Sameera Kapila talks with us about her new book, Inclusive Design Communities, and why you should read the book, learning about group think, how we can all help improve hiring and retention, and dealing with workplace culture issues.
Time Jump Links
- 00:40 Guest introduction
- 02:07 Book cover color explained
- 03:26 Why should Dave read your book?
- 07:02 Not getting taught the why, but the how
- 13:22 The problem with group think
- 18:15 Sponsor: Split Software
- 18:59 Learning about what makes good design
- 23:04 Improving hiring
- 32:11 Hiring vs workplace culture issues
- 40:24 Working at Netlify
- 46:51 What are pitfalls to avoid in retention?
MANTRA: Just Build Websites!
Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about front-end Web design and development. I'm Dave Rupert and with me is Chris--'bout to cough it out--Coyier. [Laughter]
Chris Coyier: Yeah.
Dave: Coughing right at the beginning of the show, dude.
Chris: Oh, my God. I'm like, "Everybody, I'm going to do a huge cough. I'm going to hit the mute button," and then it was the record button. So, here we are, everybody. Welcome to a lovely Thursday.
Dave: Hey, who do we got in the studio today, Chris?
Chris: Sameera Kapila.
Sameera Kapila: Hello.
Chris: @SamKap on Twitter. Hi, how are you?
Sameera: I'm good. How are y'all? Are you doing okay? Do you need some water? [Laughter]
Chris: I might need some water. Nah, I'm doing okay. I had a little back trouble, but it's 71% better today thanks to the power of pharmaceutical research.
Sameera: Our sponsors today are--
Chris: Sorry. I laughed a little too loud.
Dave: Try Zorbatex. It may give you diarrhea, constipation, and a third leg. But good luck.
Sameera: I don't know if we're playing, "Is this a pharmaceutical or is this a Web framework."
Dave: Ooh, that's good. Turbo pack. [Laughter]
Dave: That's good.
Chris: It's really efficient steroids.
Chris: Okay, well, we have you on the show because we've been colleagues from afar for a long time. We kind of came up together in the Web industry, I'd say. You're in Austin too, right?
Chris: Wonderful. Wonderful. And it'd be amazing to have you on the show at any time at all. But you have a new book out as well. The very latest A Book Apart book, number 42, and a beautiful -- What would you call that? -- almost like a light teal.
Chris: Inclusive Design Communities.
Dave: It's a special color, isn't it, Sam?
Sameera: It is. Yeah. It's inspired by the ocean shelf drop-off color that you see in Curaçao. It's a volcanically formed Caribbean Island where I grew up. There's just such a deep drop in whatever the diving terms out, like atmospheres and whatever, but the perfect Caribbean water color is that color. I mean we eye-dropped it, and that's how we got there.
Chris: [Gasp] Really? Oh, that's so cool.
Chris: That's way cooler than mine, but I have a story too, and I'm going to tell it because I feel compelled to now because your story was so cool.
Dave: Then I'll do mine.
Chris: Then you do yours.
Chris: My blue, because I have an A Book Apart color, and it's also blue. It's a very different blue. It was eye-dropped from, you know, if you open Adobe Illustrator and you draw a guide out, or you click on a vector element and it shows the outline of the element in blue.
Chris: The vector, that blue is the blue of my book, which is kind of a nod to just vector art in general. You know?
Sameera: That's awesome.
Chris: Not as cool as a volcanic drop off shelf.
Dave: Yeah. That's a power move. Well-
Sameera: Had to represent the hometown.
Chris: Yeah. That's awesome.
Dave: Very nice. Sam, your book is Inclusive Design Communities. Give us the elevator pitch. Why should I read it? Why do I even care? [Laughter]
Sameera: Maybe because I wrote it, Dave.
Dave: I know that's 80% of the reason right now.
Sameera: It's been really interesting, and both of you have known me for the majority of my time in Texas, which I moved here to go to grad school and thought I was going to do the art direction thing and that you needed a master's to get there. This was around the Madmen era, so that was the ideal thing.
Sameera: You learn a lot about Pentagram and all of those big ad agencies. I moved from Florida. Was offered in-state tuition with the caveat of you should teach in the undergrad program, and you only need nine master's credits to teach an undergrad, so UTA for the first semester. Since I was full-time, I got the nine credits and start going down that route.
I met folks like Dave pretty soon after at meetups. Was seeing a big disconnect between what Dave and others were doing and what was being taught in schools. That actually opened up a lot of conversations about that gap.
Then, throughout my career, I've moved from teaching at a university to teaching at a code school to moving into management to working with the Obama Whitehouse on national initiatives to suddenly leaving education completely and going back to being an individual contributor who then went into management. I just continued to see these gaps.
It was very much -- I've said this every time I've talked about the book -- it is that meme of Charlie Day and always sunny where he's got the red string connecting all of these things. I felt like that. There are these things that I see that, if we just did this, if we just did that, we could bridge a lot of these different gaps or open a lot more doors because there's just a lot of barriers to entry. That's really where this came from.
This was a really long elevator. [Laughter]
Chris: No, it was amazing.
Dave: No, that was perfect. Yeah.
Chris: I have your book right here, along with my orange Crayola highlighter.
Dave: That you stole from your daughter. [Laughter]
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And it's not really a highlighter, so it's... Anyway.
I'll have to show you sometime. I really made a mess of this book, but I don't care.
Sameera: Love it.
Chris: I'll highlight any book I want.
Sameera: That's what it's for.
Chris: You identify all sorts of educational gaps in this, sometimes drawing from your own experience and sometimes from your research. You're extremely well-read. My gosh. This is full of just amazing excerpts and things.
Dave: Every third word has a link to A Book Apart.
