Hatch Design Talks 2023





Systems of Exclusion

Systems of Exclusion

Luke Murphy

Luke Murphy

Designer Advocate, zeroheight

Designer Advocate, zeroheight

About the Episode

Today I’m speaking to Luke Murphy, who started the Design Advocate Team at Zeroheight. Luke identifies as non-binary and is on a mission to further raise awareness on how designers could sometimes reinforce systemic exclusion, without being aware. Besides working at Zeroheight, Luke plays in a band , and has been an event organiser for several years. We speak about accessibility and inclusion advocacy, music gigs and conferences, and a few more things.




Damian: Hi, we're here with Luke Murphy from Zero Height in our edition of Hatch Design Talks. Thank you for being here, Luke. Welcome.

Luke: Thank you very much for having me.

Damian: We're interested in just talking a little bit about you and hearing who you are, you're going to be doing one of the talks in the main stage at Hatch.

And you're both head of community and design advocate at ZeroHeight. Can you tell us a bit more what ZeroHeight does for those who don't know and what the job is about?

Luke: Yeah, sure. Zeroheight is a design system management tool. So we are, design engineering and products, tooling, for design systems, we started off as a fancy CMS for documentation and we're getting more and more into the management space with like tokens, managers, and, a little bit of automation and pipeline stuff as well.

But basically it's there to support your design system. So in terms of what I do there, I I've been there for about two years now, and I started the design advocacy team which is known as community and content because that's a lot of what we do. We are a a bunch of product designers and engineers.

So people with that kind of background who also have a background in community. So I've. I've run events for most of my life written, blogs and magazine articles and all that kind of stuff, run podcasts and so now I just do that for Zero Height as somebody who is basically an advocate for design systems, so we're not, product sales people were basically there to, to shout about how to do good design systems, how to do good design ops and everything around that, so that people go, Oh, they're smart.

Let's use Zeroheight.

Damian: For sure. . One of the, one of the ways I heard about you was with Sarah, who was actually speaker last year. She was, I think even at the podcast that we recorded, she even said yeah, I love this tool. . And I'm like, Oh, cool.

And of course, Brad Frost, the man himself in interviews that I've had with him and stuff mentioning to other companies, like you as a reference. So it's definitely a good.

Luke: Hey, we just see it as being nice, that's all we're doing.

Damian: That's great. That's number one, I think. And besides speaking a lot about design systems, you do it specifically from angles related to accessibility and inclusion. I recently listened to Amy Hupe's podcast where you are featured in an episode talking about design systems and trans exclusion, which was so great.

If anyone hasn't listened to it, I can recommend it. I can add it in the show notes as well. And there were a lot of topics related to inclusion that I personally wasn't aware either. So do you think companies these days are more open to putting the extra work to making those design systems more inclusive?

Luke: Oh, this is a can of worms, but I think, there's a lot more conversation around making design more inclusive or product more inclusive generally which is good. However, I do also think that at the moment it's where, at the beginning of that journey because, it's not like this is the first time where our products have been excluding people because that's been happening forever.

But it feels like we're finally getting to a point where people are willing to actually talk about it and say that it is important to do. However, I feel like it is also one of those things that people will 100% put on the chopping block as soon as it's, you're starting to sacrifice, speed of delivery or anything like that, or, looking at the bottom line.

So I think that it is one of those things where, people are wanting to put in the extra work, but actually putting in the extra work. Is another thing, but it's all a journey, and it's all steps towards the right place, and I think we're starting to take the right steps, but we're not there yet.

Damian: Yeah, and there're so many levels to it. One, one might think that one has a bit of a grasp of what accessibility means and what it means to have, in general systems that are, that are inclusive. And then there's maybe this other bunch of stuff that one hasn't thought about.

And this is a bit of your topic within Hatch. Your talk is called "Systems of Harm", and it sounds like you will expose some of these biases that we have as designers, things like defaulting to the binary responses and, things that end up reinforcing exclusion. Can you tell attendees a little bit more about what they can expect from your talk?

Luke: Yeah, sure it's basically everybody should expect to feel really bad by the end of the talk. Um, Nah um, I think that, cause it is one of the realities of... The work that we do and the industry that we're in is that it's not a very diverse place at the moment, just from a purely optical point of view, most of the industry kind of looks like both of us white male presenting probably middle class it's all a very It's quite a homogenous space, and because you don't have that diversity that is, inherent in there, you are probably going to be reinforcing a lot of things that are quite systemic.

