Building an accessible, inclusive design system at Adobe

Matt, Veda, and Chris discuss how Matt and Veda have incorporated accessibility and inclusion into one of the world’s most well-known design systems, Spectrum. Matt shares his experience getting accessibility principles into Spectrum on the ground floor, and Veda discusses how inclusion fits into design systems.

March 21, 2022
by
Shayna Hodkin

The following interview is a transcript from an episode of the Design Systems Podcast.

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Chris Strahl:

Hi, and welcome to The Design Systems podcast, a place where design and development overlap, brought you by Knapsack. Check us out at Knapsack.cloud.

Hey, everybody, and welcome to The Design System podcast. I'm your host Chris Strahl. Today, we've got two awesome guests from Adobe. They work on the Spectrum design system. Welcome to the program, Matt May and Veda Rosier.

Matt May:

Thanks for having us.

Veda Rosier:

Hi there.

Chris Strahl:

Hey, Matt. Why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself? I think that we met at a conference in Seattle, gosh, when you could still go to conferences, what, three years ago now. And we had this really fun cab ride, where we talked a lot about what inclusivity means in a modern context and stuff like that. And I'm finally glad we were able to get you on the program. Go ahead and just tell us a little bit about what your role is.

Matt May:

Yeah. It feels like 10 years ago that we were actually getting face to face with people and talking about what we were doing, but yeah. So I've been at Adobe for almost 15 years now and started the first 10 years working on accessibility. And at the time, in the 2000s, it was mostly an engineering activity.

So what we had realized was that everyone wasn't participating equally in the accessibility work in these systems. And when Adobe came around to the idea of a design system, we latched on with both claws.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah.

Matt May:

We were ready for that kind of interaction with the team. And so as Spectrum came along, we just realized, if we're putting all this effort into the inclusivity of our product, it should go in the home of that design so that everybody can benefit from it. And that's where this partnership was born.

Chris Strahl:

Awesome. And Veda, it's great to have you on. Thanks so much for joining us. What's your role with the Spectrum team?

Veda Rosier:

Hey, Chris. So I am the Principal Product Manager for the Spectrum design system, where I'm responsible primarily for strategy and evangelism within Adobe regarding design systems.

Chris Strahl:

Awesome. So you guys have both been at Adobe for a little while now. Have you been working with Spectrum since the beginning?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. It actually started out with Shawn Cheris, our director, and just a deck. And he was evangelizing around Adobe the need for a design system. And so Adobe's design system is very unique in that it was a grassroots effort to begin with.

And I was hired three years ago. And yeah, so that's whenever I first met Matt and was taken out to lunch and immediately asked what I'm going to do about inclusivity in the design system. So straight away, that was my first conversation.

Chris Strahl:

So I know that Spectrum has your typical stuff that you'd see inside of a design system. It has components, it has designs, it has properties, it has ideas and documentation about how these different building blocks get used. But I think the real interesting part for this is, from its inception, you guys have thought of it as a tool for evangelizing values.

And so I'm really curious to hone in on that. That's not something, when people think about a design system, that is necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. How did that come about in that early days? And what does that model really look like for you guys?

Matt May:

There was this meeting in Utah, and I think it was about 2015. That was the first time that I was exposed to the fact that there was a group that was working on this. And that ended up becoming my director Shawn. And getting to that point was really where we interfaced and figured out that this was something that was really important.

And so getting in with the team that was developing that and saying, "We want to instill this as a core value of this, because we think the benefit of it cascades out," that was the critical starting point for that. And so at the time, I was a program manager working specifically on accessibility. And that evolved into me working in design to change that role.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. So from the beginning, you all realized that there was a ripple effect here and you wanted to take advantage of those ripples by baking in values into your system that really represented who you wanted your design and engineers to be. Is that a fair statement?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Matt May:

Yeah. And I would say that this was really the first time that we could have multiple teams using the same kind of system. Before we had developed a design system, we had Macromedia, we had Day Software. We had all of these companies that we'd acquired that had built their own frameworks and were doing things in a lot of different ways, and that was a maintenance hassle. If we had fixed something for accessibility in Photoshop, for example, would that carry over to Experience Manager? Of course not. They were complete different systems. So this was where we could actually get to the center of it and have it cascade out.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. And then Veda, how has that changed? In the time that you've seen it, you're like the midpoint of the system to the modern era, right?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Chris Strahl:

Have you watched that happen as a part of the adoption of Spectrum?