Dave: It's good.
Sameera: Believe it or not, that's after editing. Imagine how many there were early on. I'm a link hoarder. If there's ever a TV show about hoarders, but the online version, I would not fair well.
Dave: I know a guy who makes those shows. We could make it happen.
Sameera: Oh, no. [Laughter]
Sameera: Just send in Marie Kondo, who is just like, "Does this link spark joy?" and I'm going to say yes to everything.
Dave: Dude. Marie Kondo and me walking through my hard drive would be embarrassing.
Dave: Just horrific. Horrifying. [Laughter]
Chris: Oh, my gosh. You should do it, though. That's proof that it should be done.
Dave: This is a receipt for a hamburger. [Laughter]
Chris: Here's a moment from your own education and early career.
"My design education focused on the specifics of the software rather than how to think critically about my own work."
You were talking about your first job out of school, and you were taught specifically in InDesign. Then all of a sudden, you'd get this job and they're in Cork. That was a gap. That was an educational disconnect. You weren't taught the why. You were taught the how - or something like that.
Chris: Can you talk about that?
Sameera: Yeah. For the first six months of that job was trying to, almost every evening because I begged them for a copy that I could take home and practice on my computer. Was writing down notes. I'm like, "Okay, this is how you do it in InDesign. This is how you do it in Cork."
Okay. Cork, at that time, could not preview anything that you exported in color.
Sameera: It would work out that way when it went to Food & Wine Magazine or whatever else, because this was advertising for the Miami Heat and an all-inclusive resort chain in the Caribbean called Couples Resorts. It's like a Sandals competitor.
Sameera: And so, that was a lot of the work that I was working on, and that's just kind of like limitations or differences between the program that you had to wrap your mind around. But a lot of other things like bleed and Prepress stuff was similar.
Sameera: But there was just such a change, and it became less about the software or to at least overcome that software difference. I had to kind of take a step back and think about what is the thing I need to do. Okay, this is bleed in InDesign, so what does that mean for Cork?
There was, I think, a lot of back and forth between the conceptual piece of what that thing means and how it manifests in different software. What's interesting about that experience is I think a lot now of the Illustrator, Photoshop, to Sketch, to Figma pipeline and how that's just so much of a softer landing. The first Adobe collection of things really opened it up for Sketch, and there were things that carried over.
Dave: Then Figma sort of was like, "Let's take the things that are good. Let's get rid of everything else that we don't need." It makes the barrier of those things a lot easier now.
I think it just felt scary at the time because it's like, "You owe this at the end of the month to the printer and it'll be printed once and that's what's in a nationally distributed magazine. Get it right."
Chris: Hmm... [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. The threat there was very high.
Chris: You kind of had one shot to the tune of--
I mean we even did, like, Regan and I started in real estate making brochures and websites and sending those out. You mess up a postcard, you're like $25,000 out. You know?
Dave: Because you have to order - whatever - 100,000 postcards or whatever.
Sameera: Yeah. There's no deploys in print. [Laughter]
Dave: No. No.
Sameera: Where you can just fix something.
Chris: I love that about the Web. It's just two seconds away, a little boop, oh, fixed it. Don't worry about it.
This leads into this moment. Not to crap on your teachers that taught you InDesign instead of Cork or whatever. But I think the point you were trying to make is what if I just learned what bleed was or how to solve problems generally. Maybe that would have landed better. Not to put words in your mouth, but you go on to talk about this moment. You ask Ethan, "How should I teach images?" or something.
He's like, "Well, try picture fill."
You go to teach picture fill and have some kind of problem or something. You're like, "Actually, you know what? Let me just stop, step back, and show you why I'm teaching you picture fill because it was recommended by this person. These are the people that I asked. This is the answer that I got. This is the GitHub repo for it. Let's just step through that and turn that into the teachable moment instead of, 'Let me teach you the specifics of picture fill.'"
Chris: Which is cool. It's like teach a student how to fish kind of moment.
Sameera: Yeah. I don't blame the educators on this because, having been on that side, it is incredibly difficult to fit everything about design into a four-year curriculum, which you would think that's plenty of time. But it barely scratches the surface because you have to spend so much time just going over visual basics like line and shape, negative space, composition. And you have to--
Sameera: Web stuff was always this afterthought in CS or InDesign. It's the one class you take on the side.
Sameera: The same is true for everything else. You have to take painting. You have to take drawing. You have to build the visual literacy first and then you're taught software so that you can start to use those things. But it almost doesn't leave enough time to now say, "Great. You've learned all of this stuff. But what does it actually mean?"
I think some courses get into that in the senior year, but it's almost like you're scratching the surface and then it's time to graduate.
Sameera: I think there's another thing. I think it's an institution-related thing. I don't think it's an educator-specific thing of we have an understanding of school being this thing that you're graded on. What becomes your motivation is a grade rather than the critical thinking part.
Your motivation is I have to get an A so I can get a scholarship, or I have to get an A so I can get a job. That starts in kindergarten.
Sameera: That's not something that universities are solely responsible. It's for the idea that a classroom means that your end goal is to survive by beating out everybody else and getting the best grade. And so, I kind of blame that a lot more.
Chris: That's interesting. It's hard enough to give a grade, but I know I've had some friends who have taught at universities that kind of threw that. I don't know if they're experimental universities or what, but they don't have grades. You know?
Chris: You just get a paper from the student on you, which seems like better output. I don't know how compatible that is with getting a job at Wells Fargo or whatever. Just be like, "Look. My teacher said I'm smart," or whatever.
But it puts a lot of onus on the teacher then, right? Can you imagine? Giving a grade is hard enough at the end of the year. Writing a paper on each student is extra difficult, I'm sure. Maybe that's what you pay for at these fancy, small universities.
