Deborah  Dada 

Deborah is a business-driven UX designer with a passion for creating meaningful experiences through design. Her journey in the tech ecosystem has been diverse and enriching, as she specialises in crafting solutions across various domains.

Beyond her day-to-day work, Deborah is deeply committed to fostering growth within the tech community. As the organiser of Google Developer Group, Birmingham and Tech Meetup Birmingham, she contributes to creating a vibrant and collaborative space for tech enthusiasts. Deborah finds immense joy in mentoring young individuals who are eager to explore careers in the tech ecosystem.

One of Deborah's true passions is moderating tech panel sessions globally. This allows her to facilitate insightful discussions, bringing together diverse perspectives from industry leaders. Whether it's unpacking the latest trends, exploring emerging technologies, or discussing the challenges and opportunities within the tech landscape, Deborah thrives on creating engaging and informative panel sessions.

Currently, Deborah serves as a product designer at Storelab, where she continues to apply her skills in crafting exceptional user experiences to impact product success.

Panel discussion: Designing Inclusive Digital Experiences: Navigating Challenges and Embracing Diversity

Panel led by Deborah Dada, and featuring Hilary Stephenson of Nexer, Lauren Coulman of Noisy Cricket, Christos Tsaprounis of Auto Trader, and Kanika Selvan of Beetroot Consulting.

In an era where digital experiences permeate every area of our lives, inclusive design has become more pronounced than ever. This panel session seeks to unravel the complexities and unveil the opportunities embedded in the pursuit of creating digital experiences that genuinely cater to the diverse needs of users.

