means that there’s a particular type of demographic that we see designing the tech products that we use. And those are 30- to 40-year-old white men. And so because of that myopia, it is a specific demographic that’s doing the designing. It stands to reason that it’s only going to serve one population. A lot of the things that we’re seeing as a society — as more or different parts of our population are represented in the designing, not just the not just consuming what is designed — we’re seeing a lot more creativity and a lot more solutions to different kinds of problems.

And so I think that’s why it’s important to have a lot more representation in our industry — how do we get more women, how do we get more people of color, how do we get more underrepresented groups in tech to help create more solutions around this? I think tech is pervasive now. We all have supercomputers in our pockets now. And so what could we do with that if we give it to the right people? Right now, the right people don’t have it — some of the right people have it, but not enough of them do. I think that more access to tools and technologies for people and groups who are underrepresented — I think we’re going to see wonders from that. I hope that that becomes a thing. I hope that becomes a thing that more people have access to, because I think that’s going to be important for the world. And if we don’t, I think that’s going to be very impactful for the world in a very negative sense.

DH:I want to say that’s actually a fantastic perspective on where technology can take us, and I think that that’s really important to imagine not only where are we making mistakes, where we’re doing things wrong, but what are the opportunities. I know this is going to be a question beyond what we would typically ask someone like yourself who’s so experienced in design, but as a citizen, where do you think that impetus comes from? Where would you hope that it comes from? Does it come from government? Does it come from designers? Does it come from businesses? Does it come from activism? Where do you think we get the drive to make the change?

DM: I think the drive to make change sometimes comes from pain. And I think that that is unfortunate, but I think that it’s motivating, too. So, I’m not sure if that’s a thing that we should eliminate. But I think there is a sting to missing payment on your credit card bill because the interface wouldn’t load. I know that’s a first-world problem — there’s even more of a sting to not paying your electrical bill because the interface wouldn’t load. So, there are these systemic barriers to not being able to do the things that are your rights. Then, there are barriers to doing things that you just want to do. I think that there’s room for all of that stuff. And so I think the impetus comes from experiencing pain and no longer wanting to. I think that’s where a lot of products get designed from: “I need a better note-taking app because taking notes sucked in that class.” OK, so you build a note-taking app. I think that a lot of people’s lived experience informs what they want solutions to. “I can’t find a parking spot, I need a parking app.” I think that what we’re seeing is the people who have a lot of means that are in tech are designing problems for people with a lot of means, maybe not in tech. Which makes a lot of sense. So, how do we democratize that a little bit more? How do we say, “Well, what about people that are having different problems? How do they get to voice their concerns?” I think a lot of that comes from — as designers, as people with means, as people with privilege — we have to do a better job of listening, because otherwise there’s no forum for it. There’s no [excuse] to say, “Well, someone else is having a problem that I don’t experience, and yet I have the skills to be able to solve that, but I’m not going to because I just don’t know about it.” I mean, that’s immature at that point. That’s almost abdicating. I would put that as a responsibility nowadays. We have to do those things. Otherwise, our world is not going to get better. So, how do we, as designers, do a better job of listening to and including people from communities that we’re not typically part of? I think that’s an important pathway for this field to be able to thrive. If we really are going to have the impact on the world that I think design can have, we have to be able to listen to more folks than we’re used to listening to.

DH: That really goes right back to what you said before about getting the direct tools and empowering the people who know what their problems are and making sure that those people are fed into this system of designing and creating technology. I think there’s some systemic issues there about privilege, about access, about resources, et cetera. And I think there’s a lot of work. Certainly, we hope that educational institutions can help with in that space, but certainly there are other opportunities. I know that [your firm] SuperFriendly has worked to bring other people in to the design space that haven’t necessarily had access. Can you just say a little bit about some of the things you’ve done?

DM: I mean, a lot of this comes from my experience, too. I have brown skin. My parents are immigrants. I’m a first generation in this country. I watched them work really hard. We grew up in North Philly. I wasn’t poor and I wasn’t rich. We were upper lower class, and then lower middle class. I watched my parents work really hard, and I wouldn’t be able to be in tech had it not been for, partially, their hard work and their work ethic. Then, honestly, just people giving me a chance and lending their privilege to me. One of my cousins, who worked in IT, dropped off a “totally legal” copy of Photoshop when I was 13 or 14, and I just tinkered around with it. I was lucky to have a computer. My dad had brought an old computer home from work when I was eight. So, having a computer is a form of privilege for me that allowed me to get into tech. When I talk to a lot of folks now, they say, “I didn’t have a computer growing up until I was 16.” And [they] missed the formative years of being able to have that be fluent in technology.

One of the things that we had at SuperFriendly for a little while was an apprenticeship. Our model is that we don’t hire anyone full-time. We are a model of freelancers that are collected for every project. And every account that we work on is a team of specialists that are combined just for that work. We don’t hire anyone full-time. But the exception to that was that we had an apprenticeship where we would work with folks that just wanted to get into tech. So, they had no tech skills already, but they had an appreciation for design, or appreciation for development, or engineering, that would allow them to get an entry-level job. So we would train them for nine months and then put them on some projects that we work on — client projects, paying projects — and then help them get a job elsewhere. Whether that is a product company, or an in-house studio, or an agency, or freelancing, or on their own. We’d help them with resume prep. We’d help them with getting portfolios together. Because how else are people going to do that? And it’s not a replacement for a four-year education at a design school. It’s not a replacement for anything else. But it’s a way to get an entry-level job. We had a lot of career switchers. We had a lot of people who were substitute teachers that said, “I want to make a career out of something else.” We had some people that were kind of working odd jobs every year that wanted a career, wanted some stability, that being a designer or being an engineer or developer could give them. That’s important to us. Because, again, it’s the same thing. Had somebody not given me something when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been in this field. And that has been really transformative for me and for my family. And so why not give that access to someone else? 