What else? What else should we talk about here? There are so many cool moments in the book. I like -- [laughter]. I get stuck on one page. I have so many highlights in the book.
Chris: There's one where you talk about group think that I thought was really cool because I feel like I've experienced both sides of this on Twitter, for example. You were talking about the font Comic Sans, which is everybody's favorite font to crap on, or Papyrus is a classic one too.
But you specifically talk about Comic Sans and how it's overused. But do you hate it because you hate it or do you hate it because everybody around you likes to dunk on it too, and dunking on it makes you part of the in-crowd almost, and that moment is groupthink? But there's kind of a problem with that, right?
Sameera: Yeah, there's a huge problem with that, and I think I was guilty of it at that time too. I mean there were a lot of CDRs being burned at that time that people were sharing a bunch of fonts that they got from whatever means that they did.
Chris: CDRs, like a literal, physical CD?
Sameera: Oh, yeah.
Chris: Okay. Yeah.
Sameera: With just a folder, a zip file full of fonts, and everybody installs it right away. The font book freezes. Your computer memory craps out.
Sameera: No one tells you that part. No one wrote that on the label.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Sameera: And so, there are all these things, like fonts, that are like, "Oh, these are the must-have. These are the friar Jones, the big names that we couldn't afford as college students. Then it's almost like the system fonts kind of took a beating for that. That, "Oh, well, they were there. Then they can't be good because there's this other thing that we wish for."
There also, it felt like -- maybe this isn't everybody's experience, but it felt like you're a better designer because you have those particular fonts. That's not necessarily true, what we know about fonts. You can do plenty with the system version of Helvetica and all of those.
Sameera: Times New Roman is readable and requested by professors for a reason.
Chris: Right. Right. Right.
Sameera: Its legibility. And I think that Comic Sans, Papyrus, a couple of those system fonts were crapped on because there was this little bit of what it means to be a good designer, and there's this underlying tone of the more things that you own (or illegally own or have access to) the better you are. That's not necessarily true.
Then there's the other part of legibility studies that have been done with Comic Sans and how pictorial memory in younger kids -- or their memory is more tied to pictorial rather than something they've read, so the shapes of the letters help them remember more. And because it's more uniquely shaped from letter to letter, kids remembered something that they read in Comic Sans versus Times New Roman.
Our association with Times New Roman, for example, is more authoritative, academic. There are just connotations that typefaces have, and we sort of said that one is too immature. It's not the right one. And it just feels silly now to think about, but I also remember, at that age, just being like, "Yeah, I'm supposed to hate this one because everybody else is."
Chris: Hmm... [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, well, it's interesting too. That's just all font, right? [Laughter] Of millions, and we've collectively somehow decided that's the worst one. But then that goes into other technology choices or even (you get to in your book) design programs. It's like, "Oh, you went to that school," or "You went to that boot camp."
Dave: "Oh, that means you're bad at it," or something. We kind of build these group tropes, sort of, right?
Sameera: Yeah, and it's like you have to use the latest new thing for it to be good. There are plenty of typefaces out there. Use whatever makes sense.
Sure, I'm not going to use Comic Sans if I'm designing something for Star Trek.
Sameera: That feels like a disconnect of what the font is intended for and what the show is intended for. But everything has a use case. There's a reason it was created. If that allows someone to be more creative or create their first comic book, then by all means. If it helps them make signage that helps kids understand (in second grade) ways to share in the classroom, great. We don't have to crap on it just because it's not what we need.
Dave: You don't need to walk into the elementary school and be the design critic. [Laughter]
Sameera: That's a TV show we don't need.
Dave: I could do that. Maybe that is my new TV show.
Dave: Dave Rupert, elementary school design critic.
[Banjo music starts]
Chris: This podcast is brought to you by Split, the feature management and experimentation platform. What if a release was exactly how it sounds, a moment of relief, an escape from slow, painful deployments that hold back product engineers?
Free your teams and your features with Split. By attaching insightful data to feature flags, Split helps you quickly deploy, measure, and learn the impact of every feature you release, which means you can turn up what works and turn off what doesn't, and give software innovation the room to run wild.
Now you can safely deliver features up to 50 times faster and exhale. Split feature management and experimentation, what a release. Reimagine software delivery. Start your free trial and create your first feature flag at split.io/shoptalk.
[Banjo music stops]
Chris: I want to get to the hiring, but while we are talking about fonts, there are some other fun font stuff. Well, this one is the opposite of fun (in a way) because it's talking about your own education, and it made me reflect on my education too and just how America-Europe-centered it all was. If I learned about a designer, it was a white dude for sure. Even painters and stuff.
This is a line: "As a student, I could name more of Massimo Vignelli's preferred fonts than I could female designers."
What a good line and point about that, just how scoped all that stuff is. It just doesn't feel right, and it's not because there are not examples.
Then you go on to prove it and just list example after example of what we could have been learning, which would have been a lot more diverse and interesting than what we actually did learn.
Sameera: Yeah. That's something I didn't have the words for at that point. It's only something I think I've understood in the last five years of just how much there was to unlearn of what makes good design.
Half of these books behind me (in red), and yes, I'm one of those designers that does the color coding of bookshelves--
Sameera: --are Swiss typographic design style, international Bauhaus. It was so specific, and that's what was drilled into my brain as good design. A little bit of that is professor preference, but that's true for a lot of the industry too. There's just so much left out of the conversation that, in school, I didn't know why I couldn't connect to a lot of things until about five years ago. There just wasn't that representation that I could see.
I think I went and looked back at the movie Helvetica, and I think Paula Scher is the only woman that they interviewed in the entire movie--
Sameera: --that I can think of.