SHAUN: Hi folks. Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed your lunch. Welcome back. We are doing something we have never done at Camp Digital, which is do a panel discussion. But a really important topic and one you know is close to our hearts at Nexer. So, we are having a panel discussion now on diversity and inclusion until the workplace and how embracing those ways of thinking and working lead to better, more inclusive services and experiences. So, I am going to bring on each of the panelists first and then we will see where we take it.
So have we got Kanika Selven
Next, do we have Cristos Tsaprounis From AutoTrader. And who do we have next, Lauren Coulman.
Everyone is awesome. And our very own, Hilary Stephenson, the MD of Nexer. Welcome.
She is awesome. Finally, we will welcome our facilitator, Deborah Dada is a brilliant UK designer and community organizer in the digital and design world. She will be facilitator.
DEBORAH: Thank you so much. So excited to be here, we will be talking about designing inclusive digital experiences, navigating challenges and embracing diversity. A fine panel today and we are in for a very big ride. Thank you so much for joining this session. And to give a brief overview of the session, we will delve into the depths of inclusive design and our experts will be sharing their own experience and the diverse perspectives they have and insights, as well on this table and on this stage. Sorry, there is no table on this stage. They will be giving their insight and I hope you have fun whilst we do this. So, I have a wide range of questions to ask them. We will be discussing this together. First off, it'll be good to know what is your understanding of user perspective and how do we approach understanding diverse perspectives. And users bring different things to digital experiences, and there are different things that people bring into it. How do we look at it from diverse perspective? Kanika?
I suppose I would say, my starting point when thinking about diverse user perspectives, is probably with the acknowledgement of context around the work we do. Especially around digital and tech. My history is I used to work in social enterprises and all of the work was very focused on the output, which was to create social impact alone for individuals. What that meant was, the very workings of social enterprises in many of these organisations was that they were constantly driven in an attempt to expand their businesses, gaining funding and gaining opportunities and then evidencing how they brought in user experience and inclusively engaged in not only design and shaping services but also how they then delivered them, and measuring the impact coming out. When I landed in tech a number of years ago, I was quite surprised it felt like digital in some ways was behind some other sectors in some of their thinking on this. So, whilst in academically and theoretically it was, it was much further on, actually the kind of embedded practice didn't quite exist in the maturity that I had seen in other sectors. So, I suppose when I think about my role as a change consultant - I work with organisations to deliver digital change - it does focus on the design phase. I suppose what I have learned is that when trying to really ground organisations and change professionals and the people we are designing what we are doing in the user experience, to me it is ground in people, in the why? And the "why" to me is not the technology, it's what the technology is going to do for somebody. Which then leads us to thinking about - who are the users and what is it that the users want? I think for me, it is what is the problem it is solving, for who, and then embedding that within the life cycle of all change. So, often decisions are made around design, and actually going - who is this for, as part of that process, makes a massive difference when thinking about how we make sure it works for people.
DEBORAH: Mind-blowing, you made mention of the understanding, the "why"; it gives an answer to everything. I will go on to Cristos, you have great experience working with people. I would like for you to share an example of a time when considering user perspective and how it played out in your team?
It is interesting, when we first started our journey with inclusion, is when it comes to our own employees, we have been doing that for the past decade but it is only for the past three or four years that it transcended to the customer side. It has helped quite a bit. Because we have a culture where people understand different perspective of them and when we started looking at the 13 million on the website and the thousands that use our products, we had the baseline of people really understanding the value of, they might not necessarily have had at that point a technical knowledge around accessible and inclusive design but they had a desire to get involved. I think that ground work helped us a lot. When it comes to introducing something like this, in a company-wide level, any organisation, it helps so much getting people engaged with it, people excited, you know people dedicating time, getting everything allocated to it because we had all that. So, I think it is really important to make sure that you do all the groundwork first, before you start looking at specific products. But to answer your question - one of the most interesting things that we noticed, is how stereotyped, actually, when it comes to the use of our products. And obviously we are a site where people buy and sell vehicles, mainly cars. And one of the first things that the team that is concentrating on this did, is focus on how do we sell to people with sight loss or blind people. And the key thing we hear, stereotypically - blind people don't drive. Well, yes, our site was not accessible for them. They may use cars, so they are part of the decision-making process of what car to choose. One of the first products we focussed on was making sure it was more accessible for people that we thought were not our customers, just purely based on a perception that was completely wrong.
DEBORAH: It means having an inclusive team might turn into having inclusive customers as well. Lauren, you want to say something about that?
I will take it a little bit meta. I wholly agree with everything you said. One of the things we have learned over the last seven years, I work at Noisy Critics, we work in systems changes and everything involves communities and working with the possibilities. In the work we did over the last four or five years, around responsible technology and through the responsible tech collective, one of the biggest learnings that emerged was we have forgotten that tech existed for people, not vice versa, and looking at them in the context of the product we are developing, and not thinking about them as the wider humanity, that we intersect with them at one point when they have a need and we miss the wider context of people's life. Understanding the why of that particular product or service but looking at the wider picture of people's lives, the intersectionalities, the wider experiences they have, how this connects into other parts of their lived experience is really, really important. So, yes.
DEBORAH: Thank you. And I will go on to Hilary because we were having a conversation of inclusive design and accessible design. What is the difference? Are they the same? Or do you want to shed more light on both of them?
They are not the same. They are equally important in my view. I think people often see accessibility as a narrow, compliant, almost persona-driven set of things you need to do with a product or service. And people interpret inclusive design as naturally broader. Looking at intersectionality, looking at digital confidence, looking at affordability. As if those things don't apply to disabled people. So, the way I approach this is - you try to centre the needs of disabled people and understand accessibility first and then you broaden out, rather than seeing the needs of disabled people as educators or margins, as Julian described. You design out from the experiences, accessibility as a term was hard fought-for and is still hard-fought-for and not won by disabled people. So, if we move too far away and see it just a compliance, we lose out a little. That is the starting point and then we broaden out, I would say.
DEBORAH: So, accessibility is beyond compliant.
DEBORAH: Thank you so much. The next set of questions I will be asking, is addressing biases we have in design. My first question is to Cristos: We know there are common biases that exist and affect the experiences we have; do you want to shed more light on that?
Like I mentioned, so many stereotypes have come into it. And the more you involve people and different people, actually, you can outsmart those biases in a way. So, we have tried to introduce, when it comes to designing any product for service, we start to looking - are they inclusive from the beginning, from the minimum viable product? The way to do this is to outsmart is getting as many people involved as possible. Now, we are very fortunate, because we are a company of 1,200 people. And we have a very strong number of networks that cover loads of different people, with different characteristics. And we involve a lot of them in the product design from the beginning. Because they bring all that diverse perspective. They help a lot in the design and help a lot in the user testing phase. Actually, what we have noticed is they make the products a lot better, so I completely agree with Hillary when, you know, if you just focus on one character - what happens is you might end up doing something because of a certain characteristic but actually, you end up benefiting so many more people, that you didn't even think about. Like, as I said, we improved screen-readers on our website, thinking that that is going to be for people with vision loss or blind people. But actually, it helps so much with people that are using it, that might just have different ways of consuming information or just different learning styles. I think involve as many people internally and externally, into the design process from the beginning, from the minimum viable product and then you will outsmart those biases.

