Tolu Adegbite

What does accessibility design look like at the largest social media company in the world? According to this week’s guest, Tolu Adegbite, it’s a lot more than you may think! Between websites, apps, and devices, there are a lot of considerations to factor in, and Tolu’s unique background makes her well-equipped to solve these problems.

Tolu gave us a peek into the mood at Meta fresh off the launch of Threads, and she spoke about her day-to-day routine being on the company’s app design systems team. She also shared her story of starting out as a developer, and went into how recent current events inspired her to get more involved with including intersectionality as a key factor in her work. Tolu’s also writing her first book, so she talked about how she juggles that with also being a graduate student.

Tolu is a great example of how using your life experiences can shape your creative perspectives!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Tolu Adegbite:

Hi. My name is Tolu Adegbite. I’m a product designer. Currently in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. And I work on inclusive design. Right now I work at Meta, specifically working on Facebook, the design system, and making that as inclusive as possible.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. How has your year been going so far?

Tolu Adegbite:

My year so far has been really interesting. I think this year started off kind of tough. There were a lot of just layoffs happening in tech. I felt like everywhere I looked on social media, there were just like a lot of sad messages, layoffs people having to really rejig their lives. So I kind of took a step back. I got rid of most of my social media accounts, which is kind of ironic seeing as I work for a social media company, but I really needed to take some time out to get in a better headspace because of all the tough stuff that was going on. But now I’m definitely feeling a lot more optimistic. I feel like things are turning around, so I’m feeling good about the year from here on out.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, look, I can tell you as someone that also was laid off during that time, I know what you mean about sort of retreating from social media and just seeing all of that as it takes place. Because there was a period last year where I felt like there were layoffs happening every week for like a few months. And not in small numbers either. It’s like 200 people here, 1,000 people here, and it can be super demoralizing, especially if you’re somewhere and you’ve survived a layoff like that. Survivor’s guilt. It’s bad and social media just compounds upon it.

Tolu Adegbite:

Absolutely. I totally agree. I know so many people who experienced the same thing, but for the people who weren’t laid off, there definitely is that survivor’s guilt. Looking around, realizing that it could have just as easily have been you. It was a really unusual way to start the year, especially given last year was the complete opposite. Everyone and their dog had gotten a new job and was talking about it on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:

And this is independent of, sort of, talks about layoffs. Social media as a concept has been in a tailspin this year, particularly with the advent of new services — and we’ll talk about Threads — but with the advent of new services and stuff like that, it’s causing a lot of people to sort of re-examine their relationship to social media. Like…we’ll just talk about it. Twitter is crumbling at the moment and people are looking at all these different alternatives to possibly go it could be on Spill, they could go on BlueSky, they could go on Mastodon, et cetera. And it’s causing some people to say, “you know what? What if I just divest altogether from social media and not use any of these new platforms?” It’s an interesting time to be a social media user, I think.

Tolu Adegbite:

It definitely is. I feel like for so long it’s been a source of a lot of community. I am a chronic lurker. So for years I would lurk on Twitter without ever having an account. But I don’t think you can even do that anymore. I definitely can’t see accounts now that I’m not currently on Twitter, so it’s definitely an interesting time. Definitely more difficult to look in from the outside if you are also a chronic lurker like I am.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I hear you. Yeah. Twitter is becoming a walled garden. Some of these other places are similarly like that, where maybe you can only see a couple of things, but you have to join. And it would be one thing if the social media were more inherently social, but then it’s like tied up with algorithms and data collection, and you’re just like, I just want to talk to my friends and see what they’re doing and look at cute pictures and all that sort of stuff.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, especially since the pandemic. I think social media started being a major source of interaction for me during those, what, like, years that we couldn’t really do much in Ontario. Our laws were pretty intense about lockdown. There was a point in time where you couldn’t even leave your apartment. You couldn’t go outside with anyone who you didn’t live with. So social media was pretty much as much as I interacted with my friends and people that I knew.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. What do you want to try to accomplish for the rest of this year?

Tolu Adegbite:

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mindset and perspective on my career. I’m going to keep it short, but ultimately, I think as a Black woman growing up in this country, I’ve learned to present kind of a palatable version of myself. And I realize in the work world, it doesn’t always translate to where I want to go in my career and I’m having to show up differently. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that, and I’m really focused on my career this year, where I want it to go and how I think my skill set can kind of propel my career forward.

Maurice Cherry:

Can you expand on that a little bit?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m one of those people who I think, lived in a fantasy land. When I was a kid, I was in my head so much, so I really remember my childhood very well. And I remember as far back as grade one, grade two, sitting in class, feeling like I had to be really good. I don’t think I could put it to words back then, but there definitely was this feeling that in order for me to not be seen as a problematic child, that I had to present myself in a certain way. I had to be super smart. I had to always be raising my hand and giving answers. I had to be super nice to the people in my class. I just had to be the best student, a model student, and I’ve definitely taken that through with me today. I feel like I’m a compulsive people pleaser. And that doesn’t really translate well into the workplace, especially when you want to take on leadership roles.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. These companies will drain everything out of you and ask for more, so I know exactly what that feeling can be like of always trying to make sure that you’re showing up in the right way and doing the right things. And oftentimes, even if you’re doing that, just how you’re presented in the workplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to have a good effect, which can be a bit jarring, I think, especially if you’re early in your career, it can be a bit jarring because everything that you’ve been sort of told and seen has been to that point where that’s what you’re supposed to do, that’s what you’re being told that you have to present and do. And then you get in the workplace and they’re like…not so much. It doesn’t necessarily translate that way.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. Especially starting my career as a developer, I definitely did not think about this stuff nearly as much. But I feel like as a designer, half of your craft is just how you show up. You could have the most amazing ideas and innovative, I don’t know, ideas for apps and ideas. But if you don’t show up in the right way, if you’re not confident, no one is really going to take your idea on board as well as if you show up in a certain way, which is really interesting to me. Half of this job is just how you present yourself.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. I’m thinking of like ten to fifteen years ago, when conversations around Black folks in technology, particularly around this new area of tech with social media and stuff like that, and how those conversations have went about and how people are trying to present themselves and making sure that you were a part of all this. It’s kind of amazing that even now, after all of that, that these are still sort of such big concerns, because company culture — trust me when I tell you this — company culture has changed a lot. Like a lot, a lot since then, but yet these are still kind of these pervasive things that mostly people of color have to deal with.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. Now that you bring that up, I feel like life kind of exists as life before and after the pandemic, but similarly life before and after George Floyd. And I think I saw a complete kind of change in how I think about work, in what we’re allowed to say, what we’re not allowed to say after that. I feel like that completely changed my career. It was recent, but a lot of conversations have happened since then. A lot of conversations that I don’t think would have happened before George Floyd.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m curious about this because you’re in Canada and granted, you know what you’re mentioning, like with George Floyd and things, this is like…I wouldn’t say it’s a uniquely American issue, but certainly it’s something that people worldwide have been able to resonate with. I’m just kind of curious know, you being from Canada, growing up in Canada, and now having to sort of hear about these issues and see how it affects your workplace. Like, how does that make you feel?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, I think growing up in Canada is really interesting. Our proximity to the U.S. makes it so that sometimes I’m more aware of American news than I am of Canadian news. Our Canadian news sources are definitely talking about American news, but we definitely felt it up here too. I think there’s this perception that these are problems that are unique to America. They’re really not. Whenever I go to the U.S. and I meet Black folks, one thing that really strikes me is that very often I’m asked, “is there racism in Canada?” And it really breaks my heart in a way that the thought of Black Americans is like, is there a place out there where this doesn’t exist? And the answer is no, it exists up here too. But it’s definitely a different brand. I think Canadian culture kind of makes it more covert, it’s less out there than it is in America. But we definitely had those conversations. Definitely was a reckoning here too, but probably not to the extent that Americans dealt with.

Maurice Cherry:

Hmm. Well, I’m not going to stay on this. This is not a nationalist podcast about, you know, issues like this. I want to talk about you and your work, so let’s go into that. So you’re a product designer at Meta. Tell me more about kind of the work you’re doing there. You mentioned you’re on the, sort of, Facebook product. Like, talk to me about that.

Tolu Adegbite:

I know that when Meta came out as a brand, there was some confusion, but I’ll just explain it for folks who are listening. Meta is the parent umbrella company that is an umbrella over Facebook. WhatsApp, Instagram, Threads, Reality Labs, all that stuff. So Meta is the parent company over Facebook. So yes, I work at Meta, but specifically, mostly on Facebook at this moment in time. And it’s been really interesting. I think there’s a very specific external perception, and we’re not going to talk about that too much. But I will say working at Facebook at Meta, one thing that I’ve been really surprised by is just the amount of attention that’s paid to accessibility and inclusive design. It’s definitely a bigger topic here than it’s been probably anywhere else I’ve worked, which is really incredible. Yeah, it’s really incredible. And I’m excited that I’m here at this point in my career that I don’t have to fight and explain why what I do is important and we’re just getting to the work and trying to make these products as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Maurice Cherry:

Tell me more about what does a typical day look like for you? Are you working with a team? Are you working remotely in the office? Like, what does that look like?

Tolu Adegbite:

So I work remotely from Toronto. There are several of us here, but not a lot. Most of my coworkers are in the U.S. on the West Coast, in California. But a typical day looks like…it looks like a lot of conversations with the design systems team; accessibility falls under that team. We do a lot of the typical stuff. We do crits, we talk about components, we talk about the future of our design system. But we spend a lot of time actually thinking about how to make these things considering the largest number of people. When you work on a product that touches billions of people, it really is a huge consideration and something that we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, I know you mentioned you’re not going to get too much into Facebook stuff. We’re not going to dive into that too much. But on the show a couple of episodes ago, I talked with Kevin Tufts. He’s a product designer. He works…I think he works moreso on the Instagram side from what he mentioned to me. But when we had talked before, this was prior to the release of Threads, which is an Instagram app very similar to Twitter in that it’s sort of this microblogging platform that you can basically put out…I mean, I’m saying “tweets”, but you can put out these small posts. It’s connected in a way to Instagram in that you can share to and from things like that. And that just came out a couple of weeks ago. It’s had massive appeal. I think there’s up to 30 million plus people that joined within the first 24 hours or so.