Sameera: There may be one more. But even something like that is so strange to look back on now.
Chris: Right. Right. But if you're me and you watch it, you'd be like, "This is so comfortable. Look at all the mes on the TV."
Dave: That's me with gray hair. That's me very skinny. That's me with... Hmm...
Dave: I love these mes.
Chris: There's me. I'm in a redesign of everyday things again.
All right. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. [Laughter] I do have a Paula Scher story, weirdly. I was at a Beyond Tellerrand, and I was speaking there. Then they were like, "Okay, who is coming?" Paula Scher is there, and I'm sitting next to her at the speaker dinner. It was wonderful. She's just a fascinating, exuberant person.
I just was like, "This person is in my Netflix. There's a design show in Netflix." And I was like, "She is very, very good, and I'm about to talk about garbage code." [Laughter]
Dave: Then... Yeah. Anyway, it was very cool. But anyway.
Chris: Not your finest speaker dinner?
Dave: Well, no. It was humbling, truly humbling because she's a great. You know?
Chris: Oh, quite literally.
Dave: And a very nice person who will actually talk to you, and that was very amazing. Not all greats are like that.
But then there was the PlayStation guy who does all these visual arts. He's like, "Yeah, I just built something for Taylor Swift," and I'm right after that guy. I was like, "Oh, boy..." [Laughter]
Sameera: Oh, no.
Dave: I'm going to talk about websites, so... good luck, everybody.
Chris: [Laughter] Can we do the hiring thing? I think we get a lot of people that listen to this show that probably are looking for jobs or are early in the career or something. You say that it's the number one most asked-about thing for you. People are forever interested in what that takes.
You list off this kind of classic thing that any of us could possibly do where you're like, "Okay, I need to hire. I guess I'll just make a little page real quick that says I'm for sure going to talk about how anybody can apply for this role and our company does not discriminate in any way. We're actively looking for marginalized people and all this stuff."
Then it doesn't. But the, in the end, you know, you don't really follow through on that.
Chris: You're actually looking at three candidates, and somewhere in your little busted-ass brain you somehow think that a marginalized candidate is not going to perform as well as the other one, right?
Sameera: Yep. Yeah, there's definitely a lot of stereotypes about lowering the bar. I use a few CEOs in the tech industry quoted in this book as saying, "Oh, it's going to lower the bar to hire someone who is underrepresented." And it just leaves out, yes, there are differences in equity. And when I talk about equity, I mean there's this graphic that's gone around for a long time. It's called "The Fourth Box" from the Center of Story-based -- I am forgetting their name. I will share the link after. It's a longer name.
Sameera: But it's called "The Fourth Box," and there's like, "Here is what diversity is."
Chris: Can you describe it, because it's really great. It really--
Sameera: Yeah. There's the equality one, and so there are three people of different heights behind a picket fence. Then on the other side of that picket fence is a baseball game. At the three heights, this is just like the baseline of where we are right now. Two of those people can't see over the fence.
What the graphic then goes to illustrate in the next box is the idea of equality. Everybody gets one box to stand on. Their height differences are still the same, but the taller person can see and the middle-height person can see and the shortest person still can't see.
Sameera: Equity gets into we understand that there are differences. So, rather than just saying, "Everybody gets the same tools," we want to account for the historical differences that have caused for you to not be able to watch this game.
In the third one, the tallest person can see it by standing on the ground. The middle person can see it with one box. And the shortest person can see it with two.
This is less of an example about height but more about what we are given or what we're born with, and that includes societal discrimination and socio-economic stuff.
Sameera: There's a whole lot tied to this. That's why I think more conversations are moving to equity, not just equality. That's kind of the basis of that idea.
Chris: That one is kind of good, right? If it stopped there, you'd be like, "Ah, yeah. That's great. We did it. Everybody can see the baseball game now," but there's another panel then that expands your mind a little bit. Another two panels, actually.
Sameera: Yeah. One panel is the company themselves trying to say what does liberation look like. But they actually leave that box when you download their toolkit. It leaves that box blank and says, "What does liberation look like? Is it removing the fence that was there in the first place?"
Sameera: And so, they leave you with that question so that people start thinking about what that really means. It's great to get equality there, but that's still not enough. We're not solving the larger issue, which is, there's a fence. There's something blocking people in the first place.
Chris: Right. Pretty satisfying. I've seen a version of this that has an apple tree too.
Chris: I'm sure you've seen it where it has to do with reaching up for the apples and getting a different size ladder and all that. [Laughter] Yeah, it sticks with you the first time you see this image. I think it's kind of like, "Oh..." [Laughter] That's very helpful, actually, not just in understanding the terms, but almost like imagining a better world.
Sameera: Yeah. I think that's what they do really well is this is a staged process. You're not going to get from zero to 100 on day one. We have to look at these different stages and assess, based on each scenario, where we are and then what we can do better. Where I think that comes in with hiring is what I'm trying to illustrate in that chapter is there are a lot of things. If we tweak them along the way, assess the entire process, we can account for some of these biases, do better training of the people that interview.
I've seen interview processes also change while different candidates were in different stages of the process. Suddenly, it's not the same experience. You're assessing them on totally different things.
Sameera: That's an issue in itself, and that's why I talk about the pre-brief and post-brief sort of how is this going as an interview process.
Chris: Can you get into that?
Sameera: Yeah. I think that we need to be planning better when a role is open. It's not the role is there or we did the status quo template that the company has and we posted it.
I think that there needs to be a lot more thought that goes into what the processes are. What I illustrate there is an example that I used at Thoughtbot of, this is the stage, this is what our goal is to get out of this stage, this is what a good assessment looks like, this is our assessment form, and there were a lot of explanations in training that came with that. So, when you were in a particular stage of the process, you understood what you need to achieve in that process and understand for the person to move forward.
