Sean Gilroy co-created the BBC’s Neurodiversity initiative, CAPE (Creating a Positive Environment) in 2014 to improve awareness of hidden conditions such as Autism Spectrum Condition, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD.
They have since produced interactive films, VR experiences, workshops, and accessible environment guidelines aimed toward improving employment opportunities for neurodivergent people at the BBC and beyond, sharing this work and content to contribute to the growing Neurodiversity conversation.
Sean’s current role as User Experience Principal, brings this experience to researching and developing ideas on Cognitive Design, a proposal for a new design framework with Neurodiversity at its heart.
Cognitive Design – The future is not what you think, but how you think
The ability for organisations to compete on the basis of innovation has become more crucial, but if we are all applying the same design thinking, to the same data gathered, from the same design research, where will the innovation actually come from? Appreciating and designing for our Neurodiversity will enable new perspectives and different ways of thinking, that spur more creative solutions and innovations.
Welcome to Cognitive Design.
Hello. Sound is all right? Everybody can hear me? Sounds good. Excellent. Thank you for coming and listening to me, probably waffle for the next, 20-25 minutes or so, I think we have got. I'm here to, let me take that away, lazy bear, a nice start. More for me than you, but there you go.
I will move it off. I'm a UX principal for the BBC, in charge of a research initiative called Cognitive Design. I also work alongside my colleague, Nina Huck on a staff inclusion initiative called BBC Cape, removing barriers thinking about neurodiversity, like autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and how we remove barriers in the workplace, so we can make things as accessible and inclusive as possible for people with neurodivergent conditions. The reason we use avatars, we have had photographs taken together and we look very uncomfortable. Lina decided avatars are the way forward. I absolutely agree. So, neurodiversity, what is it? What is it about? It is basically, the range of function and behaviour. We are all different, we think differently and there is nothing wrong with that in the same way that we have bio-diversity on the planet, similarly we have neurodiversity and along with that, obviously, are neurodiversity conditions, as I have already mentioned and we came up with the initiative CAPE to think about how we design things to accommodate people. And, as I said, it stands for creating a positive environment and this is how we got into cognitive design, I will explain that a bit more as we go along. We started thinking about, we started talking about the idea of neurodiversity with Colin Burns the chief creative officer at the BBC at the time. He was interested in this concept because of, not so much making the accessibility side of things but flipping it around and looking at the positive attributes. A will the is known about the technical abilities within neurodivergent conditions -- a lot is known but there is an equal creative and substantive ability within that. Colin was looking at the creative ability in the UX team. He started talking to us about how we apply it and how we think about neurodiversity as part of his creative strategy. As part of that research, as we were looking around, we found a few things that started us along the path to cognitive designers, as it became known. One of them was a quote from Todd Symmons, sounds very important, I have not actually met him. I realised that when I was pulling this presentation together, so I will make an effort to get in touch with the guy. He basically says "If anybody does the same thing in the same way with the same methodologies and tools, with access to the same research data, what is the difference in what we make? Where are we going with this? We thought it resonated because we were talking about positive aspects of people coming in who could think differently and would perceive challenges and tasks differently and find different solutions. We started thinking about the challenges that Colin was facing within our organisation. So, it's become recognised that, with the ever-changing pace of technology, that the ability to innovate is becoming crucial for organisations to keep pace and to be competitive and the BBC is no different to anybody else in that, in that we have to think about what is happening and where we are going and we have to continually innovate the product we have. We were thinking about the creative solutions and methodologies and tools people use, we were thinking that actually, maybe we are getting to a point of a status quo, they are not really evolving, they are not changing, it is more an iterative step process, they have served everybody with great purpose and great functionality and they still do but it is where are they going, what is happening, referring back to the quote that we had previously from Todd Symmons.
And this kind of led us to think: OK, maybe we are heading for a potential, an emerging crisis within these creative methodologies, if we are all getting to the same point and the same place, where is the change going to happen? How will we continually, innovate. We started along with process of thinking about cognitive design and what it meant. Because we were talking about cognition we went to neuroscience, cognitive psychologist and the advances in research that are going on. Especially with the explosion around artificial intelligence, people are increasingly more interested in how we think and what we think and how the brain functions and works. So, we think if we understand this better, if we look to apply neuroscience, we can design things that meet user needs better because we can understand not just the what but the why but interesting and equally it is introspection as well. We are not just focussing on the neurosciences as applied to the audience or user, we are thinking about what does it mean for us, for our staff, for where we are? How do we, what is the impact for them? How can we UX UX. That started us along a line of thinking. This is something that we started 12, 18 months ago now, we are still at the beginning of the research. But we think, increasingly there is something in here. So, we started looking into the neuroscience of things and thinking about - well what is there to learn? And we started coming across the idea of the conscious brain and unconscious and subconscious. It is unconscious and subconscious, doesn't look as good, so I used the one. But effectively, if we are look looking at habits and behaviours, we think we are looking at the conscious side coming up with critical thinking and short-term memory but we realised that only accounts for 5% of what goes on in somebody's brain. The 95%. Whoops - sorry. There we go, I'm getting eager. I shouldn't have put transitions in. It is 95% of what happens, in the unconscious and subconscious, the moments of somebody's brain that happen within a fraction of a second that influence that conscious side. That is the bit we need to understand, rather than just asking the what and getting answers from those people we have to understand the why behind those decisions and then we can think about how and why we do things and what this means for people. You have already seen this, but there we go!
