- By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins
- Hosted By: Janet Roche
- Edited by: Andrew Parrella
- Guest: Matteo Zallio
- By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins
It’s never been so important to design with inclusion right from the start! Evidence-based research shows the value of inclusive design, but how do you convince clients of these benefits and add more IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) into your design process? Dr. Matteo Zallio of Cambridge University has developed a few new tools that provide a way for you to do just that!
IDP digs into the research that led to the creation of the IDEA toolkit, and how it can help designers ask all the right questions and present the best solutions. These tools can help you get your clients to appreciate and embrace the need to create healthier spaces where people live and work. We also sneak a peek into the not-too-distant future to explore Inclusive Design in the Metaverse! Get ready to start designing safe and inclusive virtual immersive environments.
Guest: Matteo Zallio- is a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, and previously a Fulbright fellow at Stanford University. He is an award-winning designer and researcher with a unique background in helping businesses to develop futuristic technologies that are inclusive by considering human diversity. In his own words, he is on a mission to make everyday spaces and technologies accessible and inclusive for everybody.
Creating the Best IDEA:
Matteo Zallio’s Tools for ‘Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility’
Guest: Matteo Zallio
Music / Open
Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.
Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community the more effective and respectful the design will be.
(Music up, then lower)
Music / Intro
Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I am your host, Janet Roche…
Carolyn: and I am your moderator, Carolyn Robbins…
Janet: Carolyn, we have such a wonderful show today! But first, I’ve got to tell you some big news, ‘Feedspot’ has put us on their list of “The 70 Best Design Podcasts on the Internet”—pretty cool, right?
Carolyn: Very cool. Woohoo us!
Janet: Woohoo us, exactly… and to keep us on that list, we must get to our next guest. Dr Matteo Zallio from Cambridge University. He has done a lot of research on how the built environment influences our perception of a space, our behavior, our interaction with other people and ultimately, our mood and happiness.
He and his team have created some wonderful tools to help designers and architects add Diversity, Equity & Inclusion—or as we call it DEI— in their designs. They named it the ‘IDEAs Toolkit’ which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.
Carolyn: Yes, and not only is Matteo Zallio one smart cookie, but he’s our first international guest!
Janet: Our podcast is being heard far and wide, and with that in mind, I think our next season may be even more globally focused.
Carolyn: So true, and a good hint at some interesting future shows we are working on… but first, let’s take a closer look at Matteo, his background and what makes him so impressive…
Dr. Matteo Zallio is a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, and previously a Fulbright fellow at Stanford University. He is an award-winning designer and researcher with a unique background in helping businesses to develop futuristic technologies that are inclusive by considering human diversity. In his own words, he is on a mission to make everyday spaces and technologies accessible and inclusive for everybody.
Janet: Matteo will introduce us to ways to use the tools they created to help find the best design solutions. And we even take a little side trip into the future to discuss what’s coming in the Metaverse!
Carolyn: And unlike the Marvel heroes, we may already have some super-powers to make the technology more inclusive right from the start!
Janet: Actually Carolyn, the Marvel multiverse may be fictional, but the Metaverse is very real and coming sooner that we think. But we’ll let Matteo tell us about this and many other important insights in his own words.
Carolyn: And with that, here is our interview with Dr. Matteo Zallio… Designer, Scholar, Product Creator, and Inclusive Design Activist.
Music / Interview
Janet: Hi and welcome Matteo. How are you?
Matteo: I’m great Janet. I’m great. It’s great to be here with you.
Janet: And where are you right now? I know you travel all over Europe. Where are you stationed at the moment?
Matteo: Great question. Well, I’ve been traveling prior to COVID a lot. I was in America and around Europe, but now I’m based in Cambridge in England. So I’m currently here.
Janet: Very nice. It’s a beautiful area. So let’s kind of dive right on into it. Let’s start with the broader perspective. What exactly got you involved with inclusive designing and what brings your passion to the table?
Matteo: Well, it might be a long story, but I’ll try to keep it short. (J: laughs). Because you know, I learned about inclusive design, universal design, and accessible design shortly after my master’s degree in architecture, back in Italy. When I was working as an architect in different offices, and I was consulting for some companies. And I understood that, as an architect, I haven’t been clearly understand the concepts of inclusion and accessibility when I was studying.
And with the practice, I understood that there is much more than only just guidelines and regulations. And so, I got more interested into exploring a more people-centric perspective rather than a more technological or, or kind of self-centric perspective of making a beautiful architecture. But I wanted to make beautiful, accessible, and inclusive architectures and products.
So yeah, everything started at that moment. And then, I got a chance to get enrolled into a PhD where I actually started and I did research around that topic, and it’s where, brought me up to here today.
Janet: That’s great. Well, was there also like a particular thing in your life that maybe made you think to go in this particular way, was there like an impetus, was there an ‘aha’ moment? Was there something that you said, ‘this isn’t right, we’ve got to do things a little bit differently’?
Matteo: Well, for sure. I think, the moment when I started seeing my grandma, which, I was very attached to her, you know, getting older and getting more… I would say, with different impairments than the one she had when she was younger.
Well, this made me think that sometimes the house, the home, the place where we live, which is, you know, the nest where we build our family, sometimes can become a prison. And people have the right not to live in a prison, but to live in an environment, in a place, where they feel good, they feel included, and they feel can protect them without safety or security issues.
So, yeah, I think combining that event, those moments with what I was studying, and what I wanted to study in the near future, brought me to be more interested into this topic and to learn really a lot, especially from my trips around the world.
Janet: Right. Okay, my brain just started exploding with all these questions. So you know, I think it was even Judy Heumann said something to the effect of: ‘We’re only disabled by the environment around us’… so, and I thought to myself, that’s very true, right, to your point, that the environment is really the disabler. Right? The thing that becomes the problem. So I know that you’ve done a lot of research at Cambridge University. Can you tell me a little bit about some of your work?
Matteo: Oh, for sure. Janet. Well, we have done quite a lot of research at Cambridge around inclusive design. And especially if we talk about the built environment. We recently understood from a survey that we conducted across different areas of the board, that survey respondents reported that building owners are well-informed about the benefits of designing inclusively.
And unfortunately, we got only 10%, around 10% of the survey respondents, to be really well-informed about that. So what that means… 1-out-of-10 people know about the benefits of designing according to universal design and inclusive design principles. And this led us to think a lot about what we could do as a community, as architects, as designers, to promote inclusive design and to explain about the benefits to business owners, to clients, to facility managers, to everybody who has to be involved in the design process and in the commissioning process.
Janet: Right. It seems reasonable (laughs). But I thought it was interesting that it was only, I don’t know why it surprised me, 1-out-of-10, I thought it would be a little bit higher than that. And I think people do know, but I think that people don’t always then know what to do. I just took a survey about, as a designer, had I come across anything about designing gender neutral bathrooms.
And it was interesting to me because I really had to think about what the other designer who’s asking me for it, and then they had to go back and talk to their stakeholders, right, and discuss this as a concept. And I think that none of them, and maybe even myself included, really understood the, like what I could say, in order to help this as a practice.
And I think people want to do it, but they just don’t know what they’re looking for. Can you, can you give us some examples of maybe some of this as ideas to, to help designers to push the narrative?
Matteo: Totally, Yeah, well, this is very true, and it is correlated to the fact that as people don’t really know about the benefits and maybe even the value of designing more inclusively. There is a sort of a correlated scarcity in their request to the architects to design inclusively. So let me rephrase.
Basically, if people don’t really know about the value of having a building that is not just wheelchair accessible, but it’s actually helping people with sensory or cognitive impairments to live in a better way and to thrive. Then architects, designers and the engineering teams are not really pushed to design for standards that are going above and beyond what we currently know and what we currently envision in terms of design.
So an example that’s really clear, and I think it impacts the life of a lot of people is, you know, when you go to a restaurant. And maybe you are sitting at the table, the lights are pretty low, there is a lot of noise in the restaurant, and you have a group of people around you trying to have a conversation with you.
Well, I personally experienced a lot of times exclusion in that setting because I couldn’t hear clearly what people were telling me; I couldn’t see clearly what I was going to eat; and even more things. Sometimes you are squished into the side of the room with your chair (J: laughs) and you want to go to the toilet and you say, well, it’s better I don’t go now. But I go when I just stand up before paying the check. (J: laughs). Because if I need to move now, I need to move the table, I need to move the other eight friends around me. (J: laughs).
So this is not really about an inclusive experience, (J: No), but this is something that excludes people from having a pleasant evening. (J: right). And that’s an example I think is powerful to understand, not just the value, but the benefits of designing inclusively.
Janet: Right, I’ve experienced that both in separate nature, whether it’s just the poor lighting or the sound is too loud, or I can’t navigate the room, or like you said, all at once. And then when we talked to Yannick Benjamin of Contento, he was a restauranteur and he had really looked to try to design for inclusivity.