Chris: Right. That's a lot more work than just kind of like - I don't know - "We posted our diversity statement. Good job, everybody. Time to go home."
Chris: You thought about the process all the way through. Each stage in that process being as much work or more as that initial posting was.
Sameera: Yeah, and I think there's also a lot of assumed, like, "Well, I joined this company. I'm included in this stage. I assume everybody else is doing the right thing." But there isn't a getting together of the group and saying, "These are our goals as a whole. This is the goal for each stage. This is how we hope to get there. Do you as an interviewer have what you need to make this work?"
And so, I think a lot more work needs to be done with hiring. There are multiple times that people have said - they've come to me and had issues with hiring. I've asked them, "Are you willing to pause hiring?" No.
Sameera: "Are you willing to not open anything new and then actually roll out an updated one for each new one so that, eventually, everything falls under this format?"
Hesitation. "Well, maybe. But you know sometimes our needs are just greater."
What I would implore a lot of people listening to this right now is we're in this state where there are hiring freezes across the board in our industry. There is no better time than during a hiring freeze to burn it all to the ground and start over, which a lot of--
Sameera: If I could have written that in the chapter, that would have been great. I don't think that would have made my editor happy.
Sameera: We need a little bit more than "Burn it all to the ground."
Chris: [Laughter] Yeah. Well, I'm sure.
Sameera: But I think this is actually the best time, this hiring freeze thing that's going on. This is the best time to really take that step back and say, "What are we trying to achieve here?"
Then you start to plan for the biases that could occur in each stage. I think that is a really hard thing for people to do because that's putting a mirror on themselves. I think that's where we can start avoiding.
What you just said, Chris, is something I've heard from everyone. "Well, we have people in the pipeline. The other person just was better by a scoach."
Sameera: And they can't tell me why. And it's because there's biases associated with that, whether it's the school that they went to or the fact that they see someone who looks like them. A lot of people won't admit that because they haven't addressed their own biases.
My hope is this is a start. This chapter is not "This is it and it's done." This is the chapter to get you started on that. It's something that you have to keep working on and reassessing and reassessing over time.
Dave: That was one takeaway I got from parts of your book was, like, this is always a process. Right?
Dave: You're going to do something. Eventually, probably, "mess up." But just like, "Oh, that was something I hadn't considered." Now you need to kind of realign the ship or reprogram the machine to produce better outcomes.
I do have a question. How do you--?
Okay. Hiring, right? No secret. Paravel is a company of three white dudes. We are down bad in this situation. [Laughter]
As we hire, and I've seen people do, like, "Hey, I'm looking to hire marginalized people for this job," or something like that. Yes, want to do that. Also, I want to avoid tokenism. Don't want to be like, "Hey, look at the woman we have, everybody. We put her on the website to provide there's a woman here."
How do you do that but avoid this sort of--? You know. I guess it's probably a lot of cultural things to avoid tokenism, but how do you do that in a way that is not just checking off the diversity box?
Sameera: Which is what a lot of people do. There are, I think, two parts to this question. One is to separate hiring and retention.
Sameera: And to be completely honest, everything that I've observed in our industry the last three years during this pandemic -- actually, even before that -- is the hiring piece. And while that chapter and while that process is very difficult, that's why I'm saying that's just the starting point. If you focus completely on hiring and you do nothing to address culture--
Sameera: And not just culture as it appears to you, but actually build an understanding of what culture means to different people, that is a hard thing for leadership to do because that's their company. That's the place they've put in the work.
That's the leadership lens. The higher you move up, the less you know about the day-to-day of the people who work at your company.
Sameera: And there are a lot of assumptions made of everything seems fine. While there weren't complaints, that doesn't mean things are going well.
For a lot of marginalized identities, we've been through enough to know when to save our energy, which is a process a lot of us learn. When it's worth being quiet or we're doing a lot of calculus in our brain of, "Is it worth speaking up and dealing with retaliation, or should I stay quiet?" There's a lot more there.
The retention piece is a whole other. Honestly, the hiring and retention stuff was the longest section in my first draft that my editor said, "Do you just want to write about those two things, because you have a separate book in your book here?" [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, wow. Wow.
Sameera: And so, I'll be sharing a lot more blog posts and stuff about that because I have a lot of spicy takes and we can't fit everything into A Book Apart book. That's what I love about them is that they are giving you the jumping-off point, so there's a lot more to go into there.
But the second part of that, too, is in the hiring process. I think there's just, again, a lot of assumptions, and it's very one-sided. It's, "What will you bring to us?" And I don't think a lot of companies spend a lot of time thinking about what they are bringing to that individual and what they are doing to seek out people.
There's a lot, "Well, people didn't apply. There's a pipeline problem. There aren't enough," insert identity "in our pipeline.
Dave: That bothers me so much because it's like, "Where are all the black designers?" It's like, "Atlanta." [Laughter] There are a lot in Atlanta.
Chris: That's the ultimate walk-away, isn't it? If you just say that; you could just be like, "Well, it's the pipeline," and walk away.
Sameera: Yeah, it's--
Chris: It feels like -- yeah.
Sameera: It makes it someone else's problem. And the thing with systemic issues is everybody has to realize that they all have power to change the part that relates to their role. And if everybody did that, then the system changes. But brushing it off and saying, "It's the system. I can't do anything about it," helps no one.
Sameera: That's why I use a lot of very specific examples in this book. They're not every exhaustive example of things that you can do. But it's to show little things. Systemic, huge, scary monster, but if you do little things and the next person does a little thing, that's actually going to move the needle forward, and that takes this whole monolithic, scary thing away.