Knowing that, what is the internal mood at Facebook like? Because Facebook has taken some knocks. They’ve had layoffs, there’s been the whole thing about the metaverse, et cetera. But now it seems like Facebook’s got like a win in the win column. Like, what’s it like there?

Tolu Adegbite:

You know, internally the feeling is really optimistic. There’s some really tangible excitement and that’s a really nice feeling, especially after how things have been in the tech industry lately. You can tell people are really excited and it’s awesome. So many people are trying it out themselves, wanting to test, wanting to dog food, kind of to make sure everything’s working as it should. So it feels really awesome to see that kind of excitement and it definitely is energizing.

Maurice Cherry:

Does any of your work deal with Threads in any way?

Tolu Adegbite:

Not so much. It’s mostly falling under Instagram, so they kind of do their thing. But there definitely are conversations, especially when it comes to inclusive design concepts.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m going to be really interested to see how Threads and these other similar services are going to play out in the market over the next few years. It’s not the first time that there have been a number of Twitter-like clones that have come out trying to unseat Twitter. And I think I mentioned this actually, I don’t know if I mentioned this on the show — I might have mentioned it a couple of episodes ago — but right around like 2006, 2007 when Twitter was starting to sort of come out of its quote-unquote “beta phase”, but it was becoming more popular and more well known. There were a number of other services that tried to compete for that same market share. There was Yammer. There was Pownce. Jaiku. Oh, God…it’s Plurk. That’s what it was. Plurk is another one. And they were all kind of trying to sort of compete for that same space of like “we also want to be a microblogging platform.” And this is prior to what people know of Twitter as now. This was 2007, because Twitter had pivoted from this podcasting startup. Actually, I don’t know if a lot of people know that it started out as this podcasting startup called Odeo — O-D-E-O — and then they pivoted into this sort of microblogging-esque platform around 2006.

So I’m just curious to see how they will fare because a lot of those services now got bought by bigger companies and then they shut them down or they’re just super popular in other countries and not so much here in the U.S. I know people are trying to migrate to Threads, migrate to BlueSky, migrate to Mastodon, et cetera. I’m still kind of taking a wait-and-see approach to see where the masses go or where the conversation — or really where the culture — ends up moving towards. I mean culture in a broader sense, not just like Black folks, but where the general Internet culture is going to migrate towards because it eventually will settle honestly into one place. Like it’s not going to be, I think as splintered as it is right now.

Tolu Adegbite:

I hope that happens, you know, for the culture. I really do miss Black Twitter. That was amazing. I don’t know if it’s still happening because I can’t see Twitter, but I would be really happy if everyone ended up kind of in the same space. That would really be ideal for me.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, only time will tell. I think it’s way too early now for anyone to really be able to pontificate on who’s going to, quote unquote, win. Still a little early to tell.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, we can check back in in a bit and see where this all lands.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Speaking of that, Facebook’s coming up on its 20th anniversary next year. What do you think their place is now in this modern Internet age?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, that’s an interesting thought. I definitely remember when Facebook became a thing, probably when I was in elementary school, high school maybe. It’s interesting to see how it’s progressed now, how the audience has kind of like grown and changed and shifted. I think Mark Zuckerberg has been really good. historically, he’s made a lot of good bets. Things are going really well. He’s invested in the right places. And I think going forward it’s still going to remain like a powerhouse. There are billions of users, there’s a really big international presence, and I don’t think that’s necessarily going to change. My great aunt uses WhatsApp. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, but I think we’ll definitely continue to see maybe things change, but I don’t really foresee it, I don’t know, going anywhere anytime soon.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, that international presence is also, you know, there’s all these other products that are not just Facebook. You mentioned WhatsApp I know there’s different versions of Facebook in other countries like Facebook Lite, et cetera, and…it’s not the number one website in the world by accident. In some places, Facebook is the internet. So to kind guess, you know, prematurely call it dying. Like I’ve heard a lot, certainly here in the like Facebook’s everywhere.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, it’s growing and changing. And I think Threads is a really big testament to the team being willing to kind of go where the audience needs them to grow with the audience and the base. So that’s pretty awesome to see.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, seeing that Facebook has that global footprint, let’s talk more about what you do in terms of accessibility. Can you kind of touch on how your work affects different products at Facebook?

Tolu Adegbite:

So I started out as a developer, like I mentioned before. Kind of fell into right out of school working on web accessibility, so finding accessibility issues, fixing them…, So when I say accessibility issues, I mean things like color contrast. If you go on a website and you can’t see the text because the color contrast is too low. Or visible focus indicators, if you’re pressing the Tab button to navigate through a form and you can’t see where your cursor is. So things like that eventually morphed into working on it from the product design angle.

But it’s been really energizing to come here and see that this is a focus area and be able to work on these parts of the app design system before they make it to people and starting at that stage. So there’s a small but passionate team working on that. And I kind of see my role on that team as coming from external places that talked about web accessibility and tried fixing it, working on it in multiple different ways. But these days one of the things I’m really most passionate about is inclusive design and specifically what intersectionality means in the context of all these things.

Maurice Cherry:

Talk about that a bit more.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. So I’ll tell you how I started thinking about that.

I worked at Shopify a few years ago, and while I was there, I wrote an article for the blog. I can’t really remember why it came to mind. Probably still the fallout of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protest in the U.S., but I was thinking a lot about what this means for accessibility. So there’s this awesome woman — she wrote this book called “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard.” She was the first deafblind person to ever graduate from Harvard Law, which is a pretty massive deal, in part because before she started at Harvard Law, there were not materials that existed for a deafblind person to make it through the program. Right? Like, they didn’t have access to braille for all their materials. They didn’t have, necessarily maybe, interpreters…things like that. And she got through it. I was really touched by her story, but also her social media presence. She talks a lot about her experience as a deafblind woman who is of African descent. She made a post in particular talking about how when she interacts with other blind people, they almost always assume that she’s white. And that really got me thinking. Why is that?

It got me thinking, especially [as] someone who works in inclusive design about things like alternative text. So, you know, when you go on a website and the image is broken and you see a little bit of text, like dog, you see that text. If someone has put an alternative text attribute, which basically is what someone using something like a screen reader would hear, when their screen reader hits that image, they would hear whatever alternative text you put on it. If you put any. And oftentimes if a website even has alternative text, it’s very basic. Let’s say we go on a news website and there’s, I don’t know, a picture of a farmer. It might say farmer standing on a field, but it won’t really say anything about what the farmer looks like. Typically when we do that, I guess in a society where white is kind of the majority is seen as the default, you kind of implicitly are sending the message that this person is white, right? Yeah, it really got me thinking.

I noodled on that for a really long time, and I thought about my own experiences in elementary school. I was one of those kids who had begged to stay inside at recess, so I’d go to the library and read by myself. I read a lot of books, and I actually didn’t read a single book with a Black main character probably until middle school. And up until that point, I kid you not, I just assumed that people didn’t write books about Black people. It never even occurred to me that I just wasn’t coming across books with Black main characters for a reason. And so I was like, “okay, this is absolutely an accessibility issue.” Let’s write an article about it.

And I did, and initially actually, it’s a little bit controversial. It initially was not approved to be published, which was interesting, but eventually the editorial team was like, “okay, we’ll publish it.” But my one condition was, “okay, we cannot publish it during Black History Month.” I’m not going to publish this during Black History Month because I don’t want this to be like a topic that we relegate to Black History Month and never again. But I wrote that article, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten hate mail. So believe it or not, some folks from the inclusive design community, I’m assuming it was those folks who were reading it, some people made fake email accounts and just, like, sent me hate mail. And I was like, “wow, this is kind of wild, kind of offensive.” But I’m like, you know what? If this is upsetting people to the extent where they’re sending me hate mail about it and telling me that race is irrelevant to people who are blind, then it means that I need to talk a lot more about it.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, look, I can tell you, as someone that has done a podcast where I talk to Black designers, I can completely believe that you got sent hate mail because people are really shook by the acknowledgment of race. Like, what you’re saying is not pinpointing this on any specific person or people. You’re saying like, “this is a behavior that needs to be corrected for greater context.” And then people are sending you hate because you want clarification. It’s madness. But I can 100% believe that you got that, which I’m sorry to hear that you’ve gotten that, but unfortunately, I can believe it.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. And I guess people had very strong reactions. But I guess working in accessibility, you kind of have these rose-colored glasses — or I did — thinking that, okay, this is a space where we’re talking about exclusion. We’re talking about people who are from marginalized groups. There absolutely should be a conversation about this. And I was really surprised that that conversation wasn’t necessarily welcome, which tells me that the folks who have the loudest voices in this community are maybe from one marginalized group, but aren’t seeing the intersection with others. Like the experience of a white woman who is blind is going to be very different from Black African immigrant who is blind, who is deafblind. And I think having more conversations about that is really important. But I’ve just really learned that for some reason, these conversations have not been at the forefront of the inclusive design movement. That tells me I need to talk about it more.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you think that it’s getting better?