And I think what we’re kind of saying here, is that there’s a direct correlation ultimately at the end of the day from inclusivity, because guess what? I’m likely not to go back to that restaurant, right? I’m going to try to persuade my friends not have to go back to that restaurant because I couldn’t hear them, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t navigate getting to the bathroom, or whatever, you know, throw in a couple of glasses of wine, right? I mean, it’s just becomes a whole thing. That’s money out of your pocket.
Matteo: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think this is another example that tells a story for, you know, business owners for example when we talk about a restaurant. But simply, you know, when we go to the hospital, at school, at work, in a shopping center, everywhere— it’s really about trying to make these examples and trying to allow people to develop a narrative and a conversation that allows them to put themselves into the shoes, not of others, but of themselves.
So if you cannot put yourself into the shoes of a wheelchair user, put yourself into your own shoes when you were experiencing exclusion… when you couldn’t enter a door in a shopping center because you had so many bags around you, or you were carrying so much weight, or a kid, or just simply you couldn’t get into the car because you finished the 2-hour session at the gym when you were completely destroyed, right? (J: laughs).
When you, when you try to emphasize these emotions, these feelings, and these behavior for people to really understand ‘how could be the life if you have a physical sense or a cognitive impairment?’ Well, then at that moment people will demand for more inclusive design. People will demand for better designed buildings, and people will understand that at some point that they cannot live without that.
Janet: Right. Let me ask, I want to ask you a more of an opinion question. We’ve talked about this in other episodes as well, is the idea of whether or not, when looking at design to do sort of like the fake walk through, so like, being in a wheelchair, maybe having some sort of eyeglasses that make you have limited vision, or something like that to walk through those spaces. You know, it’s temporary, so that’s where people have an argument with, you know, this is just considered like a blip in time versus a chronic situation that goes on for perhaps the life of the occupant.
Again, there’s two trains of thought… I’ve seen it work both for myself and also for others students and even observers of students going through spaces that have to navigate while pretending to, having some sort of paraplegia, or pretending to have some sort of visual impairment, that type of thing. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Matteo: Absolutely. I have more than some thoughts on that (J: laughs) because, well, first, I could mention that when we developed a study about a year and a half ago, and we tested the ‘Cambridge Simulation Glasses’ which are glasses that exactly do what you were mentioning before. They simulate visual loss, and they simulate, for example, the inability to understand, to clearly see contrast between objects and colors. We did a study— it’s open access, it’s published— about how people can understand by wearing these glasses where points of exclusion are within a building.
And we tried it out in different settings. And we discovered that, for example, stairs. The stairs that have the nose without a color that highlights the end of the step are extremely dangerous. Not just for people who are totally blind, of course, but also for people who have very, very mild visual impairments (J: right), or simply where people are checking their phone, (J: laughs), their messages or their social media, and they are not looking at exactly where the stairs are.
And that’s not everything, because it’s great to develop this sort of empathy for, let’s say impairments that you don’t have. There is a problem here, as you mentioned, wearing those glasses, or trying a wheelchair for a couple of hours a day in a year, doesn’t allow you to have the full experience of a person that lives constantly in a wheelchair, with glasses, or hearing aids. for example. (J: Right).
This is a limitation of approaching the problem in this way, but it’s also a powerful message that allows people to first approach a problem, a need, a demand from the users in a different way. And if they are approaching that way that has not been a conventional way they normally do when they design, well, it helps them to create more empathy and compassion. So then, when they design, they have a better understanding of questions and answers that are out of the box.
Janet: Right. Yeah. I thought I would kind of just ask you about that, because it’s sort of a hot topic within inclusive design and how to navigate some of these spaces and such. So Matteo, are there any resources that you can point to that might be helpful for our listeners?
Matteo: Well, there is a lot of research in this area and there are a lot of studies. Now, if I would mention to you right now a list of studies, we might end up recording the podcast into tomorrow (J: laughs).
Janet: Well, you have kindly provided us with a few resources of your own and we’ll have that on our website, InclusiveDesigners.com.
Matteo: Absolutely. I think it’s worth to mention the variety of studies done from the 60’s when the human rights movement started to mushroom, in America especially, (J: Right), to also studies around the 90’s and 2000, even from Cambridge or also from other universities across Europe and America, where they test products and they test tools to increase this empathy, this experience of living in someone else’s shoes for a bit. (J: Right).
I can just mention, for example, the Age Explorer Suit, which is a sort of a suit that you can wear and you experience for a few minutes or about an hour, whatever time you want to wear it, the feeling of being an older person (J: yup), with, you know, temporary physical impairments.
So there are really a lot, a lot of tools out there. And, (J: Right), it’s just a matter of maybe Googling it and find them.