But I do see a lot of reliance on, like, "Oh, it's systemic. I can't change it." And it is kind of a copout.
Sameera: I understand people like myself are very tired right now because we've been screaming at the top of our lungs for a long time. I'm not talking about those folks. I'm talking about people who can actually impact change, whether they're in a leadership position, whether they don't have the title but have the action or respect. There's a ton of work that can be done by a lot of different individuals.
With the hiring piece, I notice that they expect a lot of people to find their job posting. Are they going out and seeking people? Are they sponsoring State of Black Design, which is an amazing conference that runs every year (remotely)? Are they showing up for those sorts of things and actually investing in their communities locally?
The answer is not always. Yeah.
Dave: Usually not. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: This needle moving stuff is not-- The goal is--
I mean it's nice to look at the needle and watch it move, right? But that's not the point, really. Right? That's just a measurement at the end.
What's the point of all this is your organization is going to be literally better for it. Right?
Sameera: I mean there's a lot of monetary studies of why it's worth profit-wise to care about diversity. And I'm not going to focus on those because I think that that -- I understand that that would matter to some people. But that is not why we're here.
I think, as designers, as developers, we are building for other people. And if you're not accounting for other people, then why are we here?
Chris: Why are we here? It's like the accessibility argument of, like, "We're doing this so we don't get sued."
People are like, "I don't want that to be the reason why we're doing thing."
Chris: I want it to be because we're trying to actually help people.
Sameera: I think of that. I use this example in the book of the airbag recalls that happened in the late aughts and most of the deaths that happened tied to those airbag recalls were women and children. It's because the engineering team were all males with a similar stature who designed for their body types.
Sameera: And they're not taking the step back to again think critically about who might be in this seat. It's sort of like we design and develop for the happy path, and there's such a focus on that. I try to, on everything from day one, say, "Okay, but what are the, quote-unquote, "edge cases"?"
I don't even like that as a term, and I don't have a better replacement, but what are all these cases, not just the best use case? I think we would build better stuff if we were designing for all cases and not just the way we want people to use something.
I think one of the most beautiful things about software is people find their own way to make it theirs, and that actually changes the product. I think some of my favorite products that I've stuck with for a long time, we've seen people use it in a different way. The company listens and then they build in those features to allow people to do that further. That's when it's really magical.
Sameera: But if you're not thinking about those things at all, if you're like, "No, this is how I want people to use it. This is the happy path," the best stories I've seen of people actually being really proud of a product they're using is when there's great support and that teams are actually filtering that back in and also building all of that out from the start, which I understand. Not everything can be built right away. But we would just be so much better off.
Half of this book is me just saying, "Can y'all pause for a second and think about stuff?"
Sameera: That's really a lot of this.
Chris: We haven't built pausing into the flow at the moment, I'm afraid.
Netlify, that's where you're at, at the moment. Hopefully, you get to bring some of this thinking and stuff to it. It does seem, from the outside, fairly well aligned to what you're talking about in some ways.
I think about things like Netlify almost encourages you to ship websites that work at the edge and, thus, are really fast, HTML by default, and stuff like that. Not always, but as a technology seems nicely aligned with that.
How's life at Netlify?
Sameera: It's been good. We've been really working a lot this summer on a lot of different things. I've been a part of the team for almost six months and have things out the door, which is really exciting to see. I think, in my past roles, I've been an educator or a consultant, and part of why I was seeking a product team was I've been a part of consulting product teams but never gotten to be a part of the whole other stuff that they can't always tell us the business decisions, the roadmaps for the whole company and how it impacts why they're working with me.
Sameera: And so, this was to really, one, take a step back from management. Management in the pandemic is really hard. But honestly, that wasn't hardest part. It was just a lot of just kind of taking a personal assessment of I would like to step back from management for a bit. This is really hard. I also want to continue my skills as a designer and see what it's like to be an IC again.
Sameera: Of course, I've already tried to jump into my management hat in a lot of scenarios and have to remind myself that I am not one.
Chris: Not my job. Not my job. Not my job. Not my job.
Sameera: Yeah. But it's created some really nice opportunities to dig deeper into the capital D, capital O of design ops, which I've never had that in my title. But to really see that as a separate thing, which I think includes a lot of what I did as a consultant. But it's been really interesting to touch different parts of a product and not just build what I did in my last job, which was a lot of initial day zero to launch, second launch.
This is, I'm joining something that is already moving. It's already been around for a while.
Sameera: It is also a developer-facing tool, so that's allowing me to continue my development skills and growing in that way, so that's been super-super interesting. Just being on a product team with this pace, seeing stuff ship out the door very quickly rather than waiting until a launch period, there's been a lot of learning very quickly.
Chris: Yeah, so it's been different than what you're used to. You've jumped a lot from education to management to now this. I'm sure it's not your first time just being an IC or whatever. Individual contributor, right?
Sameera: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: That's what they call it. I feel like I learned that this year. [Laughter]
Sameera: I am very anti-acronym, in general.
Sameera: Unless it's HTML and CSS, I don't want to hear it. [Laughter]
Chris: Right. Those ones are cool. Yeah. [Laughter]
Sameera: But yet, I used it too. [Laughter] Yeah, jumped around quite a bit, and that really is, again, an underlying thing in the book. There is individual work in the first few chapters, then education, then hiring, then retention, which has a heavy management piece. Leadership without the management title piece. Being a part of DEI councils or any sort of diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives. And the extra work that that is because it is unpaid work.
Going back to the topic of the token person. That's another thing not accounted for in retention strategies (if there is one to begin with) is the invisible work in educating that under-represented identities have to do on a day-to-day basis.