DEBORAH: And you have something to add?
I agree. I think one of the really interesting things about technology is that we do make a lot of assumptions because technology and digital is often full of a bunch of experts who feel very expert and I think it is a little bit of a predisposition. I mean, I take into account maybe not everybody here, maybe we are all really curious. But there is something about gathering a diverse group of views is the right thing to do. But it's performative to do that, if actually your organisational culture does not focus on curiosity, and learning and understanding. If there isn't that thirst for - tell me something different, tell me I am wrong, help me shape this. That has to be embedded within the practice as well. I think it is really key. I know a lot of people I work with talk about digital and the goal of digital always being to make things more efficient. And there is a default - oh, we want to make it faster. Sometimes people don't want that, sometimes they want it more accessible or flexible or da, da, da. I think some of those biases are ours and we have to think of them organisationally, when doing this work to approach that engagement better.
DEBORAH: Amazing. I was having a conversation with Lauren who mentioned that prioritisation is one way where we can mitigate a lot of this bias. Can you shed more light on that?
>>: I wholly agree, one of the things we do, through Noisy Critic, we bring communities in to wholly understand not just the challenge the organisation thinks is the issue, we will look contextually and understand the bigger picture and make sure the organisation is involved in co-creating the solution. And what tends to happen is we come up with so much. We worked with one organisation who had a very clear idea about who the new target audience were, and how they were going to deliver a particular service. And when you got in you learned so much more about this group of people. It was a grant-maker, who were looking to switch audiences from supporting white middle-class people with financial insecurity. It was a Victorian philanthropist hangover fund. They wanted to work with those people most impacted and collectively we shifted them towards prioritising single parents from the global majority. And what then unfolded was a whole series of learning from the organisation. We heard from the incredible group of people that we brought together that actually they didn't want to be patted on the head that we tend to treat people who are struggling. Actually, they wanted to advocate for themselves and above and beyond that, move away from the shame that came with that insecurity but also wanting to give back it their communities and to the organisations that were helping them. So, it completely changed the context in which we were working. Working with new partners and made the funding part face-to-face, in part digital as well because there were some efficiencies but essentially this organisation's eyes were opened and we had to see them through the journey of unlearning, letting go of thinking they know best and letting go of control of how this fund was delivered and we ended up with a much more human, much more flexible, much more focussed on what was possible rather than diving into people's trauma. And you know the change journey this organisation went on was as important as the part of engaging, communities including diverse perspectives, because you can speak to people all you want, but if you are not willing and able to do something differently in response to it, I'm sorry to say...

DEBORAH: Thank you so much for that. We will move to the next part of this conversation. How do we bring in the inclusive design with imagined technology. And Hillary will be sharing so much on that for us. So, in what ways do we see imagined tech, such as Copilot, AI, how do we see it affecting our design process?
>>: I didn't expect to be the AI person on the stage but I will do my best. I will talk a bit about what we are experimenting with. Because we do have quite a strong technical arm to our work at Nexer. We don't just research and design things, we build things for people, we support and optimise them. One of the things we have been looking at is what we are turning kind of more, supporting productivity rather than short cutting creativity, because there is a lot of things around doing things faster, churning stuff out you don't have to put into in. I want to give people time to express their creativity and make space for that. So, I don't focus our AI, we don't focus our AI experimentation there. What we have been looking at is how can it help access to work? How can it help people who don't get the opportunity to take part in projects because of particular needs, conditions, challenges, caring responsibilities. Who have a different working pattern to the assumed norm and how can we explore these technologies in that context. So, it is about supporting productivity. It is not about efficiency gains. It is about taking these tools and understanding where they can make a difference to people's lives. So, the stuff we have been doing with Copilot has been heart-warming. The way meeting happen was never designed, it was Covid transformation and just switched on. Now we are looking at practical things around, who sits where, etiquette, governance, transcripts, who requires captions, who feels able to say they prefer to be camera-off but who is also able to say - I rely on mouth patterns and facial expression for my communication and I want to be in a space that allows me to express that. Do we put that on meeting requests? Do we tell people how the meetings are going to run? Do we put everything into Mira? So, I just think we can look at some of these emerging technologies in that context. Because a big part of delivering diverse products and services, is about who you are hiring and who you are giving space to do the work. I think there are real opportunities there. That is not me parking the issues around ethics and bias and that is why I'm not doing the shortcutting creativity route. I think there is a whole bag of pain there around RPR and copyright that I don't want to go down.