Veda Rosier:

Very much so. We have three basic system principles, and one of those is just placing customer needs first. It's overtly stated on the site, that we are deeply committed to high standard of accessibility and honesty and those sorts of things, just respect for user tension.

And since I've joined, I've seen that really refreshing move from operational guidelines around the industry. We are going to, of course, have these checks and balances, which you do need. But I think seeing the greater strategic value of a design system and its ability to influence culture and our own principles about how we're going to write about people and treat people and include people, that's just become something that's difficult to measure. It's an intangible, but it's really the most effective part of the system.

Chris Strahl:

When you think about the early days of design systems, I don't think people saw these as strategic tools. I think that they were thought of as, "How do I implement something?" And I love that you guys started with this in the realm of strategy.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah, me too. And I think Matt has been a really big influence on me in that regard, because I came from a product build world and I was concerned about that mechanical delivery of the design system and its outputs. And I was always empathetic to the idea of building things that were practically usable by as many people as possible. Creativity for all is what we shoot for.

But in terms of how you make that happen in a real sense, it really begins with instructing our leaders regarding what is the real value, not those hard line KPIs, of having your users see themselves in their products. If people don't see themselves represented in a product, they feel like it isn't for them. And so we do our best to share that way of thinking throughout our whole organization, not just leadership, all around.

Chris Strahl:

That's awesome. And Matt I'm pretty amazed that, before we all decided that design systems were the way we were going to build products, that you were able to conceive of this with your director as this strategic tool in these early days. What did that conversation look like, where you guys were really considering this centralized system as not just an implementation tool, but a cornerstone of how you would reflect the values in the company? Was it always thought of that way?

Matt May:

I think that there were lots of different stakeholders in the organization that wanted to have some kind of input in this, because they knew that at the end, they were going to be responsible for it. And internationalization and accessibility stand out for that. Security stands out for that.

And when you look at the frameworks that Microsoft puts out, their own toolkits, UI kit in macOS and iOS, all of these express a baseline for how each of these things works.

Chris Strahl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matt May:

And the design system can inherit some of that. But if it's going to be reinventing any of that, it needs to absorb that same responsibility. So a lot of the people that were outside of the design circle were looking at this as a way to make their lives simpler down the road, that having a common way to look at something, to market for how it's going to express itself for accessibility, how it's going to localize, how it's going to handle RTL languages, all of these things were things that we could solve once. And then we don't have to teach people how to do it. It's just something that they get for free. And we don't have to do a lot of special case testing or anything like that. It's just something that the people can start to take for granted.

Chris Strahl:

So people very quickly bought into the future value of the design system as something that was, yes, innovative, but absolutely valuable to the future state of all of these problem spaces that you guys had traditionally tackled very discreetly.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Matt May:

Yeah. And I think there was a term that we were throwing around around this period called One Adobe. And it was really just us telling each other, "Hey, by the way, we're not just a hundred different startups that have built a hundred different applications, but people come to rely on our experience being the same from one thing to the next."

And this was another way for us to unify those experiences. And so there were lots of people that could inject their values into that. And I think understanding that any design system is a distillation of where you put your values is a great starting point for anybody that's doing it on their own.

Veda Rosier:

Totally agree.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah. So that speaks to the why it matters part of this conversation, right? When you have that centralized system and you bake your values in it, that then becomes an expression across your products, across your teams, across your various aspects of your brand. So that, to you, was always the superpower here, right? Was this idea of, "If I'm able to not just put a bunch of code and design into the design system, but actual values, those values are inherited by all the teams that consume that design system as well." Am I getting that right?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. I think very much so. And in order for anybody to follow the guidelines that are in Spectrum, whether that's a product manager or an engineer or designer, they're going to be washed in that message of everything we do from the beginning is thought about through a lens of diversity and inclusion and accessibility and all these sorts of tier one requirements that naturally fit together.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. And so there is some difference there also in the individual expression of the design system versus this central system that codifies these values. And so in that space about, as an individual person, I come to the table with my own ideas about how the world works and everything like that, I'm suddenly exposed to this codified set of values that is something that the design systems seem and other folks inside of Adobe is propped up as "This is the thing that represents us as a company," with the intent of basically creating this inclusive environment across the entire organization.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's meant to be that way in terms of output. And it's also meant to be that way in terms of input. Even though we do provide a method and a set of tools, the space opened up for an individual designer, for example, is left intentionally for them to both innovate and be creative and push the boundaries of whatever experience they're building within that product.

And by making space for a diverse workforce, you naturally ... There's lots of studies. Some of them are referenced on our site even about the benefits of that, the tangible business cases that are there for inclusivity. And so it's a nice both input and output of being inclusive.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah. I love that you guys think about this both on the democratization front, about, "How do I get individual people to be able to use and access and work with this system?," but then also you think about it on the contribution front, which are two things that we really highlight a lot at Knapsack, is that ultimately the value of a design system is in that democratization.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Chris Strahl:

How do I get anybody to be able to use and also then contribute to a central system that then becomes a reflection not just of some high-minded ideals that happen once in a meeting, but it's something that is ongoing, it's organic, it's living, it updates itself?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. I think that those ideas are really empowering, that no matter who you are in the system or what your role is, if you have an opinion about how a thing should be, then you're welcome to express that. And we take a look at use case extensions all the time or revisit our core philosophies about how a given component or pattern should be surfaced in a product. And so that enables a lot of conversation from a big audience, lots of folks at Adobe, and sometimes externally as well, because they're open source projects.

Chris Strahl:

So Matt, tell me a little bit about the early adoption of this, right? Because it's not like everybody got together in Utah said, "All right, here's the system. Everybody go use it." What did that look like when you were first bringing people to this idea? And what were some of the questions you got about it?

I'm really curious to know, because this is a big undertaking, right? We're talking about strategic alignment of leadership and culture in a company and all these very challenging aspects of business to really put into something like this. What did those early conversations look like, and how did you get those first few steps?

Matt May:

So when we started, this big meeting that I was talking about in Utah was really a lot of different engineering teams that were building their own frameworks. And so the person that comes up and starts talking about, "Hey, let's standardize on this," that's the person that the design system ... that's codifying all of this into a system. It's not invented from a whole cloth. It's the codification of all of these different kinds of use cases and the calculus of putting it all together.

So a lot of the pushback, of course, is if you own a code base, then you're being told that you need to make changes to it to unify with other code bases. And there's a lot of storming around that, because then that cascades into the product teams. And there are all of these different things that spin off.

But when you look at it as, "We need to be more efficient with the work that we're doing so that we're not doing it once over here in enterprise, and once over here are in documents, and once over here in video, and once over here in digital imaging," that people start to realize, "Okay, this is worth the investment that we're putting in to doing that."

And one of the easiest ways to do that is to start with new products, people that are building a product from scratch, where we can say, "Look, we built this tool specifically for this purpose. You need to have a really, really good reason not to start from this, because you're going to be our first major client."

And so we built some of our mobile tools that were more Spectrum native. And then there are little adaptations here and there, that things are a little Spectrum-y and a lot Spectrum-y in some kind of progression, but with Spectrum ending up being the way that we say, "This is how we express ourselves as a product or a set of products or as an organization that makes products," instead of everybody making up their own roles.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. Got you. And so that spread, you started with, "All right, let's get some ideals together. Let's take and codify some things that already exist," which, by the way, that's absolutely the right way. The whole cost systems, they often have this problem of never really getting done.

Matt May:

Right.

Chris Strahl:

And then taking that and basically saying, "Let's apply this to the Greenfield use case." And as that matured, you got to watch other people see the value in it and then begin to adopt it themselves as something that they viewed as a valuable resource for the traditional stuff we think about in a design system: the speed, the consistency, the ability to share innovation between different teams. And along with that, it carried this ideology with it, this ethos that ultimately was a representation of culture.

Veda Rosier:

Absolutely.

Chris Strahl:

So cool. So what impact has this had? Matt, you have a before Spectrum lens. Veda, you have maybe a more recent take on this. I'm curious, where do you really see the impact here? You were talking about spreading values at scale, both to individuals inside of the organization and also as a decision making aid for the company. What's changed and what continues to change?

Veda Rosier:

From my perspective, I think what's changed is that, because Adobe is such a big org and there are so many product leaders, although our goal was One Adobe, pragmatically that's a difficult thing to achieve.

Chris Strahl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Veda Rosier:

And so the best that we could do was move away from this model of policing the way that teams were adopting, right? So even if there was a problem, we worked with them through a variety of channels, Office Hours, direct meetings, lots of working sessions. And we began to form this level of trust throughout the organization, that the folks that sit on the design system team truly are domain experts. And so that reputation as that grew, our credibility grew.