Chris: Mmm, gosh. Right.
Sameera: And the amount of hours that takes away from them being able to ship work that then ends up in a performance review because they're being compared to all the people that didn't have to do that extra work.
Sameera: And it's unpaid.
Sameera: Sorry. Went back on a tangent there.
Dave: Yeah. Well, no. But it's almost like a trope, right?
Dave: It's that somebody, "Oh, we'll put the black coworkers onto the DEI crew." You know?
Dave: I've met some people who were like, "I kind of don't want to do that." [Laughter]
Dave: But they just get "hand-picked," quote-unquote. But yeah, they're just like, "That's extra work. Thank you."
Dave: But again, I think what you're talking about, equitable, if it's like their stool, if they have to do this other job, their stool for their work productivity ranking is different if they have to do two jobs.
Sameera: Yeah. A lot of those things, I think, are tied to also what would it be to just build for a little bit and just work on my design skills. It is really hard for me to not want to include myself in everything. [Laughter]
Sameera: Like, "Oh, I can leadership. I can make an impact here." This is actually a practice for me, too, on what boundaries do I want to have. I think I'm exploring that through an IC role where I just get to work, work, work.
Chris: That's pretty rad. It's almost like a weakness of mine, really, because sometimes that desire is so strong for me, like, "What if I just chilled for a minute and just designed a page this week?" Instead of, for example, my actual job, which is everything.
Sameera: Something I've really loved is that the design team that I'm working with is because we are kind of taking those steps back and having those deeper--
It's so nice to just talk about button states for a while.
Chris: Yeah. Nice.
Sameera: And that there is an opportunity to work on things there. There's architecture work that we're doing right now that is so exciting to me because it's, again, going back to what does a developer need to do their job? What are we putting in front of them when they have a certain task at hand?
I love thinking about that. It's not like I'm in Figma every moment of the day, but there's a lot of research work that goes into that. It's fascinating to think about, and I think it's just creating more opportunities to make the Web better because this is a tool for people who build for the Web.
Chris: Yeah. Nice. We did -- I want to circle back to retention just for a second because I think it would be interesting. I don't know. Hiring is almost like a fancier word. It sounds juicier. It sounds like, "Let's fix that," when really the point is it's almost equally or bigger to think about retention. What's something that you could really smurf up, as a company, if you didn't think about this, like a mistake, a real footgun for retention?
Sameera: I think the one that is really sticking with me for a long time is leaving education and trying to look for a job that wasn't -- and leaving traditional education. I think, being in the code school world, we also had a startup arm, accelerator arm, so I was already in the tech world. But seeing a lot of early job postings in that time that promoted the Ping-Pong table, the keg.
I remember a certain notetaking company having free haircuts at your desk. Which all I could think of was just like I'm going to need one of those canisters to blast the keyboard because I could just imagine haircut pieces just all over in the buttons. That was--
Sameera: That's going to be a no for me. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, that doesn't work for me either.
Sameera: And I think there was just such a focus on make work fun, and what the underlying tone there is, "Be here forever. Don't go and run errands. Don't have a life outside of this. We'll bring it to you so you never have to leave your desk."
Chris: Wow. Yeah.
Sameera: I'm all for a Friday lunch, but catered lunch every day, I don't know if I need those things.
Sameera: I think what I care--
Chris: Sometimes it's extra blatant, right?
Sameera: Right. Right. [Laughter]
Chris: Like, "We'll pay for your dinner if you're here past 7:00," or something. [Laughter]
Chris: You're like, "What?!"
Dave: And you get a free sleeping bag.
Chris: Oh, my gosh.
Dave: For the office.
Sameera: I remember biweekly house cleaning being a thing that was offered. Honestly, that sounds nice.
Dave: I'll take that, actually. But yeah.
Sameera: At the same time, I worry about why do you need to go home?
Sameera: We've taken care of these things for you. And I think the type of things that I've been thinking about -- and this is the book, and this is pre-Supreme Court decisions earlier this year -- is thinking about how people live and who their dependent on and who is going to be dependent on them.
Similar to this edge case or happy path, a lot of parental leave stuff is including the happy path, and the happy path alone. There's a lot of, "You have a kid at nine months, and then you're going to take leave if you're the birthing parent. And if you're the other parent, you're going to take leave." But if it's a male parent, a father figure, a lot of times that time is less, as supplied by the company or it's sort of an unspoken rule that they're supposed to take less time because they're not the birthing parent.
I think there's a problem there. I think, number one, we need to align on that. The U.S. has the least amount of parental leave internationally by law and support from the government.
The second part is not every birthing procedure or having a child is exactly the same.
Sameera: There's a massive pandemic that we just had where a lot of family members of other people just became their caregivers, their legal guardians due to those kids losing parents. That's a form of parental leave. So is adoption.
Again, those are all - there is a living, breathing human. What happens when there are complications with the pregnancy? There's no complication leave. You have to use your sick time, and your sick time is done.
There is not abortion care needs, which that can be again for multiple reasons. I know that that is a hot topic right now, but the procedures for miscarriages are very similar to the procedures of abortion, and that's not known by everybody.
Sameera: There could be someone having cancer and they have to choose between their own life and going through chemo or not. There is a lot of that.
I'm not trying to make this political. It's just what are companies thinking about for those, quote-unquote, "edge cases"? Adoption needs parent bonding time, parent and kid bonding. All of those are different scenarios that we just need to think about.
Chris: Those are really good points.
Dave: I'm reminding of - is it - Sara Hendren's What a Body Can Do?
Sameera: Hendrix? I remember the cover. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. Yeah, "body can do." That's going to put some weird search results.
Dave: Hendren. Yeah, Hendren. It's a beautiful book. Basically, meditation on bodies, like different disabilities, abilities. It's really interesting. Yeah. Different bodies do different things. Some bodies grow babies and give birth to babies. Some don't.
It's very different, and so how do you just accommodate these different body types? How do you help people who have these different, I guess, abilities or disabilities - or however you want to frame that? How do you accommodate folks?
Accommodate is a weird word. But even just how do you make the job, the work doable? That's an interesting design problem more than Dieter Rams's little iPod - or whatever.
Chris: That's interesting to think of them as a design problem. They kind of are, right? Designing your organization.
Sameera: We're all a design problem. I think we're just leaning on, "Well, this is the majority shared experience, so that's the norm," when what we should be saying is, "People need to work in different ways."
I remember... Gosh. I'm trying to remember who did this talk a long time ago and where we were. [Laughter] They were talking about how people access the Web. I think our instant thing is to think phone or computer. But what they were trying to break down is joystick, mouse, keyboard, touch, sound, software, tab buttons.
There is a whole array of ways -- TVs -- devices aside, how humans interact with the Web. Siri reading it out loud to you. An RSS feed that's reading it out loud to you.
There are just a ton of different ways, and we're prioritizing the majority's way, but we're not including a lot of the other ways. Or that we have assumptions that people can't.
You can hear my stomach growling in the background. I know there's pizza downstairs for me.
Chris: Whoa! Go eat some food.
Sameera: We're not really thinking about--
Chris: It's the happy path. Didn't you talk about happy path design? When we're talking about our actual jobs of designing products and thinking about how people use the Web and all that, it seems to me this maps onto hiring and retention and what it's like to work there. They are, in a sense, similar problems.
Sameera: Yeah. I think the thing that I would say -- a lot of people will say, "Well, this is HR's problem. I can't change that." What I implore everyone to do is fight for the things whether they apply to you or not. That is a way to be an ally.
If you notice that your company has nothing when it comes to accommodations for interviews, you've already said, "We don't want to hire a significant percentage of people because they have a type of disability that we can't even accommodate for that one hour." Let alone, if there are no budgets set aside for that thing, like whatever the accommodation may be, whether it's getting an interpreter full-time to join the company or elevator repair in that really cool warehouse that you got for your cool design shop, all of that stuff again needs to be thought about. If you want people to apply, you actually have to make it possible for them to work there.
Sameera: And you have to train people who already work there to understand that the way they do their job is not how everybody does their job.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I think of this little one. Maybe this is a micro instance that isn't -- not that we should be stacking up these things against each other, but I knew a guy who, you know, he just didn't do well around a bunch of alcohol. I don't know. Maybe he was an alcoholic or teetering on that as a problem. Maybe you don't want to hire somebody like that. I don't know. It's not quite the same as not getting a job because you're in a marginalized group. But still.
Then AOL, at the time, was like, "We have keggers on every floor all day long. Cold beer. You just pour it right out of the wall." I'm like, "Whoa! My buddy would not succeed at that particular job," just because it was too there. It was, too, part of the culture, in a way.
It was almost like discriminatory in a weird way I hadn't thought of before I thought of him in that situation. You know?
Sameera: Yeah. There's a lot of assumptions on what makes a successful way to work. I think we see this, too, with remote working versus get back to the office. There are so many assumptions that people are just going to be on the couch while some show is on, British baking show is on, in the background - or whatever.
That might be true for some people. That's not true for everybody. I think it's that it's not true for everybody and you actually have to -- again, critical thinking -- take the step back. Think about the different ways that people can access a job to have certain disabilities, which again have their own set of assumptions. People think that you can't do certain jobs.
But when we look at what is covered by ADA, there are disabilities that are visual. There are disabilities that are not visual that you can't tell just looking at someone.
Sameera: There are disabilities that are long-term or permanent. There are disabilities that are short-term. A lot of amazing disability advocates speak to the point of everybody should care about this because you are one car accident away, one freak accident, one genetic mutation away from suddenly being disabled, and you're going to have to deal with that.
Chris: And it doesn't mean you're instantly useless as a person.
Chris: It just means you have different needs, right?
Sameera: And that we have to just be a lot more inclusive of the different ways that people show up, and all of those ways are okay. We're just so stuck in our heads of, like, everybody -- my experience is everybody else's shared experience. That's the thing that I want people to get outside of your comfort zone and get out of that assumption and really start working on yourself first so that you can start doing this important work.
Dave: That's probably a great place to wrap it up. I was just going to say that's the summary is work on yourself a bit. Figure out that, and then let's go fix some bigger, more systemic problems.
Thank you, SamKap, for coming on the show. For people who aren't following you and giving you money, how can they do that?
Sameera: [Laughter] Please buy the book. It's on abookapart.com. There's the twitters for as long as Twitter will still be usable. I am @SamKap on there. Then my website, which is going through a redesign. Found some variable fonts I'm very excited to use for the first time.
Sameera: They are blowing my mind. Samkapila.com.
Dave: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.
And thank you, dear listener, for downloading this in your podcatcher of choice. Be sure to star, heart, favorite it up. That's how people find out about the show. Follow us on Twitter for six tweets a month. And join us in the D-d-d-d-discord, patreon.com/shoptalkshow.
Chris, do you got anything else you'd like to say?
Chris: Yeah. Can't wait to get you back on again, and we'll talk about variable fonts next time. [Laughter] That'll be awesome.
Sameera: I hope I will be better at them then, but oh, my gosh. So excited about them.
Chris: Yeah. Pretty rad. Font feature settings. Uh... ShopTalkShow.com.
Dave: Op size. Op size.