So we are also thinking about, how do we do this? The reason it has become, I suppose practical new that we can do this, is the fact that technology that enables us to measure and track this is significantly more affordable now. No longer do you have to have the big static units at a facility or a university that can accord this kind of thing. There is wearable tech now, you can measure electrical impulses from the brain with wearable tech, that can communicate wirelessly, so people are relatively unencumbered. We have advancements in virtual reality to people, people into places and with physiological measurements, we can measure heart rate and perspiration rate. We can understand how when people are getting anxious and understand when they are stressed. If we can measure this and understand the neuroscience behind it, we can start unpacking the why behind decisions. It is infinitely more affordable and much more practical to do this now.
Equally, as we have started exploring this, we are uncovering that more and more people are starting to look towards neuroscience to understand the principles of why they are designing. Neuroarchitecture is something coming up, where within that field they are starting to understand the impact of the built environment with the buildings they create and spaces that are built within them, have an impact of our experiences of that establishment. Increasingly they are looking at neuroarchitecture, the idea, for example in the picture there from a university in Berlin, it is an idea in making things easier so we can navigate around buildings subconsciously because we are aware that different colour schemes mean we are in a different part of the building and we are start doing things unconsciously, rather than looking at the maps and trying to decipher things, it is much more besides that as well. And probably something that has been around for longer, the idea in brand design. So the cognitive motivational triggers that supermarkets are well aware of, as are brand designers and package designers, so the idea we have the puppy eyes there, eyes are a big trigger and within this, people understand that immediately you have this image of the puppy and the eyes looking at you, and people are starting to form emotional connections with that product, so out of everything you have got there, the chances are, you are going to pick that one. So, the precedent there and the science is available and the research is increasingly coming out.
Storm chickens, we are starting to think more about all the unpacking of it and now we are starting to think about, what does this mean and how do we apply it and maybe we are starting to talking about diversity, maybe if there were more different thinkers in the empire they would have lost fewer death stars. But we are starting to look for those different thinkers and starting to think about diversity within the teams and as part of the unpacking of the neuro diversity work we have done, we are thinking about what is the dividend behind diversity and it makes more sense if you think about it from a thinking perspective. What diversity is giving you is different aspects of experience and emotion, different perspectives, we have all got different backgrounds, social backgrounds, we all live differently and see things differently. It's really important we have teams that reflect that and we are able to rely on those teams. If we get those different perspectives and we think about what is creativity and how are people creative and how do we put them in environments that are creative, then we can start thinking about how we innovate and how we continually keep competitive against an increasingly competitive market. Diversity of thought is a big part of what we are doing, part of thinking about cognitive design, not just from the outside perspective but in terms of who we are and how we do things. As part of that, that team dynamic we are thinking about culture within the team as well. And we are exploring this idea of cognition and creativity. This is a research partnership, we are funding a PLD alongside the University of Salford and starting to unplug this idea, so at the moment we have these tools around creating or creativity and how do we help people be creative. But it is a bit of a one‑size‑fits‑all package and we know from the work we have done on neurodiversity people think and feel differently; this is the same thing as we all have different preferences for how we work. Sometimes you want a noisy environment, sometimes you want it quiet, we are thinking about all of these different triggers in terms of how do we make people work effectively together and how do we recognise the spiky profiles that individuals have, so that we can make the most of their abilities. We are looking at impacts of environment, individual or group tasks, what do people prefer, are people more willing to share ideas in small groups or big groups or not at all. We are thinking about systematic or unconstrained and divergent thinking, modality, the inputs people prefer, the idea of stress and tension is an interesting one. So it certainly has shown that tension is important and it helps us be more creative we are more likely to get the spark moment when there is some tension there. It is that idea that you start a project with three months to go and everything is easy. The night before it is a panic, let's get it down. Too much tension the night before and it turns into stress and all that creativity dissipates and disappears, there's no point stressing people out. But there is a reason behind the tension. So this is a piece of work that we are doing to understand team culture and team dynamics from a cognitive perspective. We have frozen. This might jump ahead. I will do it manually. We are thinking about different preferences, it's moving on from that angle but it is the fact that we all consume information, we all learn differently, the way we communicate, we have different preferences, so we have got to understand that within our audiences and also within our UX teams. It's just that idea of unpacking the visual of the pre-assumptions that we have. So that we can build on that culture and communicate more easily and understand the differences for people so we can give them their preferred dynamic. There is a space dog. That's more for me than you. I just like the way he floats around. This is unpacking the idea of environment and why it's important and what's safe and what isn't. So it is about again we are thinking about what is a safe environment