And so when I first joined, I think some of the product leaders phrased Spectrum as being a noble effort. And it became my personal mission to show them it's more than a noble effort and really how strategically value, well, it is to not only their product, but the ability of their product to shine in context of other Adobe products. There's consistency and then there's just cohesion.

Chris Strahl:

Right.

Veda Rosier:

And I think that became the goal. And in that way, we've seen a lot of leadership change and product leader change in terms of philosophy about the value that the design system brings, especially in regards to being able to ship products that include a wide range of influences.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. And so people are viewing this as something that helps them build better products.

Veda Rosier:

Absolutely. They need the guidance. And so they're coming to us for that guidance instead of looking at us as academics.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. Matt, what about you? You definitely lived in a before Spectrum world. Over a 15 year period, I'm sure a lot has changed. But what are the big markers that you think of as being substantially influenced by Spectrum?

Matt May:

I think from my perspective in my old role in accessibility, the idea of solving one problem with accessibility once and having it work out to do everything at once is enormous. And especially when we get into things like color contrast or being able to change your foreground and background colors in applications, do you want each product team to invent something that looks the same or do you want to give them a component that's says, "Here, this is how you do this?"

And when you think about things systemically like that, then you are saving a lot of energy, because a lot of accessibility people are really having to sell that work to different product teams, because they just don't understand it evenly...

Chris Strahl:

Right.

Matt May:

... and why they're doing things a certain way. So taking that out of an accessibility PM's job every day to say, "Please, please, would you do this?," and having to negotiate with every single person down the line and bringing it into one place where the people already know what's going on in Spectrum, everybody that's building the frameworks that implement Spectrum know what's going on with it, they know what their responsibilities are to do that, it just shrinks the number of people that have to be involved in that kind of decision making, which makes it faster to actually evolve and make the changes and adapt things to do better.

And so that's the part to me that makes everyone else's lives easier, including the end user, because now they have, when there's a slider, it's a Spectrum slider.

Chris Strahl:

Right [crosstalk 00:20:42].

Matt May:

The slider works the way that you expect it to do. And if you were depending on the keyboard to manipulate that slider, there aren't little incompatibilities with one thing to the next thing. You can rely on this the way that it's going to work. Great benefit to everybody involved.

Chris Strahl:

I really love that's both a strategic thing and a practical implementation, right? So from a strategic level, it's about making sure that accessibility is a part of every product. From an implementation level, it's actually having the accessible experience baked in to the componentry that you're shipping out. The patterns that you create inside of Spectrum become the path of least resistance. And they already have accessible, inclusive design principles baked into them as a part of just the nature of Spectrum.

And I think that's a really good small peek at how these systems work at that strategic level, of, "As Adobe, we value accessibility. And then as an implementation, we make sure that the parts of Spectrum that teams go and implement have that pre-built into that implementation."

Matt May:

Yeah. And that's really part of the governance model for Spectrum, that if you want a component that you built to be elevated to a Core or Spectrum component, you have a lot of questions to answer. You have a hurdle to get to, that it isn't just some engineer comes in and says, "Hey, we built something really cool," and tries to rally support for it. There are questions like, "How's it going to work with a keyboard?"

Chris Strahl:

Right.

Matt May:

"How's it going to work in high contrast mode? How's it going to localize?" All of these things that are necessary just for us to build software, those are a part of the way that you get things approved. And so that whole, "Down the torpedoes. Full steam ahead" kind of approach to this to force something into the system doesn't compromise the value of the system overall, because we have checks and balances that keep that stuff going.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah. And that contribution model also, on the flip side, it enables a small change to make a really big impact in the organization. So say we get multi-display setups actually really working for the web. That's going to introduce a whole new class of accessibility requirements. And so in that, the person that figures those out wants, even in a very small or subtle way, is able to then spread that to potentially every product in Adobe.

And that seems like what you're getting at from the contribution model. Am I correct in saying that, look, some engineer and some product team that figures this out has an avenue to make it so that every product uses their code or across your entire ecosystem?

Veda Rosier:

That's exactly right. And I think the other thing that's made the contribution system even more effective, besides just taking this big list of, "Here's what you have to do" and putting 50 hoops in front of the person that wants to contribute, we actually dedicate resources to guide that contribution.