Janet: Right. I mean, there’s even tools right now that you can put on your phone for Pete’s sake to get some sort of idea of even what visual impairment might look like in a space. So keep that in mind designers, and we will have all that posted on our website, Inclusive Designers.
So going back to your work, so when we were designing spaces that are really inclusive, are we considering all aspects of human beings or sometimes we have to be very specific? I think it’s the ultimate goal is to be as sort of global as all-encompassing as we can be, but is that really attainable?
Matteo: Well, I cannot hide that it’s very challenging for several reasons. And one is that— even if we’re talking about a small architectural firm, a small design firm, or a huge, massive with thousand employees architectural design firm— there’s always a degree of misunderstanding or bias, or even just a lack of knowledge about, you know, designing inclusively for everybody.
But to me it’s important that from the very start, from when you study in college, in your PhD, in your master, even perhaps in your, you know, K-12 education, there has to be an understanding of, for example, the power of diversity. The importance that nobody is equal to another person. I mean, we are all different, but we all need equal rights, right?
So for example, coming back to the work of designers and architects, it’s important to understand the stories and the journeys of stakeholders for the building occupants. It’s important then to brainstorm when we know their stories and their journey, to brainstorm what their capabilities are— what are their physical, their sensory, their cognitive capabilities.
And when we understand about the journey and the capabilities, we can then define the needs, their desires, right? The really so-called ‘need finding’ stage in the design thinking process that is very famous and popular among designers, (J: right), but I’m not sure how popular it is among architects. So knowing about a journey, knowing about the capabilities, allows us to define the needs. (J: hmm).
And once we understand about the needs, we can create design requirements. (J: Right). There are not just a checklist taken from a few standards or regulations, but it’s really something that goes above and beyond our traditional thinking process.
Janet: Right? That is so true. I think when people hear that I’m an Inclusive Designer, those designers and architects come, they mean well, but they’re really trying to get, they’re looking to get around the checklist. They’re not even like trying to get the checklist done.
So I find that that’s in some respects, it’s a simple process, but I think you’re right. I think people just don’t always tend to want to go through it. I think that there’s a, a feeling of design in terms of beauty that that’s the focus and it’s not necessarily on inclusivity. And that ultimately, well, it could win you awards, but it’s probably not going to be like… I just saw something recently in one of the design magazines and they had, it was for some sort of spa. It was just bizarre. There was no biophilia in there which is known to create feelings of calmness and relaxation. And again, it looked like it was like a white cave. It was just, it was bizarre to me, but it made the magazine. Right?
But I thought to myself, well, how long is that going to last? I’m thinking, I just don’t see that as being some sort of like beautiful place in order to go to kind of relax. So, but anyways, so it was just to your point, I’m getting off track here, but I know you also talked a little bit about an ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’… can you talk a little bit about that?
Matteo: Yeah. Well, we did some research here in Cambridge. And other than understanding about ‘what are the challenges’, we try to envision ‘what are the opportunities out of these challenges.’ So other than understanding that there is demand, and with not enough answer to these demands to design inclusively. We try to work with architects and experts. And we are literally a co-design process to try to understand how we can help them in the design process. How can we make the design process an inclusive design process?
So we were able to create this ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’ which is sort of strategic design template that helps people, helps architects, designers to brainstorm and involve real users in the design process.
Janet: Can you tell us a little bit your ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’ and how can inclusive designers access it?
Matteo: For sure, Janet. So, an essential part of the design process is about understanding who we are designing for, what are their stories, their capabilities, their desires, and their journeys. So to help designers to embed inclusive design in their traditional design process, after years of research, we created a design template, this is called ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’ that helps designers, but also public authorities and organizations, to think inclusively and ask the right questions. So the ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’ is a strategic design template that offers an educational springboard for architectural design professionals to embed inclusive design into their design process.
I could say it actually helps to develop community engagement exercises with stakeholders. Or we can just simply use the canvas, which is an A3 paper, an A3 sheet—you can print it or use it on your computer— to brainstorm with, with post-its. For example, with your team, you can brainstorm the journey, the capabilities, the needs, and the design requirements you have to think of in order to go above and beyond accessibility, and really think about inclusion, diversity, and equity when you design.
Janet: Right. I love the idea that just even bringing in the community, I think, designers and architects just don’t even take that into consideration. (M: yeah).
Do you have any suggestions for designers out there that are maybe trying to get their firm to do that type of extra— it’s extra legwork, let’s just be honest, right, I mean, it should be part of the process, but it is extra legwork at the moment. So, do you have any suggestions for those designers that are maybe trying to push that narrative in their design firms and, and getting a little pushback? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Matteo: Well, I would say to your point, it’s not really extra work at the moment, because then you get paid back in terms of happiness, satisfaction and (J: productivity), totally, of the people who are going to live into your, into the building you’ve designed (J: right), after you finish your process. (J: right).