Tolu Adegbite:

I don’t think I’m seeing enough conversations happen about it. The vast majority of people I know who work in inclusive design are white people. And I inherently…obviously the people who are going to talk about this issue the best are the people who’ve experienced it, right? So I think getting more Black folks in the inclusive design community will make it so that those conversations happen more often. But of course, people who don’t experience kind of what happens at these intersections of multiple marginalized identities, of course they can’t talk about it. They definitely shouldn’t be silencing us either.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, we’ve talked a lot about. Your work, what you’re doing at Facebook, et cetera. Let’s kind of shift gears and learn more about you as a person, as a designer. Tell me about where you grew up. Are you originally from Toronto?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. So I was born in Nigeria in a place called Ilé-Ifẹ̀, and I moved here when I was about four years old, and I’ve lived in the greater Toronto area, like, Toronto, the towns in and outside of it ever since. So I definitely feel very Canadian. But at the same time, I think a lot about my culture. I speak Yoruba. My parents speak Yoruba. To me, we’re immigrants, and it’s something that I think a lot about. Even though I think people often don’t read me as an immigrant, maybe because of my accent, I think it’s still a very important part of my identity.

Maurice Cherry:

Were you exposed to a lot of design and stuff growing up?

Tolu Adegbite:

Absolutely not. I did not think this was a job, which is why I started out as a developer. I felt like that’s the closest I could get to making things online look nice. When I told my parents that I was going to do design, I think there was a bit of a freak out. My mom was like, “what are you going to design? Like, houses?” There definitely was a disconnect in what that meant. But yeah, it’s interesting what design actually means on the inside. It’s been really amazing, and I think there’s, like, nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Maurice Cherry:

Now you ended up going to the University of Toronto. Tell me about sort of, like, what your time was like there and whether it really kind of helped you once you got out there as a working designer.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, I went to U of T for my undergrad. I studied psychology. U of T was the first university I kind of knew of in Toronto. There’s kind of this joke in the Nigerian community that U of T, for some reason, is like, the only university Nigerian people in Nigeria know about. So when I was little, my dad would take us there, take us to downtown, and he asked me once, when I was like, maybe five or six years old, :which university are you going to go to?” And I looked around and we were at U of T. So I was like, “I’ll go to the University of Toronto.” And then I kind of did.

I think in my head I thought I would always go there because it’s just the one that I knew of. So that was really interesting. I learned so much studying psychology, and it’s probably very cliche because I know it’s, like, one of the most common undergrads that people take. But I learned so much about myself and the way that I look at the world in classes like sex roles and gender and cultural psychology, I just completely shifted my worldview. How I think of things, especially as an immigrant. When my parents and I argue, I look at it from a cultural psychology lens. Why are we arguing? It’s because our collectivistic versus individualistic outlooks on the world are colliding. So I think it definitely helped shift how I look at the world. And I think that’s been really important as a designer to not singularly look at things from this individualistic lens, but think of things from kind of how alternate cultures will look at things. And I think I definitely live in between two cultures, so maybe it makes it a little bit easier to shift my mindset.

Maurice Cherry:

And I would imagine, kind of with the work you’re doing with inclusive design and accessibility, that psychology background is probably super helpful.

Tolu Adegbite:

I’d like to think so. I definitely try to look at it from that perspective. But ultimately, there’s so many different disabilities that people have, you’re never going to understand necessarily where all your users are coming from. So I try to, I don’t know, stay humble, try to not fall into that all-knowing designer kind of stereotype.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I think at least it probably gives you some empathy into knowing what those kind of different disabilities would be. So tell me about your early sort of post grad career. I know you ended up working for Publicis Sapient as a product designer and as a developer, and you were there for a little over three years. Talk to me about what that experience was like.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yes. So after undergrad, I was like, okay, psychology is awesome, but what am I going to do now? And I kind of just went online trying to find interesting things to do, and I was like, oh, web development looks cool. I could do that. So I studied web development for a year at Humber, and then I started working at Sapient as a web developer. That was really interesting in that I worked mostly on websites, on the digital side of things, worked on a lot of different things. But it was also my first time working with designers, UX designers and visual designers. And I just kind of spent a lot of time working with them. I felt like they were kind of like my people. We talked a lot about how users might think about their perspectives, and I was like, I kind of want to do this. I feel like I could do this. Eventually, I convinced my very supportive director to let me kind of dabble in both, and eventually I moved over to UX.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, usually when I think about designers that are working at an ad agency — that’s what Sapient is — it’s moreso, like visual design or art director or creative director. But you were working on the development side. So they had, like an in-house team, it sounds like.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, exactly. So we’d work on different accounts, creating their websites or digital campaigns, like mini microsites and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

And you said this is your first time kind of working with UX designers and such; did that give you a greater sense of the type of work that you could be doing?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, I had no idea that that job even existed. I think I always have loved creativity. I love art. I took art in grade eleven. Grade twelve. I took art as often as I could. I would go to art classes. But there was this one art class I took where the teacher told me I had no technical talent, and I kind of believed her. So for years…

Maurice Cherry:

Damn.

Tolu Adegbite:

I know, right? She was kind of right. But for years, I felt like I couldn’t even broach that world. I didn’t draw anymore. I didn’t paint anymore. I was never very good, but there were fun things to do outside of work. But for the first time, I saw design through a lens of not necessarily being making pretty things, but working on creating products and functional things that could exist in the real world, in the digital world. And I felt like I was more able to do that. I’m not going to be able to produce a beautiful oil painting rendering of you, but I can definitely design a landing page or a form. So I think that kind of work really appeals to me. It feels very logical in a way that appeals to me, but also creative in that you’re bringing together these elements in a way that kind of makes sense for your audience. But to me, it’s like the most creative job, even though you’re not necessarily making anything visually, like, groundbreaking or anything.

Maurice Cherry:

Now back then, were you focused on inclusive design and accessibility, or is that something which kind of came about later on in your career?

Tolu Adegbite:

I think starting as a developer working on web accessibility, it definitely was the lens through which I always wanted to work in UX design, product design. And it was kind of how I made my case in that we didn’t have a lot of people who are specializing in accessibility, but even fewer who did that from the product design side of things. So I was able to make a case for that need on the team by working on things through that lens.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, after you were working at Sapient, you worked at Shopify for a while, which you kind of mentioned a bit earlier. Tell me about that experience. I’ve heard that their internal design culture there is really good. Is that what your experience was like?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, I felt like their culture was really intentional, and it kind of presented design through a different lens for me. Yet again, that’s when I started thinking of design not only looking like building interfaces, but building your team, building very intentional relationships with your partners in product management, in development. Yeah, definitely very intentional. Definitely lots of process behind the way that things were done. It was a really nice way to broaden my horizons I feel it was a really good experience.

Maurice Cherry:

And from a design perspective, what sort of things were you working on there at Shopify?

Tolu Adegbite:

At Shopify, I specifically worked on Shopify Fulfillment Network, which — rest in peace — they had a recent round of layoffs, which is basically shedding that part of the company. But it was kind of their answer to Amazon Fulfillment. It was enabling merchants, small merchants, to ship out things from warehouses from centralized locations. And I felt like design was just taken very seriously there.

I was working on a project to build, like, a system for the warehouse. And so I started by requesting a visit to the warehouse because I had never visited a warehouse before. And so I went to a warehouse. I worked there for a couple of days, chatted with all the folks on the ground and yeah, got to experience the warehouse through their eyes, I guess. And then I went to start doing the design work, but it felt like they took it so seriously. They actually listened to me. They actually let me experience what I was designing for. And that was really cool. That’s still, I think, one of the most maybe interesting projects I’ve worked on. I feel like it was kind of like that seminal project that I worked on that made me officially a designer.

Maurice Cherry:

I get what you’re saying. Yeah. Sometimes once you start to get that internal validation, or rather I would say, once you get that external validation from your team, that the work that you’re doing is making that impact, it does so much for morale. It does so much for sort of just building yourself up as a designer to know that you are making good decisions and that you’re doing good work.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, absolutely. I guess it brought that aspect of maybe what I love about psychology, getting to understand other people into it. It wasn’t just sitting in a room and I guess making decisions from afar.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, you’re also currently working on a book about intersectionality and design, which we’ll get to. But before we talk about that, I’d love for you to kind of give your definition of inclusive design. What does it mean to you and why? Is it something that other designers should be sort of aware of as they work?

Tolu Adegbite:

I think inclusive design to me is going beyond just compliance and following accessibility laws and making sure you’re up to code. It’s about truly designing for a variety of experiences to make a good experience for the variety of users that you have, whether that’s users with disabilities or users without disabilities, maybe users with temporary or situational disabilities.

But for me, specifically, bringing intersectionality into it is what I thought of a lot after know those few rounds of hate mail. I think that word is so often kind of divorced from where it initially came, intersectionality. Kimberlé Crenshaw, like, that whole thing was about the multiple types of oppression that Black women experience, right? Like the misogyny and the racism, how does that intersect to create a unique social experience for Black women? Let’s pivot and look at accessibility in that same way. How does being disabled and being a Black person, being a brown person, being an immigrant, how do those things intersect to create a unique experience of disability, of exclusion, but kind of bringing Black folks back into that conversation? I’ve had experiences where I’ve seen people use the word intersectionality, and never do they even mention Kimberlé Crenshaw or Black people, which I’m like….that’s wild. That’s where the word came from. So I think we need to have those conversations. I think we need to acknowledge where this word came from, what the concept means. Kimberlé Crenshaw…shout out to her. She is still making books. She’s still writing things. She’s still talking about this. We need to acknowledge where this term came from and what it actually means.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, how does this sort of factor into the work that you’re doing with your book? Is it kind of expounding on this in terms of design?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, I think what I’m hoping to do is have more conversations about this. Get people thinking about it, get people to understand that just like a lot of other places in tech in which we have kind of our dominant group in society, white men driving things, it’s the same thing in the disability movement right now, in the accessibility movement right now. And that needs to shift in order for the accessibility movement to truly be helpful for people who are not kind of the dominant societal group, right? People of color, immigrants are more likely to be disabled because of things like environmental racism, less access to essential health care. It absolutely is an important conversation to have because we make up so much of the body of disabled people in our countries.

Maurice Cherry:

I remember super early conversations around web accessibility back when I was — oh, God, I keep aging myself when I say these things — back when I was designing websites in 2005, and even just trying to advocate for alt text on images and being told that, “oh, well, that’s only for disabled people and they’re not really using the web and stuff like that.” And I know that a lot of the technology around accessibility has increased, especially as browsers have gotten better. but I remember when it was just like pulling teeth to get people to even consider accessibility when it came to their work. They just wanted to make interesting, cool stuff online and didn’t think about anybody, but just impressing, I don’t know, other designers or friends of theirs, not thinking about who the people were that could possibly be using the thing that you’re designing.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, and I think in some circles that’s still the situation, unfortunately. But I think a lot of people maybe don’t know people who are disabled or like a lot of folks don’t maybe or didn’t know people who are Black in the past and that kind of painted their worldview on who Black people are. But if you know people who are disabled like anyone else, people who are disabled just want to have their independence and be able to do things that everyone else does. So if we don’t make our banking website accessible, the consequence of that is…the real world consequence is that someone out there needs to trust a third party to handle their money, and that’s not really a situation that would be acceptable to anyone else. So why should we subject disabled people to that experience?

I definitely think that things like laws and getting sued and lawsuits are a big reason why people are starting to care. Companies are starting to care, net-net honestly, if that’s what gets them to make their websites accessible, that’s fine with me. Be nice if it came from a place of “this is what’s right,” but if it’s going to come from the law, that’s cool too.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I totally agree with that. Having that accountability is unfortunately the only way that some companies are going to make that happen. Like they have to be fined or otherwise censured in order for them to actually take it seriously.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, absolutely. And if that’s what gets us where we need to be and having the right conversations, I can live with that.

Maurice Cherry:

There’s a book on inclusive design written by Reginé Gilbert. She’s been on the show a few times actually, who wrote “Inclusive Design for a Digital World”. Really great book. If people are listening and they want to just learn more about this, they should check that out. But I’m super interested in seeing what your book is going to be like when it comes out because I think definitely what you mentioned with intersectionality and race as it relates to design is something that is still super important, especially during this current — I guess you could say in the U.S. — this current political climate. But I think it’s probably worldwide or starting to become worldwide as it relates to things like critical race theory and things like that, where things are being either rewritten or omitted that just leave race out of it or completely rewrite history in some odd ways. So I’m really going to be interested to see the reception that your book gets once it’s out.

Tolu Adegbite:

I am interested in seeing myself finish writing it. I’ll definitely keep you posted. I’m excited to have this conversation; hopefully get less hate mail this time. But yeah, the fact that people have reacted so strongly to conversations about that tells me that we need to have more of those conversations and it’s something that we’re not talking about enough right now. But we definitely have folks who are starting to build that conversation. So I’m excited to join the chat.

Maurice Cherry:

So between your product design work that you’re doing at Meta, you’re writing this book, I think you also mentioned a bit earlier that you’re in another educational program. Is that right?

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, that’s right. So I’m starting a Masters of Inclusive Design program at OCAD U. So kind of a funny name, but Ontario College of Art and Design…University? It recently became a university. I’m so so excited about that. It’s a really small program, but it’s been really foundational in the accessibility and inclusive design community. And I’m excited to be surrounded by people who’ve done a lot of thought in this area and just to absorb their knowledge and learn from them.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I know Dr. Dori Tunstall was the dean there. She just came out with a book recently called “Decolonizing Design”, but I think she recently stepped down. And there’s another Black woman or BIPOC woman that’s stepping up as dean, I think.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, Dori’s amazing. I ran into her on the street in Toronto once and I talked to her for a while and she was super nice, and I was like, a weirdo. But she played a huge part in the creation of this program, actually, and in making it actually truly inclusive. This program has, like, remote and asynchronous options. It has options for folks who have to work while doing the program. And I’ve never really come across a program quite like that. So when Dori says inclusive design, Dori means inclusive design.

Maurice Cherry:

That’s awesome. Yeah, I had her on the show back in…oh God, 2015. Maybe she’s like episode 107 or something like that. At the time, she was still teaching in Australia. She was still teaching at Swinburne. This is before she came back to North America. So it’s been amazing to see just her glow up and change and really how fiercely she’s advocated for decolonizing design and inclusivity in her work. It’s been really a powerful thing to see.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah. And it’s one thing to say it, but actually doing it and creating a course that’s actually centered around being inclusive and providing multiple ways of learning where you’re able to codesign your education, that’s just walking the walk. And I really admire that. I never come across another higher education program like that, and I hope other programs take note and we can see more options for inclusive education.

Maurice Cherry:

So, Tolu, what does your downtime look like? I mean, I imagine a lot of this work takes up a lot of just, like, brain space and things like that. What do you do in your downtime?

Tolu Adegbite:

I’m working on that. I feel like I’ve been called by people in my life a bit of a workaholic, and I’m trying to just find hobbies that do not necessarily relate to my work. I’ve been doing some photography lately, which is fun. I really love plants. Trying to spend more time outside, but also watching movies, shows. Again, I feel like you really can’t unsee inclusive design. Right now. I’m watching “I’m A Virgo” about a 13 foot tall Black man from Oakland trying to find his way in the world. So, yeah, I really enjoy things like that. I need to get out more. But I love movies. I love film.

Maurice Cherry:

I need to catch “I’m A Virgo.” I know it just came out, I think last month — we’re recording in July. This will air in September. But I think it came out like June-ish something like that. I need to check it out because I’ve heard it’s really good.

Tolu Adegbite:

I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry:

What are some pieces of advice that you kind of find yourself coming back to? This could be, like, life advice, career advice, et cetera.

Tolu Adegbite:

This sounds kind of silly, but I say this. I think this is a quote from Winston Churchill, who is otherwise very problematic, but “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” Honestly, whenever something weird happens, something demotivating happens, I just think of that and I find it incredibly motivating. If you’re in hell, why would you stop there? You got to keep going so you at least move yourself out of hell. I’m not saying I’m in hell, but I find that quote really motivating and I think of it often.

Maurice Cherry:

Who are some of the mentors that have kind of helped you out in your career? And these could be peers as well, but who are some people that have really kind of helped you to get to where you are today?

Tolu Adegbite:

Oh, my gosh. Basically everyone you’ve talked to on this podcast. But I’ve been lucky enough to have some really amazing mentors in my time. The person who I worked with at my first company, Allison Walton, who got me started in web accessibility, amazing mentor. Zoltan Hawryluk, who I worked with as a developer, I got to dip some of him once a month. Just people who have been in the industry for a really long time have taught me so much. Tory Hargro, who works at Meta, has been such an incredible mentor to me. He’s amazing and he’s so accessible, even at his level, which is amazing. I work with a designer called Alexis Cotton, who has just been an incredible mentor to me. I’ve learned so much from her about how to show up. She’s a really unique and interesting person, and I feel really lucky to have access to all these people who have made themselves so available. And, yeah, it’s very humbling, and I don’t think I’d be doing the things I’m doing now if it wasn’t for those folks.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m going to text Tory and I’m going to let him know that I talked to you for the show. When you think back on your career and sort of what you’ve learned to get to this point, and I think you may have somewhat answered this earlier, but what are you still working on unlearning as you grow as a designer?

Tolu Adegbite:

I’m trying to unlearn that kind of being a wallflower, being humble, minimizing and shrinking myself to be palatable. I think it’s going to be a long process of unlearning. But, yeah, I’m trying to just show up more. I look around at my peers and kind of how they show up in rooms and how they take up space, and I’m like, I should take up that space too. And I think a lot of women struggle with this in general, but I want to take up more space, and I want to show up as that person who yeah. Who just puts themselves out there and doesn’t need to shrink themselves to make a version of them that they feel like is palatable to the people around them.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you have like, a dream project or something that you’d love to work on one day?

Tolu Adegbite:

Honestly, I can’t even think of one off the top of my head. My dream project is talking about inclusive design and intersectionality and where Black people, where people of color, where immigrants fit into this design story.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, as you look kind of into the future, of course, like you said, you’re still working on this book, you’re in this program. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like, what does Tolu in 2028 going to be doing?

Tolu Adegbite:

I see myself deleting a lot of hate mail.

Maurice Cherry:

Hopefully more than that. Hopefully more than that.

Tolu Adegbite:

I see myself having more conversations about these things, about it becoming more of a mainstream conversation. I think in the larger tech community, we’re definitely at the point where we’re talking about needing more diverse representation. I’m really hoping we can talk about that in the inclusive design community as well. I see myself growing, helping other folks in the way people have helped me. It’s funny you mentioned that. I feel like ever since the pandemic, I’ve learned to think a lot more short term back then. Couldn’t even plan, like, two weeks ahead. And so right now I’m focusing a lot more on what’s on my plate.

Maurice Cherry:

Look, I’m right there with you. People ask me now about stuff to do in October, and I’m like, “do I want to do that in October? Where am I going to be in October?” So I think we’re all, in a lot of ways, still kind of trying to come out of this pandemic and think about the future. But it feels like with what you’re doing, your path is set. It feels like if you keep on this path now of working on inclusive design, I think you’ve got a bright future ahead. Especially as we look at things like Web3, the metaverse, other social media platforms, things of that nature. There’s just going to be more and more opportunities because the Web is expanding in a way to include everyone that it just hasn’t before. Because technology is changing.