And so if that person has a really great idea and it's apparent to us that they haven't thought about these things, we don't just give them a checklist and say, "You got enough." We actually work through it with them and say, "Here are the things that you have to consider." And I love those teachable moments. And then that engineer inevitably will go back to their product, or if they build on a certain platform and share that, and there'll be the conversations happening out in Slack. And so from one conversation, we get lots of ROI.

Chris Strahl:

That's great. And so what's the workflow for this look like, right? If I've made some new, incredible discovery about how to simplify accessibility in video carousels or some horrific thing like that, what does that contribution process look like? Is there a system that you guys have set up? Is it like an open source project where anybody's free to make a poll request? What does that look like?

Veda Rosier:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). All of the above. It can start with, again, any person within the company. Either it could be a product manager sometimes, whenever they're doing some vision work for their product. It can be a designer or an engineer. And regardless of where that's sourced, we try to make ourselves available. Obviously, we have both an external and an internal site, and then we have the contribution sites and all the git repos for all of the implementations.

And so any one of those things can be a source of information and innovation. And then wherever that comes from, we welcome it. And then we will bring it in and do this basic comparison as we guide that contribution. Is this something that's truly needed? Can it generalize out across the company? And what wasn't thought about?

Chris Strahl:

That's awesome. So that process is, yeah, controlled routine and workflow and everything like that.

Veda Rosier:

Right.

Chris Strahl:

But it's also very open source-y in the way that you think about contribution and that it can come from anywhere.

Veda Rosier:

Right.

Chris Strahl:

Because it sounds like it is very multidisciplinary.

Veda Rosier:

Absolutely. And we just don't want it to feel rigid. We want there to be guideposts. But I don't think anybody learns well when they have to come out of the context of the product that they're designing and think about a whole other domain. So we try to make that as frictionless as possible and just give them our own expertise.

Chris Strahl:

So tell me a little bit more about that, actually. So if somebody's coming from, say, a web app somewhere and they have some really great idea about a change that they want to make, and you have a desktop application over on the other side of things that ultimately wants to incorporate that change, that's a very difficult context to jump, right?

Veda Rosier:

Right.

Chris Strahl:

And so that's something that you guys are there to help with?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So all of the designers on the team are multidisciplinary. And we understand if somebody comes to us with a web app and they want to adopt a similar pattern on desktop, chances are it's going to have to go through a design cycle to figure out what that's going to look like. And more and more, that's true of any of our native development. So right now, we develop on a couple of proprietary platforms for video and at least four native platforms.

So for example, when it comes to iOS accessibility, we really have to think about the platform, because what the user gains in terms of the settings that are naturally a part of a given platform is something that we want to encourage our engineers to use. So don't override those, because ultimately that's just going to create debt and it makes it more difficult for the user to understand specifically how their settings are interacting with the operating system.

Chris Strahl:

Got you. So what about things that aren't code or design? What about those more cultural principle level conversations? How does somebody go about changing the way that you express your values? There's no more obvious a space in this than community conversations around gender.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Chris Strahl:

Right? We're trying to all figure out what inclusivity and gender really represent, and that evolving conversation changes frequently. How does that ultimately get reflected in values as our language and our thinking around different aspects of being human shifts?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. I think, well, Matt does a great job of bringing in speakers pretty frequently about different topics. And then we all have our standard sources of outside experts that we go to, that we follow on Twitter, whose books we read. And even back before COVID, during Adobe MAX or Adobe Summit or even Design Summit, we try to source an external brain trust essentially.

Chris Strahl:

Wasn't it Conan? Is that your guys' brain trust?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. Yeah [crosstalk 00:28:36]. Conan. Yes.

Chris Strahl:

I remember. It was good.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. It was a lot of fun for me. It was Kate McKinnon.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah.

Veda Rosier:

A boss. Yeah. And as we take all of those influences and begin to illustrate the value of those diverse voices, that naturally translates into a working model around values, right? And it's not unlike the engineering piece where you say, "Let's start with the problem set that's in front of us."

And I think we can do that. We can also be better and think about things in terms of bias way before we're presented with them. But as soon as we feel like we have an opinion, we try to put that in the Spectrum guidelines. There's a great reference for writing for people. And so those are some of the ways that we influence the way that culture gets built at Adobe in terms of that kind of thinking.

Chris Strahl:

That's awesome. I love the idea. So for example, I have a good friend who's ... He's not neurotypical. And so he looks at things in a very different way than most people do. And he happens to work at a big Seattle tech company.

Veda Rosier:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Strahl:

And one of the things that I thought was really interesting about his way of expressing his own viewpoint on inclusivity was around the ability to actually talk to a bunch of heads of product about how his particular point of view in the world and in who he is as a person, ultimately it wasn't reflected well in the products that he was working on.

And I love that you guys have this systematized way of taking that approach. And that can happen at any level inside of the organization, but it's definitely supported at the highest levels of the organization to make sure that it is a part of your guys' culture.

Veda Rosier:

Yes, definitely. And it's supported through all sorts of avenues. So we have special employee groups for various ethnies and other population segments that aren't considered neurotypical, whatever that is-

Chris Strahl:

Right.

Veda Rosier:

... these days. And I think that part of the conversation has to move towards a place of what are the non-negotiables. And so once you begin to impact culture and illustrate the value of diversity and inclusion, then you gain trust. And through that trust, you can begin to say, "What might have been acceptable last year to come to a product vision session with it's really not acceptable this year," because we're constantly evolving and growing and learning those messages and about our own biases.

And so the products we deliver have to reflect an ongoing state of non-negotiables. We've learned that lesson. We're going to do that. We don't talk about that anymore. It's just what has to be done. And then we have to keep the conversation open to continually learn. It's like the whole world right now, right?

Chris Strahl:

Yeah. But you get to have that as an ongoing conversation that has a forum and a place.

Veda Rosier:

Yes.

Chris Strahl:

As the CEO of a company that, albeit is not nearly the size of Adobe, the need to have that central gathering place, especially in a time of COVID where you're not all together talking about this stuff on a regular basis, it's great to see you guys setting up a centralized system that, yes, is ultimately about creating better products, but also has a lot to do with this conversation inside of your company. And I think that's really cool.

Veda Rosier:

Thank you.

Matt May:

 And just to add onto that, since what she was talking about was something that I wanted to get to, which is when you're trying and trying and trying to convince somebody to do something your way, and their executive has already bought into it and their executives' executives already bought into it, there comes a certain point where it's just stop energy. It's just trying to get out of having to do something.

And having your values codified, whether it's in a design system or in organizational accountability, the reward system that you have for employees, there comes a point where you can say, "Look, this is not a discussion that we're having with you anymore. If you're not on the train, then get on the train or get off the track," right?

Chris Strahl:

Right.

Veda Rosier:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matt May:

There's a certain point where we say, "These are the values that we instill." And one of the things that I appreciate most about working at Adobe is that I don't walk into a lot of rooms and have people say, "Well, we don't care about that." But I do have Office Hours where people come and talk to me about how that is happening to them in 2022 or that, "How do I convince people that that's something that's important to me is something that should be a part of the ethics of the organization?"

So we have a lot of latitude to say, "I know that you don't want to do this work, but everybody around you is doing this work, and you can look around. And we have given you as much of it as we can in Spectrum. And we've thought about how much is appropriate to give you in Spectrum. But it is your job to button it up at the end." And that is another one of the benefits of doing it that way. We're not fighting the same fight that we were fighting two years ago.

Chris Strahl:

And it represents an evolution for the business. It's a way of thinking about a more evolved state of where you ultimately want to be. And by the way, shameless plug for your Office Hours. I think that's a really generous thing that you do. That's an awesome way to give your time and to help people that are in some other interim state of trying to think about systems and ways of thinking like this, an avenue to really get a lot of your experience and knowledge. And so I appreciate that you do that as an attendee of those Office Hours, and I know that others in Knapsack have gone as well. So much appreciated.

Matt May:

It's fun. And it is a selfish thing for me. As I take this time and I talk to people and was like, "What's going on? How's it going?," I learn a lot about the questions and concerns that people have. And also, I get to give pep talks every once in a while. Yesterday, I had somebody that was just feeling down about what they were doing, and I'm like, "You got this. We could do this. You're going to get there. You're going to get there. You're on the right track." Yeah. It's great.

Chris Strahl:

One part problem solving, one part cheerleader.

Matt May:

Yes.

Chris Strahl:

Well, we'll throw a link to your Office Hours in the show notes too, so people can check it out.

Matt May:

Cool.