So I think it’s really about embedding in the design process the word ‘inclusive’. So what do you do? I do design— no, you do inclusive design. So inclusive design or universal design should become not just buzzwords, but literally objectives that clarify and make sure people understand how you design.
Let me give you an example, doing universal or inclusive design is not just an add-on, as I said before, it should be really in the mainstream design process. And when you do this, you should start from the very basics from, you know, from the ground up, to think about a blank paper— when you have to sketch a new house or a new office for your client— as an opportunity to use, for example, a structured method like with the ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’, which is an assessable open source tool you can download from on my website or the university of Cambridge, the Engineering Design Center, Inclusive Design Group website. You can use that.
Janet: And we’ll have that on our website.
Matteo: Yeah well, you can just download the canvas and use that as a tool for the very few moments when you start the process to literally think about something that is not just about form and aesthetics, but think about something on form, fit, and function. (J: right). Form, fit, and function are what makes a great architecture, beautiful architecture, to work for real people.
Janet: Right. Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. And what is the website Matteo?
Matteo: Yeah. Janet. Well, you can find it on my website, MatteoZallio.com, or on the Engineering Design Center from the University of Cambridge website. So I think Google will help you a lot to find it.
Janet: (laughs) love Google. Alright, I got a couple, few more questions for you. You said something along the lines of designers have to ask for feedback and evaluate how they can do better. You know, we talk about sort of like post occupancy surveys and stuff like that. We have a, another designer that had thought maybe that they’re kind of becoming obsolete. Or maybe they were becoming obsolete because people just weren’t doing them. She argues a little bit further that maybe we can be doing a better process upfront so that the post-occupancy surveys don’t necessarily, they don’t have to be done. What are your thoughts on that?
Matteo: Post-occupancy surveys are tools or methods that are around since, I would say the 80’s and 90’s. More so in the 2000’s and in recent years, but they have been around and been tested for more than 30-years now.
Yes, there are some challenges, there are some problems with some of the post-occupancy evaluation tools out there but are also great opportunities. In fact, we understood about the opportunities with, with the research we have done, because there is a part of the design process that has to be done in a way that is inclusive. And as I mentioned before, you know, you can use the ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’, but you can also use other tools that I’m sure are out there.
When you talk about getting the data and getting an understanding of what people feel, what people experience in an environment, in a building. Well, to me, it’s important that you just not ask questions about ‘how do you feel in terms of thermal comfort’; how do you feel in terms of access; how you feel in terms of sensory, like auditory comfort? But it’s important really to embed in post-occupancy evaluation tools, or even more in surveys or other mixed method audits, the great variety of information that allow us to live in a space.
And I’m saying about, of course, the relationship between the person and the space, which it can pass as information around access, ergonomics, thermal comfort of course, or the comfort, but also for example, the perception we have about cleanliness and maintenance. And also you have to put together into post-occupancy evaluation, for example, data about how people feel and how people feel with others in a specific environment. So about people, teams’ dynamics, how people feel in their relationship with other people (J: within the environment). Exactly.
Janet: Right. Yeah. Which is so important to understand just even the more nuanced pieces of being in those spaces. It’s something that comes to mind and in just, even a household kind of situation, everything you want is open concept, open concept, open concept for households. And that was huge. And then here came the pandemic and there were no places for people to kind of go because you’re now living with them 24/7. And that’s the interpersonal dynamics, right, I mean of living. Do you think that psychology comes into play a lot more than designers have thought about in the past? Like, what do you think?
Matteo: Yeah, I think that’s not just psychology, but here we are really at, in a crossroad of several disciplines. Of course design, but also there is behavioral science, there is ergonomics and human factors. There is really a variety of disciplines that we actually used to create a tool—a post-occupancy evaluation tool— that really brings together what I mentioned before. The relationship that people have with the space and the relationship that people have with other people in a space, in an environment.
And together, this information can really give a company or a business, or just simply the facility manager, or the person that is in charge of redesigning and refurbishing the building, that environment, or just simply the company’s culture— to understand how the people live, what the people feel, what is their perception.
And with this data from our ‘IDEAs’ audit tool, you can basically get a snapshot of what is happening into your company, into your building and what the real people think about it.
So, yeah, I think it’s powerful to bring together not just the aspects of ergonomics and human factors, but really to bring together behavioral science with design, and allow an understanding of how people feel and how can we do better to make them feel better.