Tolu Adegbite:

Yeah, there’s a new frontier. There’s the Wild West, where no one has ever done these things before. And there’s definitely a lot of conversations to be had about how to make these completely new things inclusive and accessible. I definitely am super excited about the people who are around me at Meta. There’s actually surprisingly a huge number of Black folks at Meta now, kind of starting with Tory. I think he was actually the first Black designer on Facebook, which is pretty wild. But I definitely look around work and I feel like there are the right people around to help on that path, the right mentors, and that feels really awesome.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work? Where can they find you online?

Tolu Adegbite:

My website is tolu.xyz. Tolu is T-O-L-U. My Threads handle/Instagram is the same — tolu.xyz. Email. I’m also on LinkedIn. You can’t find me really anywhere else. I’m trying to reduce the amount of things that I consume, so those are probably the best ways to find me. Also via email. Old-fashioned.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, you also have the distinction of being the first person on the show to mention that they can be found on Threads.

Tolu Adegbite:

That feels pretty awesome. Hopefully future guests will follow that trend.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, Tolu, it’s been such a pleasure to have you on the show. So great to learn more about you and about your you know, like I said, the web is expanding in many different, know, virtual reality, et cetera, and the work that you’re doing just speaks to the greater need to include everyone in the conversation. So I really hope that with the work that you’re doing that we are all moving forward and closer to fulfilling that goal. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Tiffany Stewart

While the World Wide Web has evolved tremendously over the past couple of decades, it can still feel like we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to accessibility, even though this push for accessibility has existed since the first set of guidelines created by the W3C in 1999. Making the Web more accessible is a benefit to everyone, and Tiffany Stewart is working hard to make sure that happens.

Our conversation began with a discussion on her work at Thomson Reuters, and she shared how she got into design systems and accessibility. Tiffany also talked about moving to the U.S. from Jamaica as a teenager, attending college in Mississippi, and spoke on what prompted her to shift her focus from engineering to UX. Thank goodness we have future-thinking designers like Tiffany Stewart to ensure that we have a Web that we can all use!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Tiffany Stewart:
Hi, my name is Tiffany Stewart. I’m a senior UX designer specializing in digital systems with a focus on accessibility. And yeah, that’s me. Very much a blurb and just really passionate about accessibility and UX.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far? How’s 2022?

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, 2022 has been a blast and then some. I bought a house.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Tiffany Stewart:
Right. I am officially now a homeowner and I am in the process of building out my office. So I went and bought the IKEA cabinets and I attached them to the wall and I’m painting and I’m sanding and breaking out the miter saw. That is my life at the moment.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a huge accomplishment. Congratulations.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you. It was a lot. The process was a lot because I think it was right before the interest rates went up, so it was just like, “Oh my gosh, I have to hustle and get this house before everything just goes to pop.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that’s such a big accomplishment already for the year. Is there anything else that you still want to try to accomplish before 2023?

Tiffany Stewart:
I have so many, but I think for the immediate goal for me is to see this Black Panther movie that’s coming out this year, the second one, the Black Panther. And then on my professional work and getting my design system up and running to a point where it’s doing what it needs to do and folks are able to use it in a meaningful way. So yeah, those are my big ones for the end of the year.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s tap into a little bit about the work that you do. You mentioned you’re a senior UX designer and you’re working at Thomson Reuters. Talk to me about that.

Tiffany Stewart:
I think they initially hired me as a contractor to work on one of their products as a regular UX product designer. And then once they heard about my previous work on a design system prior, they’re like, “Oh, we’ll just move you over to the design system side so we can get that up and running and you can help facilitate that process.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” And so I shifted into that particular space. Design system tends to be more, because I think not many people know what design system designers do. It’s more of a space where you’re looking at applying concepts across the board holistically for several products and several teams and spaces. So my day to day is really thinking about, “Okay, how do I apply the concept of warning across a design system so that all of the products are consistently representing warning in a way that’s meaningful and consistent?”

So my day to day is that, making decisions about what our colors are going to be and how they’re going to be expressed and just setting all of that up so that the designers can build their products relatively quickly because all of these decisions are already made for them. So they can already just bring those into play. And then working closely with the accessibility team, which I’m very excited, the first time I’ve actually ever had one. Usually, it’s just me doing it by myself. But we do have a dedicated accessibility team at TR and they’re amazing to work with and we just make sure that the DS is accessible as possible, that our products are accessible as possible. So that’s my day-to-day.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about that accessibility. I’m curious, what does that look like at a news organization like Thomson Reuters?

Tiffany Stewart:
A lot of it is making sure that we are meeting WCAG requirements. We’re making sure that within the code itself, everything is labeled with the correct ARIA labels, that the DOM is in the correct order, so that when you are tapping through with your headings, everything gets represented semantically type of thing. Making sure that people who are using screen readers are able to get their news in a way that is accessible and meaningful to them. Because I think most people when they think of accessibility, they think, “Oh, I just have to match the color contrast ratio of 3:1 or whatever it is at the time.” But no, it’s actually making sure that the code works, that someone who is a purely keyboard user can tab through, everything makes sense when they tab through, they can read things, whether they are blind or otherwise situationally disabled.

And so we meet with the accessibility team regularly. My particular specialist that we work with is Yvonne, hey Yvonne. And then I think on the other side is Fariel. So we meet with them regularly. There’s a whole team of them, they’re amazing. We reach out, we ask questions, we pair and make sure that the code matches as well as the Figma files match so that all of our products in theory, leave the board fully accessible.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like that’s a lot to do from day to day. What does your regular everyday job look like?

Tiffany Stewart:
It is a lot of pairing. So I will pair with devs, I will pair with like I said, Yvonne on accessibility. And then it’s also a lot of research to make sure that we are meeting the use cases that are given to us by the various teams that we work with. And then figuring out those solutions for how do we solve their problem, but make it agnostic to a design system because it can’t be really specific. The teams are usually responsible for the more specific work that they do in terms of the workflow for their particular product. But from the DS side, it’s more of a super relatively agnostic approach to how can I apply, what does a header look like in an agnostic way that everybody can just pull from the DS and use. Modify here and there. But for the most part, this is generally what a header should look like and where things should go and it is accessible because we’ve already sorted out that when you tab through, it’s going to go through here, here, here and here.

Maurice Cherry:
And just to be clear, a design system would be different from say a brand guide or something because it seems like because you’re applying this across several different products, there’s just going to be different, like you said, situations or use cases where you may not be able to apply it directly, but maybe some elements of it. Am I getting that right?

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, that sounds about reasonable. Now brand does sort of inform a lot of the things because we can set those colors and that typography and some of the spacing as set colors within the system. And then if you are that brand and you are on the brand team, we at least have those in the system so that you can pull them if you need to. Those decisions are already made. So your H1 is in whatever font with whatever spacing that’s already set in the base token work. So whenever the engineers go to code it, they don’t have to worry about it. That H1 is always going to be that H1.

Maurice Cherry:
Got you. What’s probably the most difficult part about what you do?

Tiffany Stewart:
Probably convincing other designers that accessibility is the thing. That is probably the hardest thing. Now, I will say that my coworkers and my teammates at TR, we’re all very passionate about accessibility, so it’s not so much a problem there per se. But I’ve worked with other designers before or other strategists or other brand folks who are just… It is pulling teeth to get them to do the bare minimum of a contrast check on a color or a button or trying to understand that there are people… Is there a focus state that’s set? What happens if you try to tab through? Because a lot of sites will break. I think in my example at the State of Black design talk, I was just trying to buy a book from a website, but just using my keyboard and it completely failed. And so I wasn’t able to check out.

So in my mind, if we’re making a use case for it, which I don’t generally like applying to accessibility, but if you do need to make a use case or a business use case for it, you’re preventing people from buying your product by not making it as accessible as possible. It’s easy to throw away accessibility, I think because people as a very general rule, and I mean very generic here, seem to be willing to ignore people with disabilities or having a disability in general. You hear all these stories nowadays of airlines who are completely throwing away people’s wheelchairs or people not allowing the dog for the blind user in this space because of whatever. There’s a level of disposability there that I personally don’t enjoy and I don’t like seeing it. And more so too, if you’re looking at the numbers in the U.S., a good majority of the people who have disabilities do tend to be Black and brown people. So then I’m doubly more so like, “Oh no, no, no, we have to get into this.” We absolutely have to get into this.

Maurice Cherry:
And accessibility is one of those things that has definitely increased in importance over the years. Not just because more and more people have gotten on the web, but there are now more and more ways of experiencing the web that is not just through a standard computer monitor. There’s laptops, there’s smartphones, there’s smart watches, there’s probably a toaster out there that can get online. There’s all these different ways now to access information on the web. And granted those use cases are important, but also just as you mentioned, just differently abled people will have different sorts of things like vision requirements for high contrast or colors or even the alt text that you put on images is I think almost remedial accessibility and that’s still something a lot of people hem and haw over.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, they will fight you down. They will absolutely fight you down. Or they’ll produce this interface that has no contrast whatsoever. And so you’re just guessing at this point as to what is happening on that page? I don’t know. Because I think the new thing now is everything is light and bright, so there’s no borders on anything and everything just fades into the next one. And it’s very pretty aesthetically, I will give it that, but unfortunately it’s not really usable by everyone. And I think often people forget that by and large, when you make something that is accessible, that is usable by everyone, everyone benefits. Everyone benefits there. Like the grab bar in the bathroom, I am not disabled. However, the amount of times that I have slipped on the conditioner and that grab bar saved my life. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
And it can look cute too. So yeah, it’s just accessibility works literally for everyone, so why not just do it?

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And accessibility also makes sure that as many people as possible can experience what it is that you’re putting on the web.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember back in the day, we’re talking this is early 2000s, maybe even before that, when websites would have those badges that are, this site is best viewed an Internet Explorer 6 on a desktop that’s 1024 X 768. It was almost like a bouncer at the door telling you, you have to be this old to get in or something.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. Well, no, it’s a matter too, because I think what people don’t include in accessibility when they are thinking about the digital part of it too, is that they don’t include access. Not everybody has access to the best monitor, not everybody has access to the fastest processor and not everybody has access to a credit card. When we make everything credit card only for the longest time, I think before a Venmo and a PayPal came into the play, it was just the people that don’t have a credit card or don’t have that level of financial literacy don’t deserve to buy things. What are we saying when we don’t include that as part of the conversation around access and accessibility?

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say one thing that is also, I think made accessibility more important is the increase of multimedia on the web.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re recording a podcast. This podcast will have transcripts for accessibility.

Tiffany Stewart:
A transcript? Yes, thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Videos with captions-

Tiffany Stewart:
I was going to ask.

Maurice Cherry:
And things like that.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
We’re starting to see it be more and more commonplace now that the media that we consume is not just what we read, it’s also what we hear, what we see. Even smart speakers and devices, you have to talk to them in a certain way in order to get back what you need. All of that is a factor of accessibility.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, no. I think they just released a study maybe day before yesterday that Netflix was saying that the good majority of their users that have subtitles turned on are not blind or deaf.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s some shows I would watch with subtitles. I used to watch Scandal with subtitles just so I can make sure I can catch everything.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, I keep mine on. Yeah, I know because I’m like, “I don’t know what’s happening.”

Maurice Cherry:
Another thing that it’s good for, and this is not so much accessibility, but if you’re watching foreign language programs, to have subtitles in a different language. For me, it can help with learning a bit of the language because you know what they’re trying to say and what you hear, your mind connects those things together. But even with accessibility, there’s bad captions out there.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, I live for those.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a whole thing.

Tiffany Stewart:
I need to make a website that’s just bad captions. Because they’ll be like, “Pop music playing enthusiastically.” And you’re like, “What, where did that caption come from?” The descriptions are great, I love it. Yeah, yeah. No.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
But I’m just glad that they’re there at this point because like I said, people don’t think about those things a lot of times.

Maurice Cherry:
And we’re talking about now accessibility in a largely, I don’t want to say 2D context. You might see where I’m going here, but there’s been all this talk about Web3 and the metaverse, and you want to talk about inaccessibility? It’s inaccessible even for the average person because, it’s not only about what you can hear or see, but just to get it… And maybe this is a tangent of accessibility, but you have to be watching on a certain device that costs a certain amount of money and you’ve got to have a high speed internet connection. There are other barriers that I think people might not look at as accessibility that does factor into accessible web experiences.

Tiffany Stewart:
Absolutely. I talk about it all the time. I’m like, “So let’s talk about the actual experience part of this. How am I meant to experience this when I don’t have access to any of these things?” Maybe your point is to gatekeep, I don’t know, maybe. Because that’s usually the argument that will come up too, is that like, “Oh, well those people are not my target demographic.” And I’m like, “Run me by again, what exactly is your target demographic?” Because every demographic has someone who may or may not be disabled. So I’m not really sure why. Again, it just plays back the disposability of people with disabilities. So it’s stressful to me. I get annoyed all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s switch gears here a little bit. Let’s learn more about you, about your origin story. I can tell you’re very passionate about UX and about accessibility, but I’d like to get a sense of where that came from. So just to start off, where’d you grow up?

Tiffany Stewart:
So I am originally from Jamaica. I moved here when I was about maybe 14, 15. Don’t ask me about the numbers. It was a long time ago. And then moved here. And the immigrant family story, my options were either engineer, doctor, MBA. My career choices were very narrow based on that particular set of criteria, which to be fair, I gave my mom her engineering degree so I could be left alone. Right? But everyone in my family is either a physician or a NASA scientist in my cousin’s part. So we’re all pretty diverse in terms of our applications to STEAM and STEM work.

I was actually going to be a surgeon at one point. I was attending NYU as a bio major to do that. But I think working with my mom in terms of listening to her talk about medicine as it’s in medical practice as it functions today in the U.S. and really hearing the stories about how people with disabilities or even older people are treated in the hospital system. I was like, “I can’t sit back and not say anything about it.” So I think I got a lot of it from going to work with my mom and seeing how people were being treated within the medical space. And even being handed their prescriptions and they couldn’t read it or they had to fill out online forms and they didn’t know how. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fill out online form via a hospital, but it’s usually a very bad process. Nothing is readable, any of those things. Don’t even ask them about a language option for you.

So going through all of that and watching my mom do it and then getting into the digital space and then understanding and linking the two was probably what drove most of my passion for accessibility.

Maurice Cherry:
From what it sounds like, just based on life experience, that you had this early desire to get into this, but then you also just said, I gave my mom her engineering degree. I want to talk a little bit about that. You went to undergrad, you went to the University of Mississippi and majored in electrical engineering. Did you have an interest in it or were you just like, “This is what I need to do to get my family off my back?”

Tiffany Stewart:
No, no, no, no. I did. I really, really did. So back, oh my gosh, my mom is going to be so mad. So I dropped out of NYU, to which my mother was livid and that’s fair. But then I dropped out of NYU because the company that I worked for at the time had given me a promotion and wanted to send me out to California to train their engineers on a particular ticketing system that we were using for our IT program. And so while I was out there, I ended up switching jobs and then my job was basically what they call a client support specialist is what they called it. And I was basically a liaison between the engineering department, project management and the sales people and customers in order to get them moved into their co-location space, set up their routers, all of that extraneous good stuff.

This was back before when we were doing network address translations and you had to do a letter of justification in order to get IPs because they thought that the IPs were going to run out. It was a whole thing. It was pre 2000, so pre Y2K, they were very concerned about these things. So I did that. But then the Dotcom Bubble essentially burst. And so a lot of us in Silicon Valley got let go. And so I came back and I was like, “Okay mom, I’m ready.” So because of that work that I did with that ISP, I determined that I wanted to build computers because I thought that was fun. So I did electrical engineering specializing in computer engineering. So in theory, I could build you a badass circuit. So yeah, that’s how that happened.

Maurice Cherry:
But you had the interest in it though. That’s the important part, right?

Tiffany Stewart:
I am of a person who I like to take things apart and tinker. I like to work with my hands. Like I said, I’m building the shelves in my office. So miter saw, table saw, planar, let’s go. And I’ve always been that person. And then I’m also an only child, my mom’s only child. So she was very much of this is broken, you need to figure out how to fix it because I have to go to work. So I was like, “Well, got to figure it out.” But I’ve always had an interest in it and it was fine. I enjoy taking things apart. I’m a very curious person by nature. So I’m always fascinated about how things work, how things are put together. And you’ll see, you see me use the phrase all the time, “Oh my God, that’s fascinating.” Because I’m generally, I am that person.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, no, I understand. I went to college and I majored in math… Well, no, let me roll that back.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, math major.

Maurice Cherry:
I first majored in computer science, computer engineering because this was turn of the century, like ’99, 2000. Started college in ’99 and I had been already dipping my toe into web design with Tripod and Angel Fire, GeoCities, reverse engineering view source websites and stuff like that. And I thought, “Oh, if I become a computer engineer, I can design a website,” because I didn’t know. I had not heard of what a web designer was or if that was a thing. And I that first semester, I was taking courses in I think it was intro to computer programming, learning C++. And I was like, “This is not HTML. What is this? How do I make a website with this?” And I’m going to my advisor and telling him what I want to do. And my advisor, Dr. Jones, he was like, “If you want to do this internet stuff, that’s just a fad. If you want to get into that, this isn’t going to last. That’s not what we do here.”

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh no. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s like, “We don’t do that here.”

Tiffany Stewart:
But I will say they are teaching you the backend part of it. So they just completely tossed you over for the front end. But they gave you the backend part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but again, this was-

Tiffany Stewart:
You had that Java stuff too.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. And this was ’99. Our lab had Sun Microsystems and SGI Machines and stuff like that. So this was still very, very early in the web/internet days. And he was like, “We don’t do that here. We’ll teach you assembly, we’ll teach you C++, but if you want to do this web design thing, you might want to change your major.” And so the next semester, I changed my major to math. And then that’s just what I ended up getting my degree in. I like math, but people are always surprised with me being a designer that I have a math degree. I would imagine people are probably surprised you as a designer have an electrical engineering degree. They’re like, “How does that work?” For me, math teaches me how to think. Yeah, go ahead.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, that’s what I was going to say. I think for engineering, it teaches you how to identify a problem and think about the steps needed to solve the problem. So engineering for me teaches you how to think about problem solving, which as a UX designer, that is pretty much all that we do is problem solve. How do we get the checkout flow to work in such a way that they actually finish checking out? What are those steps? And if there’s an error, what happens? So going through all of those steps and iterating on that process by testing every time. It’s very much an engineering mindset, I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I know with math, the thing I think that struck me at one point learning math in college was that, “Oh, there are some equations that have either no solution or infinitely many solutions.” And that blew my mind at the time because I was like, “Wait a minute, I’ve been taking algebra and trig and calc and all these things.” They resolve to something. And they’re like, “Well, there are often going to sometimes be equations that don’t make sense, that are not going to have a solution or they’re going to have an infinite amount of solutions.” And so when I say it teaches you how to think, at least for me, it teaches me how to take something I may not know and process it and break it down. The steps of writing a mathematical proof to me are the same steps to writing a research paper, the same steps to writing a proposal for a client or a statement of work. It’s the same logical flow of take these elements, prove this thing, therefore this, all of that.

Tiffany Stewart:
I used to love those.

Maurice Cherry:
I look back at some-

Tiffany Stewart:
I was that weird kid in class who loves doing the geometric proofs. I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to show you that this is a right angle. Let me break it down right quick.”

Maurice Cherry:
I looked back at some of my old stuff. I found my thesis from, god, 20 years ago. I found my thesis recently that I wrote in college on sigma algebra and measure theoretic entropy with the existence of Lie groups. I have no idea what any of those things mean now. But I’m looking back at it and it’s just symbols and letters. I’m like, “I used to really know this. I don’t know it now.”

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes. Listen, I stopped because with electrical engineering, especially at Ole Miss, they were like, “We can’t let you do a math minor. You’d have to double major do EE and math.” And I was like, “Listen, after differential equations, I’m good.” It was differential, discreet, all of that. And I think after those classes is when you start getting into the theoretical math where they just don’t use numbers at all. It’s just theory and proving that this process works.

Maurice Cherry:
My last year and a half because I majored in pure math and my last year and a half, it was differential equations, it was topology. And my teachers, great teachers, but absolute sadists. They would be like, “I’m going to give this test and not everybody is going to pass this test.” Or they’ll say, “Well, these last two questions are only for my top students.” And there will be infinitely just wild stuff like, “What in the world? When am I ever going to use this?” I’ve never had to use anything with differential equations, ever. I love it though. The thing is, I went into math because I love it. I love to do the problems and solving and all that sort of stuff, which is a lot about what design is. It’s about solving problems, different kind of problems, but you’re still solving problems. And math teaches you those steps and ways to think and consider in a way that… I didn’t go to design school, so I don’t know, but I feel like it teaches you that logical way of thinking through something that perhaps design school may not.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. Because I think for me at least, it felt like design school was more about the psychology of things. So understanding color theory and understanding that different colors make people feel a different way than other colors do. So it’s more so about how these things make you feel more so than anything else. And so it was the engineering part that taught me the problem solving and then the design part that taught me the aesthetic piece. Is that the word?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the aesthetic piece. Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
The aesthetic piece Of it, and how things make you feel.

Maurice Cherry:
I totally get that. Yeah. Because for example, if you put red text on a blue background, yes, that’s going to be really jarring.

Tiffany Stewart:
I will fight you.

Maurice Cherry:
They won’t go together. But then mathematically, I know it’s because of the frequency of the color red against the color blue causes your eyes to do this weird jump shift. It’s really tiring to read that. So I’m like, “Okay, that’s why it doesn’t make sense.” I’ll always be trying to think of the reason behind the feeling instead of just going with the feeling, which I don’t know, maybe if I went to design school, I’d have more of that, “Oh yes, these colors, they mesh. I get it.” As supposed to being like, “Well, this makes sense because of some other reason.” But you end up going and majoring in design after you got your degree from Ole Miss, you went to Mississippi State and you majored in graphic design. Why did you make that switch?

Tiffany Stewart:
Well, because I wanted to be an animator. Funnily enough, I think they had not updated their website at the time. So Mississippi State was like, “Oh, we have an animation program.” Because I really wanted to do graphic design for film or design for film. And so I was like, “Oh, I can combine my problem solving with design if I become an animator and do that.” That was a thought process in my mind. I don’t know why. So on their website, they hadn’t updated it. And so I enrolled and got in and I was super excited and they were like, “Oh, we no longer have that program. All we have for you is graphic design, good luck.” And I was like, “Huh? Okay. Well let’s try it and we’ll see.”

But then I think at the time, maybe it was more so print focused than anything else. So I could tell you all the things about the GSM of paper. We did watercolor photography, all of those things. One of my favorite classes was 3D design. And so that’s when I spent most of my time in the wood shop. The instructor at the time, I think he was a famous furniture designer, but he was teaching us how to build things by sketching it out, thinking about from a 3D space perspective, how something would look and then we would have to build it, build it, build it. So did some sculptural work. It was great. Oh my gosh, that design program at Mississippi State, I loved it. It was great.

And then they also allowed me to pair with video game designers they had. And so I was doing design work for that too. So it was a good time. Even though it wasn’t necessarily an animation program, I learned a lot from the graphic design program at State. I will say that.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like a lot of fun, actually.

Tiffany Stewart:
Oh my gosh, it was so much fun. And I’m still friends with a lot of people there. And the people that left that school went on to do amazing things. I think Tim is out here designing the graphics for Roku. Let’s see, there’s another young lady, She went on to work at Gensler as an architect. So the class is good. The classes are really, really good. And some of the students that came out of there based on the teachers that we had at the time were just amazing, amazing folks to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel like your background in engineering helped you out in any way when you were majoring in design?

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes and no. It helped me figure out how to approach thinking about what I was going to do if I needed to put together a logo per se. I knew, I’m like, “Okay, this is the result that I wanted. What are the steps to get there?” So in that sense, the planning of how to do it was helpful. However, engineering is very much, I like things to be symmetrical. There’s always those projects that we had to do that were you had to make something asymmetrical. And I did not enjoy that because my brain just refused. And I think that just came from the engineering side. It was like, “No, it has to either be in order or it has to be on a scale of some sort that I can understand like 2, 4, 6, 8,” that type of thing. I can’t have you jumping around all over the place in the design. It makes my brain not work well.

So it does both. And more so now with the digital side of things. Like I said, it mainly applies to the problem solving part of it where I’m like, “Oh, okay, if we want to get this result. How do we apply that concept in a way that scales on a DS?” And I can do that through my engineering thinking, coupled with my design thinking.

Maurice Cherry:
So once you graduated from Mississippi State, you’ve got your design degree, you’ve got your engineering degree. Did you go right into UX design after that?

Tiffany Stewart:
No. I actually got a job at a church. It was one of those big churches, biggest churches in Austin, Texas. And I basically was doing everything. So I was doing all of their print work, so designed magazines, all of their photography. So I was a photographer. And then I was also responsible for building and maintaining their website. So it was a full on, you’re the only person here, you have to do everything type of moment. And I learned a lot from that job for sure. Yeah, printmaking and printing things is no joke. Web work is no joke. Because I think at the time they only had access to, what is it, WordPress? So that was the medium that I was working with. And WordPress has its own caveats. So putting all of that together and making sure everything got out on time every Sunday, I learned a lot. I learned a lot.

What I remember the most is we had to print magazines because the rector at the time wanted us to put out a monthly magazine where we interviewed various people from the church. We had to take pictures of everything and there was whole thing. So I was like a Vogue Magazine editor with the big old board where you put things up and your articles are there, and you pick what pictures and you basically art direct that whole entire process. But then after that was done, assembling them in this giant InDesign file and then sending that to the printer because we had a dedicated printer room. And figuring out how the printer worked, troubleshooting all of that, and then actually printing it, trimming the edges, cutting it, mailing it. I actually ended up sleeping at the office doing a magazine run. It was a good time. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was a good time.

Maurice Cherry:
You were truly a webmaster.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Doing all of that. I especially tip my hat to you about the magazine thing. The last gig that I worked at, we put together a quarterly magazine and that was a lot just to try to get it out the door, hopefully every three months. I can’t imagine every month. How big was the magazine?

Tiffany Stewart:
It wasn’t very big. It was a very… I want to say how many sheets as I’m looking through my paper. Maybe like 24, 32.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. That’s still a lot though-

Tiffany Stewart:
So it wasn’t too bad.

Maurice Cherry:
To try to pull together every month.

Tiffany Stewart:
Listen, my main thing was because people would submit photos and the photos that they would submit, I’m like, “This cannot be printed. It’s entirely too small.” So then I’d have to schedule a photo shoot and run out there and retake all the photos and then run back. But the church had money, so we did what we had to do. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
It was a good time. Like I said, I learned a lot because it was literally only me. So I was responsible for all of it. From the rooter to the tooter, as they say.

Maurice Cherry:
As they say.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, as they say, the rooter to the tooter. And so it was just picking the font, understanding how the typography was going to be laid out in an enticing way on the cover page. Figuring out how the table of content should be displayed, what was the concept and theme for the magazine. And then making sure that we got all the articles and everybody returned their corrections on time. And then making sure that we had the correct paper in stock and making sure that the printer didn’t jam. And then after all of that, running it through the cycle of getting it mailed out to the individual households that were part of the membership was a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
That alone is a job. The fact that you were doing that on top of web stuff, on top of graphic stuff. My hat goes off to you because I’ve had those positions before where you’re doing all the things because you’re the only person that can do all the things.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah. It makes you indispensable to a point, but you get serious burnout after a while because it was one thing after another. And I think a few minutes later or a few months after the choir director left and the choir director was responsible for printing the Sunday brochures. So after he left, guess who was responsible for printing the Sunday brochures?

Maurice Cherry:
That was you.

Tiffany Stewart:
Mm-hmm, yep. I was at that job all the time, actually slept there. And one would not think that of like, “Oh, you’re just a graphic designer at a church.” No, no friend.

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Tiffany Stewart:
No, no friend.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done church work before. Because sometimes what will happen, and I don’t know if this happened maybe in your case, but sometimes what will happen is that your obligation to your job ends up getting wrapped up in some level of religiosity where it’s not just the work that you’re doing for the church, but you’re doing the work for God.

Tiffany Stewart:
None of that, fortunately that was not. They were very nice. I want to say the church was Episcopalian. And I just was like, “Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm. This is great. I’m very happy for everyone involved. Yes, exactly that.”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I feel like maybe if it had been, for lack of a better word, a Black church, that might have changed. Because I feel like there’s a level of guilt, I find.

Maurice Cherry:
Guilt? Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.

Tiffany Stewart:
I know, I’m trying. How do I say this nicely? But there’s a level of guilt that only Black churches because-

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Tiffany Stewart:
Because they’ll be like, “Oh well, your grand mama Marlene.” And I’m like, “Oh no. So now I have to do this flyer.”