DH: As a designer, do you feel like there are limitations to current technologies? Like, are there things you wish technology would do? And again, this may be a limitation of who’s actually building the technologies, but are there things you wish it did that would let you allow your designs to reach more people or adapt to more people?

DM: Yeah, I think design is expensive and I think it’s slow and so at least now in digital design, there are a lot of different movements happening. There’s a movement called the “No Code Movement,” which is the idea that you can just draw something and then it can work. Lots of tools are emerging in that space right now, which is great, because I think whether or not that is the particular movement that will catch on and people will kind of hop on that, I think the idea of it is sound, which is we need to make access faster, because if I have an idea for something — well, I have to design it, then I have to code it, and then I have to deploy it, and then I have to manage it. All of that stuff takes a long time. And if you’re an organization of any particular size that is hiring a company or a freelancer or somebody to make them something digital, you know, you’re talking six months, sometimes, from idea to fruition. That cycle is too long. So, if we’re going to try to make change in a system — maybe a lot of our systems are slow so they can afford to have slow solutions applied to them — but there are other things that need to happen faster. 

And so that’s one of the things that I see. How can we get from idea to launch in a much faster way? Does that mean we need to pare down our idea? Does that mean we need to try things more? Do we need to try more things? A lot of our work tends to focus on this idea that is particularly popular in tech, which is the idea of an MVP, a minimum viable product. We try to focus a lot of our work on that. Rather than spending six months to do a thing, is there a way that we could spend six weeks to do a thing, because maybe it’ll be cheaper that way. Maybe it’ll be faster. Maybe we’ll learn things more that way. And so that probably is one of my biggest frustrations in tech and in design, is that the speed at which we can have impact is too slow right now. And I think that’s gotten faster over time. I would like it to go even faster. I know that with great power comes great responsibility. I know that wielded in the wrong hands, that can be just as bad as it can be good. But I hope to look at the glass-half-full version of that, too. Maybe we can deploy systems and solutions that help people faster than what we’re doing right now. 

CA: What would you advise people like me who see how important this is but are not doing [design]? What’s the right way for us to participate or help make sure that the right communities are heard, just as citizens? How do we move the needle on this even further?

DM: I don’t know if I have answers to that, but I have some thoughts and I have some opinions about it. So, nothing that I’ve seen is definitive at least. And these are newer thoughts for me, so they’re still kind of developing. One of the things that I’m learning, especially lately, especially in the last year or two, is how important amplification is. I think that people in power are often expected to have the answer. And then when they don’t have an answer, they just stay silent because they don’t know what else to do. One of the things that I’ve been trying to practice a lot more, is [recognizing that] other people have the answer, especially sometimes people who are not in power, or people who do not have power. Can we just point to them? Could we just say, “What about what they’re saying?” Because so far what we have been doing hasn’t been working. So can we start listening to the people we haven’t been listening to? Because who we have been listening to hasn’t been working. We have to change something. We have to change some of the variables in order to get a different result. Otherwise, it is just insanity to continue to do what we’re doing. 

“We have to change some of the variables in order to get a different result. Otherwise, it is just insanity to continue to do what we’re doing.”

So, for people who are not designers, I think keep an eye out and keep an ear out for people who have not been listened to historically, systemically, [or] traditionally. And let’s start pointing at those things. Let’s start considering those things, especially if they’re outside of our perspective and worldview, in order to stretch us and go, “We need to include more people in this.” We need to include more thoughts, more ideas, because what we’ve been doing has not been working. Let’s be more humble. Let’s try that thing because maybe that’ll work. Let’s listen to that. Let’s try that perspective. I think that’s the thing that I would say to non-designers — you have the ability to amplify, too. You don’t have to be able to render. The rendering part is not the important part, it is the intent part. And so, how can you broadcast that a little bit more?

CA: That’s great.

DH: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

CA: So before we end, is there anything that you like to share in terms of resources or things for people to be thinking about if they want to dig deeper into these topics?

DM: I actually have this book that I’m reading. I started reading it last week. And so a lot of this is top of mind for me. I have it here it’s called Mismatch, by Kat Holmes. I believe she was a former director of inclusive design at Microsoft and is now at Salesforce. I’ve been learning a lot from that book. One of the things that kind of jumped out at me is what she says about inclusive design and how she talks about that. She says, “An inclusive designer is someone, arguably anyone, who recognizes and remedies mismatched interactions between people and their world.” And I think that’s given me a new lens to think about who I can be as a designer and what my role is as a designer. It’s a short book and it’s a quick read, but it is very, very impactful. I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether they are a designer, or thinking about becoming a designer. It’s a really great framing of the role that design plays in our world to create better interactions between people and the abilities that they have and don’t have. So, I’m learning a lot of things. I’ve been a designer for a long time and this is really shifting my worldview about it, too.

CA: That’s great, thank you. As an academic institution, we do like to encourage people to read [laughter] so that seems a very appropriate note to end on.

DH: That’s really great and thanks for your perspective on that.

CA: Thank you. This has been really fabulous. 

DH: That’s all we have for today. But the conversation continues.

CA: And we want to hear from everyone out there in our community who’s listening to this interview. So please send your questions, comments, ideas, reactions, et cetera, to


  • Dan Mall

    Dan is the founder and CEO of SuperFriendly, a design collaborative.

  • HBS Gender Initiative

    The HBS Gender Initiative drives change and eradicates gender, race, & other forms of inequality in business and society through research.

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