Automattic is hosting a free, remote conference called Design and Exclusion on April 21. The event will bring together design and technology experts who will discuss solutions for the ways that digital products and services exclude people.
Lead organizer Ashleigh Axios, Design Exponent at Automattic, said inspiration for the event came from the exclusion that is everywhere in the industry. Automattic is partnering with Mash-Up Americans and MIT Center for Civic Media to bring awareness to the issue.
“Exclusion is all around us, but we don’t often take the time to understand how it’s come to be this way, our place in its existence, and our place in combating it,” Axios said. “Together, we’re using research, design, and conversational narrative to open source the prompt to understand the issue of exclusion for further community involvement and refinement.”
The schedule for the event includes a message on “Design and Inclusion” from Automattic’s John Maeda and a session on “Opportunities Missed from Excluded Voices” from Joan Shigekawa, former Senior Deputy Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) during the Obama Administration. The conference also includes four panels with experts from Autodesk, Etsy, Airbnb, and other companies.
“Design and Exclusion” is a pointed conference name that puts the spotlight on the problem participants are trying to address. Axios said this name, as opposed to something like “Design and Inclusion,” was a deliberate decision. She said that she and John Maeda felt the need to change the language to reflect a new vantage point on the issue in order to garner new insights.
“It should now be a well-known fact that technology companies are suffering from a lack of diversity or lack of inclusion in their teams and companies,” Axios said. “This is well-reported and the pressure is building to take on this issue from early-childhood education to educating company human resource offices and hiring managers from questioning social and gender norms as relates to professional roles to crediting those who have been doing the work and not having their contributions and presence well acknowledged. This important work has dominated the ‘inclusion’ dialogue within technology-enabled spaces for good reason.
“However, equally important and much less discussed, are all of the ways in which products and services can be, and often are, designed and built to exclude individuals and people groups, even if unintentionally. We shouldn’t have to wait until a company crosses the line, creating a public relations nightmare, in order to evaluate the failures in creating inclusive products.”
More than 1,000 people have already signed up for a reminder about when the event takes place. Axios said that even if the event is successful, organizers are not planning to make it an in-person event in the future. The online-only event was designed to offer more access to the conversation than traditional in-person conferences generally provide.
“In-person conferences tend to exclude those without financial means to travel or with geographic hurdles to attendance, those with time-prohibiting personal or professional commitments, those who have difficulty navigating crowds or in-person social interactions, and those who prefer to consume information at their own pace and in their choice of format,” Axios said. “Given the topic, it’s our aim that Design and Exclusion be as inclusive as it can while limiting its environmental impact.”
Axios said one of the goals of the conference is to understand the industry’s failures in excluding people as a first step towards creating more inclusive products.
“Design and Exclusion aims to do that as an honest and open dialogue with many representatives from across tech,” Axios said. “Success will be active participation in this event followed by the broader conversation around this topic from contributors beyond those involved in the initial discussion. To broadly measure success, we’ll look at views on the content, engagement online using #DesignX, and will track any increase in conversation by use of keywords associated with this topic.”
Design and Exclusion kicks off at 9am PT / 12pm ET / 4pm UTC / 5pm GMT on April 21 and the schedule has been published to the event’s website. Participants who want to join the discussion on making the web more inclusive are invited to use the #DesignX hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks.