Q & A with Kate Penrod: The Future of Inclusion Design

By: Lea Titas  | 08/27/2018

TechPint, a pop-up tech conference in Cleveland, is tomorrow. And we're lucky enough to boast that one of our own, Kate Penrod, Visual Designer extraordinaire, is speaking! We sat down earlier with Kate to find out what her presentation is about and why it's so important to her.


So, you’re speaking at the TechPint summer festival. Why did you choose to participate in this event?

Funny enough, I’m part of an ADA compliance meet-up group in Cleveland. One of the ladies in it had mentioned to the group about this event and how they were looking for speakers. I submitted my application and got accepted, which was a complete surprise because I didn’t think anyone cared to listen about this topic!

It’s a very niche topic, not a lot of people know about it, but I have seen it’s getting more and more traction, especially with designers. It was also a big topic at a conference I recently attended and in the research I’ve been doing. I’m glad that I get to bring it now to the people of Cleveland.


What’s your topic?

"Creating More Usable Experiences Using Inclusive Design Techniques"

It’s about how you’re not designing one thing to be used by everyone. Instead, you’re designing a bunch of different experiences (in a website, for example) that can be used by a lot of different people. Inclusive design is all about looking at the people who have been excluded – not intentionally, but through our own ignorance as it’s not something we’ve had to think about before. It’s also not just looking at designing for those with permanent disabilities, but also temporary disabilities – say, someone broke their dominant hand and now has to use their other, weaker hand – or situational disabilities. An example would be a new parent, holding a child in one hand and trying to surf the web in another. To add to that, this parent might be extremely tired and has a limited attention span and also might not be able to hear well because their baby is crying loudly in their ear. So, while they’re not technically “disabled”, they are experiencing symptoms similar to actual disabilities and are limited in what they can do.  


Why has this become your “passion project”?

(laughing) So, I was kind of tasked to learn about ADA web compliance when working on a website redesign for a client. I’ve always been a fan of researching and learning new things to better myself as a designer and ADA compliance was something very easy for me to pick up and run with. I wanted to see what happens when you take it further. So, after reading more on the subject, I found out about inclusive design and have really started to dig into it and have worked hard to try to develop my own personal spin on it. I’m a designer, why wouldn’t I want to create the best useful experience for user? It’s about looking at different ways to include other people in your designs, such as the parent with the newborn, or different groups of people who have been left out due to social standings, education levels, gender, all of that. It’s about looking at the bigger picture and even looking past your biases and trying to ensure everyone has the same experience on the web.


What do you see for the future of design, whether it’s inclusive design or usability or what have you?

I think having ADA web compliant websites will just be done, it won’t be seen as an afterthought. There are too many lawsuits and too many inconsistencies with those lawsuits, so I can see people saying, “Let’s just do it.” While there currently are no laws that say you have to be ADA compliant for your everyday website. There are laws around the private sector, government, etc. and sooner or later, there’ll be legislation around it to include the public sector as well. There is already legislation in place up in Canada, so it’s only a matter of time.

As far as inclusive design goes, there is a lot more education for the design community that needs to go into it. We need to start changing the way we think and do our personas, taking disabilities or these situational aspects into account. It doesn’t have to be done all at once; small changes can make a big impact, creating things that are simple to use can benefit everyone. Bottom line: designers shouldn’t get to pick and choose who uses their website – they should be used by everyone. 


The event takes place tomorrow, at MOCA Cleveland (Museum of Contemporary Art). Doors open at 4:00 PM. If you have a chance, check out Kate's presentation, as well as the many others – it's an event you won't want to miss!



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