Janet: Right. And can you tell us a little bit more about the new toolkit ‘IDEAs’?
Matteo: Sure. So out of the research we have done… so the ‘IDEAs Audit’ tool is a tool that helps you to understand the perception people have about their working environment.
The ‘Ideas Audit’ tool has been developed out of years of research. And we understood that is really important for companies and architects and designers, to understand the real perception that people have about their working environment or the built environment where they live.
So we developed this tool that helps designers and business leaders and facility managers to understand the perception of inclusion, equity, diversity, and accessibility in a place, in an environment. And this data help really a lot in the design process and in framing new policies for the built environment where people live and work.
Janet: And it’s available now or …
Matteo: it’s already available. you’ll find it on The University of Cambridge website.
Janet: Right. It was always interesting when I started off at the Boston Architectural College for my master’s in Design for Human Health, the cornerstones were that we look at the biology, psychology, and sociology of spaces. And I remember just even my dad being like, why are you studying neuroscience? You’re a designer. Why are you studying, what was the other one… biomechanics. And he just could not wrap his head around some of these more, it seemed like, I think he thought I should be picking up just like a, some sort of protractor and a straight edge and, and kind of call it a day.
But I feel that even those three touchstones, and we’re coming up with more with trauma informed design and our evaluation tool with that, but we have these outside touchstones. So I appreciate you bringing up the, the idea of interpersonal working mindset and the perceptions and stuff like that.
I find it fascinating, but I think what you were touching on was, is that ultimately again, if you can have people just to be happier and healthier within their spaces, productivity goes up or people come back to your spaces or stay longer in your spaces to either eat more, shop more or whatever it is. So it’s really quite great.
So moving forward, what do you see in the future? Like, what do you think our challenges are going to be coming out of COVID? I see a real change that has happened over the last two years. And I think, again, going back to this being more inclusive, more diverse, more equitable. I think people are recognizing that this is something that needs to change. But do you see anything else, or is that the major piece that we’re coming out of as designers? Like that was something that was huge.
Matteo: Well, I have to say, we are at a time in history where there is a lot going on now across the world. And Covid was not even the last of the big challenges we are experiencing, (J: right). And we are just recording the podcast in the moment where we didn’t really expect a few weeks ago what was going to happen now. What the impact in the life of millions of people in the war. (J: right).
And, when I think when we talk about universal design, inclusive design, and when we think about making buildings, neighborhoods, cities, country areas, I mean, making the world better, we really understand that, you know, we are all connected. We are not just one country, another country. What happens in Asia influences America, and what happens in Europe influences Oceania, Australia. (J: Right).
So what I’m trying to say is that when we talk about, you know, understanding about diversity, about equity, and about inclusion, I think in the near future, and also mindful of COVID, we have to really think that if we are in a workplace, and for some moments before COVID, we were maybe able to cope with stress, or cope with a behavior of another person that wasn’t really great for us and this was making us feel more excluded (J: hmm) from the working environment, for example. (J: Right).
Well, now I think we got an understanding of the opposite. We got an understanding of maybe being isolated and not connecting with real people, or maybe being totally immersed in family life. And so we now know more, we were able to put ourselves in someone else’s’ shoes, but also put ourself in our shoes and really understand what are the challenges we can experience in different contexts. (J: hmm). And sometimes for us, different context means the daily context for other people. (J: uh-huh).
And so I would like to close with a message, which is, we have been thinking and working a lot to develop and design places that are wheelchair accessible. It took about 50-years, almost, between the first movements to then get to standards and regulations like the ADA in America, to literally make the voice of certain people heard.
Now we have more power. Now we can make the voice heard much faster, quickly, because we have other tools or instruments. Let’s not forget about continuing the narrative, but also about implementing this narrative in the practice. Because sometimes we listen to podcasts and say, ‘oh, that was great’ and then you forget about how to do things. (J: yeah).
And you know, we are approaching an era where it seems everything is going to be digital. (J: right). Everything’s going to be virtual, everything is going to be immersive.
Janet: Right. Can we just kind of stop you right there, Matteo? I think there’s actually a good segue. Cause you and I had talked a little bit about like the Meta world, right? Do you want to expand a little bit about that and, is it going to be accessible for everybody? I mean, if you’re in a virtual world and you have some sort of visual impairment, how do you see that working? I think also is there an opportunity for it to be more inclusive than what we’ve had in the past? Designers, kind of think about that. Or do you think it’s just going to separate people even further? I know that’s a lot of questions in one. (laughs).