Chris Strahl:

So I think there's time for one more thing here that I wanted to touch on. What's the future of this look like? I think that you guys have talked about this evolution that's happened over the past six years and even a little bit before that, where you've really thought about this system as a cornerstone to your strategy and also the way of implementing that strategy throughout the organization. How do you see it changing, especially within the coming year, the ability to spread your values to the broader team? What looks different than it does today? Where do you want to see this continue to evolve?

Veda Rosier:

From my perspective, I'm super excited about the next year, with the potential just to be around other people again and to really see what they've done and interact with them in a way that shows me that we've changed as individuals and collectively as a group.

I know within the Spectrum team, our goal is to head towards some of those ideas of really understanding, as a neurotypical person, as a user who has sight and hearing, that there are still a whole lot of things that we can tweak and make better to make that experience really, really effective for me. That's what I'm most looking forward to, is that coming out of this idea of disability or otherness and becoming a core part of us, of who we are as a company and as an industry.

Chris Strahl:

That's really interesting. There's a lot of themes there around what does the future of work look like, right?

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Chris Strahl:

With all of us having spent two years holed up in our houses and things like, at least for right now, looking like it might not always be that way...

Veda Rosier:

Yeah.

Chris Strahl:

... what does the future hold? Because I don't see us all rushing back to get into offices. But at the same time, there is so much value in that face-to-face experience. So how does the system support something like that? It's an interesting thought.

Veda Rosier:

Yeah. I think tools have a lot to do with it. We have to have tools that scale globally, that obviously the ability for people of multiple cultures, even different languages, to collaborate on a project, it was always there, right? This catalyzed that movement. And so part of our future over the next year is to understand where can we continue to remove friction and build trust so that we are looked at as great partners.

Matt May:

I think that Veda's got the tooling part of it, making it work and systematizing it. And I'm really into introducing more entropy into the space, that we need to find and listen to more people and we need to integrate them into the work that we're doing using things like co-design. So my team is actually evolving and growing into a space where we're connected with not just our employee networks and not receiving pushes from the employee networks, not pushing them to do more for the inclusion and equity in the space, but listening to each network and each participant in what needs to happen to make our products better, and then from there, reaching out directly into the community and doing more than just focus groups and individual user interventions, but being able to follow people for a longer period of time, get to know more users more deeply and have that feedback, that input, those contributions be recognized monetarily, having different kinds of relationships and actually making things more equitable, people getting out of that system what they put into it.

There, there's going to be a lot more evolution from our perspective of actually listening more deeply and finding more communities that we haven't integrated with well and having that information flow through our system into things like Spectrum, into the products that we're working with on a regular basis. And that's hard.

Chris Strahl:

Yeah. That's deep work.

Matt May:

This is hard work because it's changing the way that we conduct research. It's changing the way that we compensate people for participating and how we listen to them. And there are all different kinds of models that we need to explore for that. But ultimately, all of that information goes back into the system. And we have to understand that that's value that we're receiving from people, the contributions that the people have based on their own lived experiences, both in their own lives and with our software. That has to be found and pulled out of people and brought into this.

And it's thinking of it as a broader ecosystem than there are a bunch of us with little red badges that are making decisions, and then there are a bunch of other people that buy it, right? There's a much more dialectic relationship to be had there. And that's what we are planning on bringing to the products that we make.

Chris Strahl:

So I love this idea about going out, trying to go find that feedback in the places where maybe it hasn't been front and center before, and then building that empathy back into your systems, and then further thinking about what that sort of compensation contribution looks like, right? Because there's a similar conversation happening all over open source communities right now about-

Matt May:

Right.

Chris Strahl:

You got four people in the Midwest that maintain this like small library that the entire internet depends on. How do we think about supporting those people in a real material way? But I love it. I think that that's a really awesome aspiration.

Thank you so much for being on today. I've learned a ton. It's been great to hear about this journey and, again, be able to put some practical implementations into this more philosophical framework. So it's awesome to hear your guys' stories. Very much appreciate you sharing.

Veda Rosier:

Thanks for having us.

Matt May:

Yeah. I had a good time, and thanks for the thoughtful questions around this. I think all of this stuff is really important.

Chris Strahl:

That's all for today. This has been another episode of The Design Systems podcast. Thanks for listening. Our producers are Ryan Peterson in and Shayna Hopkins. Our musical composer is West Willis. Our editor is Zach Marcus.

If you have any questions or a topic you'd like to know more about, find us on Twitter @TheDSPod. We'd love to hear from you with show ideas, recommendations, questions, or comments. As always, this pod is brought to you by Knapsack.

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