And basically, the I'm on a journey myself to, to really understand a lot of this as well, and it was actually Amy through that podcast that was really making me start to think and question a lot of my own biases and a lot of my own sort of feelings around this. And especially as a queer person as well starting to say, okay, cool, how has, how have these designs made me feel over the years?

And I think that's one of the things, and especially when you look at it through the lens of design systems. The whole point of design systems is about creating replicable patterns and experiences that we can use over and over in our products with the idea that you don't really have to think about what you're putting in because it's been tested and it's been thought through and all the rest of it.

If we're designing our systemic components and patterns with Discriminatory patterns built into them that we're not even aware of, then that's a very bad thing because it's, we're just going to be perpetuating those systems of harm. So it's, that's basically the lens that I wanted to look at is looking at some of these ways in which we do make exclusionary patterns. Through lots of different lenses, and trying to weave in a lot of personal stories as well. Because I do think that it's one of those things that a lot of people will look at and go, Yeah, because they do feel quite insignificant. But to the people who they affect, They're very significant, and I think that, putting that emotional part of it, and putting that, first person stories part on it is a really good way to just relate it to somebody, cause, we're all designers and devs, and we should have empathy as a core part of who we are, because of what we do.

Damian: No, I completely agree. And it's true what you say. I feel a lot of people they're going to listen to your talk don't know where to start even taking that to their team, and addressing those biases. And, because, me as not being someone who exclusively has worked on accessibility or inclusion, I sometimes can feel like, Hey, how can I actually bring this topic up?

Who am I to say this is the way we should be doing things when I'm no expert on that. So what suggestion do you have of someone, for example, in this who's noticed that something that their team is doing might not be the right thing. Can they bring that up without the expertise backing them up?

Luke: I think, to be honest, if they're at the stage where they're bringing it up with, wanting to bring it up with their team, that's a really good start, right? Part of this is just about awareness and education. I think that, people like you platforming a talk like this is really good.

And I think that is the thing. It's, we don't have to be experts in these things. It's, we just need to be aware of them. And I think that it's one of the things, as I said, there are steps to where we're getting to, and yes. the end goal might be that every company, has accessibility or inclusivity experts as part of their design team.

That would be fantastic. We're not there yet. I'm realistic about this. However, just being open to that and being open to those ideas and sharing when you can, and being that... internally. And to be honest, just being a bit annoying about it as well. Doing things like small things that can just help shift somebody's the other people in your company's perspective.

Great one set, set up, one of those really annoying slack bots that whenever anybody uses the term guys just reminds people to use inclusive language. I did it pissed off the entire company, but it also started a really good conversation about inclusive language and how people should use it within the organization.

So I think that it's one of these things where it's just, it's small, little grassroots efforts. A good start to getting there. And then, from there, go and actually, start tracking down more of this stuff, because there's so much out there, so many personal stories, and so much advice and guidance.

It's all out there, it just requires you to do a little bit of Googling.

One of the other things I will say as well, is just always push for diversity within the team as well. If you look around and everybody looks and feels the same way as you, whenever you're hiring, just make it very clear that you will not put up with another person that is the same.

I'm talking from a very intersectional point of view here too, so it is diversity of experience as much

Damian: absolutely

Luke: What we would see as like the checkbox diversity which is also important. But, diversity of thought, diversity of experience is very important making sure that you have queer people, making sure, that you're not, I don't know, you're not closing yourself off to, trans people and, people of different cultural backgrounds and whatnot.

It's, it is very important to like, just push for as much diversity as possible.

Damian: yeah, absolutely. And I think that also relates to events, you're also an event organizer and this is something that's all the time in our minds. Being in terms of the event organization itself there's a lot of things that also match with this. And you organized most recently a Converge in the U S and you're also doing it in the UK very soon. What was that experience like for you?

Luke: I absolutely love doing event organization, and I think that it's one of those things where I've been doing it for way too long. I think the first event I hosted in the UK was possibly in 2010? And, yeah, and so been involved in lots and lots over the years. And it's funny because it's changed so much.

And I do remember even back in 2012, 2013. The diversity issue being brought up then when it came to, female male speakers.

And and, I will put my hands up, people can go back to my Twitter and look at it. I'll put my hands up to say that I had some terrible opinions back then.