Matteo: Let me say Janet, that there is really a lot to discover about that. And let me also say that I just finished research that is going to be released in a few days— actually think once the podcast will be released, the research is going to be already public— (J: oh), about designing the Metaverse, designing digital immersive worlds. And I can tell you that there are more questions than answers right now.
And there are more questions simply because we can imagine that these digital worlds will be more accessible and partially is correct, but partially is incorrect, because what can seem more accessible, for example. There is no force of gravity, so we don’t need to walk from a space to another. (J: Right).
However, there will be accessibility issues in terms of ‘how can we use the technology to access that space?’ And now equitable opportunities to allow people from under-represented communities or emerging markets can have to access that space. That’s a matter of accessibility.
And so I really think that, you know, the architects of the physical world, as they call them, (J: laughs), will have an opportunity to influence. While the architects know how to design and include in the physical world, will have an opportunity to understand how to inform the design of an inclusive digital immersive world. (J: uh-huh).
So, let me just finish with the fact that we have to be aware there are really endless opportunities there. (J: right). Endless in terms of design, in terms of equity and human rights, and also in terms of technological opportunities. So I’m really curious to see what’s going on in the next few years.
Janet: Yeah, me too. I find it fascinating and let me just ask you a quick follow-up question here, which is, having come from Italy, you know, sort of like the backbone of architecture, right, like that, it wasn’t America, as much as we’d like to think it is. It’s not, (laughs), it could be Greece too, but you know, there’s classical designs that still to this day resonate with both beauty and with presence.
It’s kind of incredible, right? And then at some point as designers and architects, we kind of lost feeling with that. Like, because there’s new materials so we can create new things all good and fine, but the basic beauty was the basic beauty and that was how it was kind of done.
And it doesn’t matter whether even if you were a Picasso. Picasso had gone and studied all the masters, right? And before he became, you know, known with the eyeball over here and the arm over here, and he really kind of thought outside the box.
So I’m wondering, do you think that in order to create this Metaverse, we have to be able to master then the physical environment in terms of inclusivity to go into a more inclusive Metaverse? Or do you think that this is, we can kind of say, okay, we’ve messed that up in the physical and maybe try to do it a little bit better in the virtual?
Matteo: Well, I would start by saying that yes, I’m Italian. (J: laugh). Yes, I studied architecture in Italy, but the concept of beauty is very subjective. So, I think that in terms of physical world, the architecture, everything we build in terms of buildings or cities, or neighborhoods is really context dependent.
So I don’t know exactly if a typical 15-or-1600 house built in Tuscany can fit really well the weather in Wisconsin, or the weather in San Francisco. (J: true). So it’s context dependent. (J: right).
And the beauty of the houses in San Francisco is something that is specifically related to San Francisco. And I can think of something similar in Italy, like ‘Cinque Terra’, where the colorful houses are there. (J: uh huh).
But as we know the technology that was used to build the houses is different than the technology used to build the houses in San Francisco. (J: right). Because in the bay area, there is a high risk of earthquake. In Italy, there is, but it’s a bit lower. So again, this is a big discussion, but in terms of the digital world, I think, as I said before, there are endless opportunities. But also we don’t have to commit the same mistakes we made when we created buildings before in terms of accessibility. (J: Right). And even more, we cannot afford to make the missteps we made when we created the internet. (J: right).
The internet, the web, was created for a purpose. And it wasn’t created with accessibility in mind. (J: uh uh). Nowadays, internet is quite accessible, but just after years and decades of standards developed to make the internet accessible.
So now with the Metaverse, we are at the same point in history as we were about 30, 40 years ago with the internet. (J: hmm). And we are the same point, but with a different knowledge, with different people, with different opportunities and with a different mindset. So what I’m hoping to see is that we start designing the Metaverse as an inclusive space.
Janet: Right. Well, I’m looking forward to all the work that you’re going to be doing with that. I’ve got a couple of just quick questions to kind of wrap this up.
Janet: When I was getting ready for this interview, I started thinking to myself, you use, it’s funny because I call myself an inclusive designer, right? But it’s not really a term. There’s end user designers, you know, UX. And I don’t know, do you think that that should be a thing? Should we start like branding that? Or should we think it of as a, like: ‘of course I’m a designer. I am an inclusive designer’.
Matteo: Well, that’s what I’m hoping to see already now, (J: me too), but unfortunately, it’s not happening. (J: laughs). So let me say what I would like to see in the near future, even if I’m conscious that it’s going to take several, several years, actually decades, (J: Right). I see people as designers and the word inclusive before designers is already embedded in the word ‘designers.’ (J: sure).