and how do we create those safe environments so we can all work and share ideas. The idea is you are more likely to share an opinion if you feel safe, if you are not going to get shot down for it and if you are comfortable. Similarly, we have to create an environment for the users to make sure they don't fear doing the wrong thing, they feel comfortable within the environment we have provided so they can make a choice and not worry about it and go back and it's all fine. We are thinking about the spaces and where people work and it's building more upon that cultural element of how people work together. As part of that, it is understanding and in fact part of the objectives that we have within UX already recognise the fact that play is important if we want to innovate, we have to get rid of this fear of failure. It's something that we intrinsically build in from early education in school, the idea there is a right or wrong answer, and we have lost this ability to play and it moves all the way into work as well and there's got to be, is it stress or tension, and we can't be afraid of failure if we want to innovate. We have to work out how things don't work before we work out how things do work. That is something I wanted to get in there in terms of the importance of being able to play and thinking about that spare time we give people. I wanted to discuss, we have done some studies and research with Sigma, and this is building on some of the neuro diversity work, we have actively engaged neuro divergent users, there is a certain section of the community that we have targeted and we have asked for their experiences with TV media content and the reason we are looking there is because if we understand in this one end of this cognition spectrum, if we can understand what the triggers and behaviours are, there are implications and there are benefits that we can share with the rest of the community. That we haven't done in in terms of accessibility, we are doing this to understand maybe a bit more about why have we formatted programmes in the way that we have. Is there a better way of doing a political question debate show, or how do people consume information, where do they go for their news and what puts them off things? If we can learn more about those behaviours, then we can share them with iPlayer teams, we can share that with the RND department at the BBC looking at something they called object‑based media, the idea that we can give editing preferences, we can give people choices as to how they edit their own programmes and consume the content in their way that they want to. And similarly, there are teams looking at how artificial intelligence can help us edit programmes and film things. If we can use this research to understand how people consume and what motivates them and their experiences and behaviours, there are impacts across all different secretary re sectors we can start working with. A couple of things I want to talk about as well, is in terms of artificial intelligence we have touched on it, this idea of machine thinking. And the idea of if we have algorithms that recognise our behaviours, you can see it on your phones or Netflix in terms of which programmes you want, there is an element of something considering how you behave and giving you suggestions and it's not fair to assume that with the advances in neuroscience they will develop further, and it is interesting then if we have this set of design disciplines and principles, how machine learning could potentially take that on and with the access to user data we've got, it could completely transform how we design things. But I think what we have got to be careful of is part of that is amazing and brilliant, we have to understand the human element to this, that element of creativity that allows us to design things in certain ways and that gut feel that we've got for the right idea and how we communicate with people. We can't lose that element of humanity. Even though we are getting to that point of finely tuning and understanding how brains work and why people do what they do. And also, what is very important if we are starting to understand how people work and if we are starting to understand those sub conscious triggers that people aren't even aware of, what are the ethics behind how we design some of the things that we do. Should we be transparent, as the BBC we need to be transparent if we are suggesting things to people, where are we getting this information from and what is it that you are doing. Taking us back to that idea of brand design, already we walk around supermarkets and we are buying things or picking things off shelves, because they understand more about how our brains work and what our behaviours are than we do. Is there an obligation there for some kind of transparency, if all of this research around neuroscience and all the algorithms we are getting are getting more complex, should we be more transparent? Some of the researchers indicate, as an example, that the colours of red and yellow tend to make us feel more hungry for some reason. For whatever reason that is. And then you start thinking that's basically the McDonald's symbol. If McDonald's are making us feel hungry is there not some kind of ethical code there to say they should give us or make sure we have options of healthy choices to eat, not just giving us junk food. Is there not an obligation to look after us? Similarly, with the brand stuff, is there not an obligation on people to let us know we are being influenced even if we don't know it. But that's something we have to think about as well. If we are researching this and unpacking how the brains work, we have got to understand the audience and users that are going to hopefully benefit from this but also understand why, so we are not taking advantage in any way. So, we think a better world is possible. Unlike Thanos in the Avengers, we don't think it is just for half the planet. We don't want to get rid of half the people. We can use this so we can design for 100% of the planet. I have not given away spoilers there. If you haven't seen it don't worry. Unless you haven't seen the second one, in which case, sorry! We believe a better world is possible, that is our aim, to understand people better and to be more accepting and give people options and choices and to inform those people of those choices that they are having or they are making in a transparent and ethical way and that is effectively what we want out of the cognitive design research that we are currently doing. That's me, thank you.