Talking about meritocracy and it should be that, people, we're just trying to find good speakers, that's the important thing. And I look back now and, look at past Luke and go, oh no, please don't, please just shut up, sit down. Sit down white boy. But it's yeah, and it's one of those things that I think it's so good that this is now being seen as table stakes within event space.

And it's one of the things that we really try when we're doing things like Converge or WDC that I do out in Bristol as well, is just making sure That you can get a nice, diverse lineup there, but the thing that I love about it is that has become easier because of the work that those people were doing shouting about it eight years ago, ten years ago.

It meant that people got up on stage and that representation was there, and so you've got new speakers going and seeing them and going, I can do that too. So now we're still not there. Still nowhere near where we need to be, but but it has gotten better and easier and there are people out there doing amazing work.

So yeah, it's one of the things that I love because also you just meet more and more people when do these events and it's what it comes down to at the end. It's like the community is, it's just hanging out with people and chatting and sharing experiences and that's the part that I love.

Damian: Yeah. No, totally. And I remember when we met at OFFF at Barcelona we talked about the parallels of the experience between a design conference and a concert. And like that thing is a collective moment that we all share together. As a musician yourself, do you find, parallels in preparing for a music gig and preparing for a speaking gig?

Luke: I don't know, I think I definitely drink a lot less before I do a speaking gig. But but it's I think that's the thing. It's to me, they're both about performance, right? And they're both about giving what the... the audience is expecting. And so I suppose that's the important thing for me.

It's more around just making, a comfortable space and a space that everybody feels safe in. So I suppose there are some parallels, although, yeah, as I said, I definitely don't think I'd do a speaking gig after Downing Five Pints, whereas that is pretty regular for a punk band. 

Damian: Yeah, I also if you do it like at 11 a. m. or something, it could be, it could lead to some problems.

Luke: could be problematic. 

Damian: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to get your take on, where design events are going after the pandemic and, what allowed us to go back to how we were. I feel a lot of conferences and events haven't really had the time to sit down and talk and be like, why are people actually coming to this anymore?

What is the purpose? What are things that you want to see more in community events, perhaps that was no, not so evidently important back then or back before the pandemic?

Luke: I think, to be honest, part of it is I don't know. I think the events were, I feel like pre pandemic events were on the down anyway. There was a little bit of a gap where a lot of the old events were dying and new ones weren't really taking their place. Whereas I, I think that's the thing that I'm most excited about with post pandemic events, is that there are new events coming, and there are new people who are doing it, and they're bringing new life into it, and they're breathing new life into it, because

Damian: Mhm.

Luke: they don't, they're not resting on the old ways of doing things, they're not resting on how people did it before, they're just going, what would I like, and what would I need, and I think that that's really nice and really refreshing, but I do think that, to me, it's like, the things, The thing that I care about, as I said before, is getting together with people.

So I think it's like... With events as long as folks are doing it in a very user focused way, right? It's it's actually thinking about what the people would like and what they'd need, which usually means enough space. I think one of The, the follies that I've seen people do is just cram a day full of talks and have no opportunity to actually connect with anyone else or talk to anyone else,

Damian: Yes.

Luke: and have no space to talk to anyone else.

And it's, those kinds of things. It's no, actually the talks are important with these kinds of events, but actually the time to hang out with people is just as important. And I think that is that's the thing that, we've all been craving as well when we had that two years.

away from human people is actually getting some face to face time with people and, hanging out and chatting and just, I don't know, shooting the breeze, having a drink.

Damian: No, I totally agree. I think that's definitely one of the reasons that led to, to start all of this. But most importantly, that there's a point where there's all this knowledge and content that's already online. So it really there's, it's not the reason to attend is not anymore.

The high, the edu continuing your education and that your employer helps you like get better. It's really about. Who you can connect to there. And of course you're going to learn a thing or two with the speakers, but it's really about that collective sort of feeling a little bit like a concert as well.

Luke: yeah exactly. And I think it's, it's sparking ideas, right? It's not about necessarily learning stuff. It's about watching a talk and just having that idea sparked that then you can go and chat to somebody else about. That's the powerful stuff. That's the cool stuff. Yeah, that's, and that's what I'm looking forward to.

Damian: I totally agree. Look, thanks so much and see you in October at Hatch.

Luke: Can't wait. 

Damian: See you soon.

Luke: Bye.

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