Maurice Cherry:
I empathize with that a 100%. Oh my God. Okay, yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Especially if your parents or family members or members of the church too. It’s just like, “Yeah, no, I’m absolutely going to just have to make this flyer and make Miss Martha look good.”

Maurice Cherry:
So after your work at the church is when you got more into, I would say digital design. You worked as a product designer and then a UX designer, which is what you’re doing now. Was it a big shift to go from doing all the things at the church to now just focusing on product or focusing on UX?

Tiffany Stewart:
Honestly, no. And I think that’s because the church in its way of making me do everything, prepared me for the slightly, and I do mean slightly, slightly less work of being a product or UX designer because I’m only focused on one thing at that point. I’m not focused on doing everything. So it was a breath of fresh air because I was like, “Oh, okay, I can just focus on the digital. I don’t have to worry about the magazine and whatever and whatever, whatever. I can just do the digital.” And then it also helped that I worked for a luxury travel agency. So I was just staring at beautiful pictures of hotels all day long and being like, “I will go there some day. Absolutely.” But yeah, no, it wasn’t too bad at all.

I think a lot of my experience with my work in print actually helped with my work at digital because they actually also did print magazines, but I was responsible for the digital version of it. So since I already knew how to do all of that work from the church, it was like, “Oh no, no, this is good. This is great. I can do this.” And I think the engineering team had already set up a pretty decent templating system. So at that point it was basically just making sure that all of the digital stuff was set up in a way that I could just very quickly upload it to the web what I needed it to, whenever they needed to release a digital article. And on my side, it wasn’t a set thing. So we only had released maybe one or two articles a week. And so it was just basically sourcing photos and making sure that all of the digital stuff was set up on there.

It wasn’t until they decided to end the print half or move the print half and mainly focus on digital in terms of booking flights and booking hotels. Then that’s when it was like, “Okay, so now we’ve shifted to the user experience side of things.” Because before, it was a lot of really just allowing consumers to just read articles based on our recommendations for things. And so it was very narrow in that sense. And then when it came time to book things, then it became, “Okay, so how does our booking thing work? How does search work? What is the experience if someone were to try to book a flight?” Is it that it goes to the travel agent or can they book directly? And what did the steps look like for that?

So that’s where it shifted is that that last piece of the UX of completing a full entire process to get that booked result versus I’m just serving you up an article on the best restaurant in LA type of thing. Does that make sense?

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. And I think for people that are listening, I feel like at least nowadays, UX and product tend to get conflated in a way. There may be subbed out one thing for another. So I’m glad that you were pointing out what the differences are between those two.

Tiffany Stewart:
They do both carry an aspect of user experience in the very basic sense of how is a user meant to experience reading an article on restaurants versus how is a user meant to experience a checkout flow for booking a flight? So they do share that in that regard. You could use them interchangeably, I don’t think anybody would be mad. However, I do have friends who are product designers and I think they call them industrial designers now. I remember they’d be like, “Oh, I’m applying for a position for a product designer.” And I’m like, “Ooh, that’s not what you think it is, friend.” So it also depends on what the company defines a product designer or a UX designer as well in the job description. And so a lot of my industrial designer friends were like, “This is lame, we’re the product designers, not you guys.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
So, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What gives you purpose to keep doing the work that you do?

Tiffany Stewart:
So I follow several people on Twitter who are in the disability activism space. And while I don’t comment per se, them sharing their experiences fuels me to make the web better. The internet is not going anywhere as far as I know. I would love it if they made it a utility, but I digress. And so I want everyone to have an equitable experience on the web. I want for, or I would like to be able to help that further along, whether it’s being passionate about making sure that there’s a contrast and the code is right and whatever.

But I want the web to be as equitable as possible. Because a lot of times when folks don’t have access to these things, people’s lives are in danger. No one talks about that side of it. But if all of a sudden you’re saying access to government grants and access to COVID vaccinations can only be achieved by going to a website, how many people are you cutting out with that one decision alone? Especially if the web is not accessible enough to accommodate everybody. And so following these women and their work in that space really fuels me to make sure that I champion it on my end as best as I can.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you work to stay your authentic self throughout your career? certainly I think when people hear this interview, they get that you’ve got a bubbly personality and working in tech and then working in design and working in tech in news. I would imagine you encounter a lot of different types of folks, we’ll just put it that way. But how have you worked to stay your authentic self?

Tiffany Stewart:
Antionette told me to, I think you’ve interviewed Antionette Carroll?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve had her on the show. Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So she used to come hang out at the house whenever she would come in for South by Southwest and we would have these long conversations about the work that she was doing in design equity. And she’s amazing and she’s also another inspiration. But Antionette was like, “Listen, you have to be authentic in your work all the time. You just have to be.” And I said, “Okay, yes ma’am.” I just did what she said. I trust her and she’s an amazing human. And I do find that it is helpful because people then know what they’re getting from you. And I do tell people in front. I remember teasing my poor boss. I was like, “Are you sure you want to hire me? Because you were getting this mouth along with the hire, so I need you to be okay with that.” And he was like, “No, no, it’s fine. Please, by all means, bring your authentic self to work.”

And so I appreciate that about my bosses at my company. They’re very much supportive of that. And I have not run into a situation, because sometimes they’ll say that and they don’t mean that. But I have not run into that thus far here.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good.

Tiffany Stewart:
So I’m very grateful for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Tiffany Stewart:
Very grateful for that.

Maurice Cherry:
#AntionetteTaughtMe.

Tiffany Stewart:
Listen, that could be a series in and of itself. My goodness, I miss her so much.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best piece of advice that you would give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? They’ve heard your story, they want to be like you, they want to be where you’re at, at that level. What would you tell them?

Tiffany Stewart:
Stay curious. Be curious about everything. How everything works, how people feel about things. Be observant. Watch people, watch how things function. You would be surprised what you can learn just by looking at a thing and being like, “So what was that meant for?” We always used to joke that there’s these products out there that the designers built them for one way and then the users use them in a completely different way and you’re just like, “That’s not what that was meant for.” But even that is some semblance of feedback. So just observing and being curious and watching and learning. Stay learning. Stay curious and stay learning. Never stop learning.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Tiffany Stewart:
I feel like at the moment, my big thing is I’m planning on having my mom come live with me. So learning more about accessibility in terms of interior design and home design and making sure that everything is set up for her to live comfortably if she chooses to come live with me. So just furthering my experience in accessibility, but just applying it to different things and seeing what that looks like. And then whatever I learned, share it with everybody who asks or didn’t ask. Y’all gon’ get this accessibility on today, as I say, often.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they find that online?

Tiffany Stewart:
I tend to keep a low profile, but I am on LinkedIn. You can find me there. I am on Instagram, but I don’t post often. I am a lurker, as it were, one of those things. Those are my two spots that I’m usually-

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the Instagram name?

Tiffany Stewart:
Elemango.design. It’s from an old graphic design project that I did for my senior year at university.

Maurice Cherry:
All right.

Tiffany Stewart:
But yeah, elemango.design. Elephants and mangoes.

Maurice Cherry:
I thought that what it might be.

Tiffany Stewart:
My two favorite things.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounded like that’s what it might be elephants and mangoes.

Tiffany Stewart:
Elephants and mangoes. My two favorite things. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Awesome. Well, Tiffany Stewart, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you’re someone that is just passionately curious about a lot of things and you had the opportunity to be able to really go into a lot of places with your career. Engineering degree, then doing design and then doing all these other things. It sounds like you’re someone that is always trying to keep on the pulse of what’s next. And I think of course, with accessibility being such an important topic to our world right now, I feel like we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from you in the future. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Tiffany Stewart:
Thank you. So lovely to do this. This is a lot of fun. So yeah, no, I appreciate it very much. Thank you.

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How much do you factor accessibility into your work? If the answer isn’t “a lot”, then hopefully this week’s interview with Erin Newby will give you some insight. Erin has recently struck out on her own, and she brings years of product design experience with her to help clients and companies provide the best experiences to their customers.

Erin and I talked about growing up in Detroit, and she mentioned how she first got interested in design and what prompted her to move to NYC. We also spent a good bit of time talking about the current state of accessibility, invisible disabilities, and steps and resources that designers can take to make their projects more available by everyone. Erin strives to be an example to others, and this episode only further illustrates that. Thank you Erin for helping make the web a more accessible place!


Google is proud to sponsor Revision Path in championing excellence and diversity in the creative community.

We believe that design is critical to building great products and experiences, and we’re committed to fostering best-in-class results with efforts like Material Design — a unified system combining theory, resources, and tools to help you craft beautiful, digital experiences — and Google Design.

From producing original articles and videos, to hosting creative and educational partnerships, our goal is to connect, support, and inspire designers and technologists.

To learn more, please visit us at design.google.


Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown. 


Regine Gilbert is such a positive presence in our Slack community, so when we finally met at last year’s Black in Design Conference, I knew I had to have her on the show. As a UX design consultant, Regine uses her skills of observation and exploration to help make the world a more accessible place.

We talked about how Regine transitioned into UX from the world of fashion design, the advice that’s stuck with her the most over the years, and she shared how more designers can become aware of using accessibility in their work. We definitely need more people like Regine in the design world, and I’m so glad that she’s part of our community!


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Games often emphasize player immersion, but AR games like Pokémon Go overlap with landscapes devoid of ludic context, so the ability for hypervisible marginalized people to lose themselves in the world of AR is significantly restricted — and often interrupted — by the presence of the real world. Let’s discuss the ways design influences access to AR games, and how Pokémon Go’s design could be improved to make the game safe and welcoming for a wider audience.