I’m hoping that, you know, inclusive design was born in the 90’s almost in the same time as universal design was born, (J: right). Before we were talking about barrier free design or accessible design, so the concept evolved in a way that is more inclusive. That is more, that is broader. (J: Right). So it’s about 30 or something years that we are talking about inclusive design and universal design and design for all.
However, in 30 years, we still listing who is an inclusive designer, and who is ‘just’, and please understand that just with brackets, designer. We’re all designers. (J: true). I’m hoping that maybe in 2050 we’ll be all designers, but all- brackets- inclusive- brackets- designers. Right? (J: Right). So the word ‘designers’ will be already including the work, the understanding, and the capacities to be inclusive from the ground up.
Janet: Right. Well, one last question. anything you want to throw out there, like as we wrap up here? Is there anything else you want to make sure that you mention? Again, we’ll have a lot of all of your references that you pointed to and talk about on our website, Inclusivedesigners.com. But is there anything you say to yourself, ‘I need the inclusive designer community to really kind of notice and be aware of ‘?
Matteo: Well, Janet, there are really a lot of things, (J: laughs), but one that really is important for me now is that the community of designers, and of course, architects and engineers, for the community of creative people, the people who make things, no matter if they are inclusive or not, they are inclusive because I know in the end they are, will start using the research and the tool we have made.
For what reason, why? Well, simply a reason… because the research we do is not for ourselves. The research we do is for the world, for the people out there. So take your hands, put them on a keyboard, search for our websites, download the tools, download the ‘Canvas’, download all the material that you want because this material is made for you.
And if you have a feedback, get back to us. If you want a training session, of course get back to us. But most importantly is to use whatever is ready out there to make your work simpler and more inclusive.
Janet: Yeah. Well, that’s great. I really appreciate you not only coming on today but taking the time and I hope to actually have you back at some point. I think a great conversation would be about talking about ADA and also European regulations and guidelines and, and such. So if you have some other time at some point, we’d love to have you back on.
But in the meanwhile though, we really do appreciate your time today and we’ll have all this information again on our website and Matteo, thank you so much for stopping by today and giving us your really well thought out ideas on inclusive designers.
Matteo: Thank you so much Janet and Carolyn for having me in the podcast. And I thank a lot all the listeners and I’m looking forward to see more designers-slash-inclusive designers out there.
Janet: Right, yeah. And again, we’ll have his information on ‘Inclusive Design Canvas’ on the website and how to get in touch with Matteo. And we wish you good luck with all the work that you’re doing. And we think what you’re doing is really kind of fantastic.
Matteo: Thank you so much.
Music / Outro
Janet: Ah, Matteo is doing some really important work… so great! As he said, when designing or assessing a built environment, it is important to understand the variety of human needs. We may be more aware of physical disabilities, which are more visible, but as designers, we need to consider the non-visible impairments such as sensory or cognitive as well.
Carolyn: And the tools he and his team created— the Inclusive Design Canvas and ‘IDEA Audit tool’ – are really great resources to increase clients’ awareness of the importance and value of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Janet: So he’s also mentioned that his tools can help highlight the points of exclusions and challenges that can be solved to make spaces more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.
Carolyn: Both of these tools are readily available to download and put into use. As he said, you can google it, but we’ll make it even easier by putting the links on our website for you.
Janet: I want to emphasize to our listeners what he said: when designing, we need to look at who we are designing for, what are their stories and capabilities, their desires, and journeys. It is so important to think about that when designing inclusively.
Carolyn: And then there is the Metaverse. Your conversation with Matteo really made me think… it’s going to be very interesting for everyone and of course, for inclusive designers.
Janet: I think Matteo is right, designers need to take what we’ve learned from the internet into consideration as we move forward in this new Meta world. And we may have to consider a future episode on that and Inclusive technology.
Carolyn: I think you’re right, but maybe we should finish up this episode first. (laughs).
Janet: Right. Exactly. and we will also share the links for all his work, his IDEAs toolkit, Metaverse and of course, a bunch of other things that were mentioned along the way during this discussion. All on our website at InclusiveDesigners.com…
Carolyn: That’s InclusiveDesigners.com…
Janet: A big thank you to Matteo. And thank you all as well for listening.
Carolyn: Along with all the regular places you get your podcasts, you can also find us on YouTube as, you guessed it again, Inclusive Designers Podcast. And of course, if you like what you hear, feel free to go to our website and hit that Patreon Button, or the link to our GoFundMe Page. And now you can also find us on Feedspots’ List of Best Design Podcasts.
Janet: Yes, you can! And as our motto says: ’Stay Well…and Stay Well Informed’. As always, thank you for stopping by. We’ll see you next time.
Carolyn: Yes, thanks again.