DEBORAH: That is amazing. It is like learning something.
>>: I was starting to twitch. If I get excited about a question, I start wriggling. We are in the midst of a piece of work around emerging technologies at the moment and for the past five or six years we have been kind of chipping away at a huge piece of work we are developing internally around... Employment and long story short as we got into the root cause of the issues, we worked with the DWP, Balfour Beatty, charities working in homelessness across Greater Manchester and the people impacted by homelessness. The problem wasn't with impacted people being, having potential or being able to do a job. The issue sat within, like, the recruitment system and the bias inherent in T so our research revealed that if you match people based on their strengths rather than their auto aristocratic skills, qualifications, experience, you are much more likely to help them find a job that is more suited for them but also help organisations that are struggling for skills, labour shortages, looking for new talent. It opens up a whole new world of potential that has been overlooked. So, there is a piece of technology at the heart of this. Targeted match-making programme that helps employers and potential employees find one another and there is a potential for learning. We were really itchy about it; it isn't something to be taken lightly. We are playing with potentially vulnerable people's data. What do we do? We have been working with Manchester Met Uni for the past two years, looking to teach their students how to engage in community engagement to do so brilliantly. And we're looking at AI as a topical area and we have just been through a whole piece of work with community, as people impacted by homelessness and all the things that these students have been being taught, came out, they were worried about bias and data and abuse of the machine learning and when we got down it, the people we were working with on it, told us they were more worried about the psychological impact, the person on the other side, understanding their experience and how it meaningfully will demonstrate how good I am at what I do. What emerged, the algorithms, aside, those using it, need a human understanding of the data being fed into that system. So actually, the solution we designed isn't technological at all, it is about forging human connection and helping people understand each other's potential in a different setting, before they are even allowed near the technology.

DEBORAH: We will be talking about feedback now. How do we take feedback from outsiders and make sure we are solving the right thing? My next question is to Kanika. How do you prioritise and implement continuous feedback to our processed design, the experience of the user overall?
>>: Yeah, it is hard, isn't it? I think it is very different, depending on the context and the organisation you are working with. I work with a bunch of different organisations and it is always different, depending on where you are. You know, I work a lot in higher education. So, when thinking about MDs and stuff and students, it is different than working with a small SME who has social outcomes working with communities. So, I suppose I would say, first of all - how do I do it? Well, I take the risk to where I turn up to. And I think as well as that, when prioritising it, you have to build it into the bones of what you do. I think that thinking about it, as a separate activity to the design, the delivery, whatever the thing is, I think it has to be - this is the core of why you are here. And build it into that life cycle and practice as it is. And then I think, for me, one of the biggest bits is, is that you have to find ways to give yourself reminders. I think it is easy to underestimate how critical these things are. But I have been in organisations where actually they have made a cardboard cutout of a customer and they have stuck it, life-size up, because they found actually looking at a customer made them remember who their customers were as part of their daily working. Other organisations I have been in have chosen to do principles or they have found ways of building intergovernance routes. All of that is good to do. I think the other thing about it is that idea of continuous improvement being throughout the life cycle of change. Yes, it is part of design but it is also part of checking whether it's really worked. And so, actually, that, those touchpoints and milestones are all the way through and actually then it circles back around. My final one is probably something you have learned personally: I have always believed theoretically that the best things you can do is to give people tools to shape things for themselves, where possible. And the ability to do that in organisations, in most organisations - especially big change, it is quite hard. They are all a bit like - yeah, we will need a professional, such a person who could do that. We don't want to empower people to do things for themselves. I think in my mind, if we really want to get user engagement as part of a continuous improvement loop, we have to continue doing the campaigning and changing leadership perspectives, the idea of empowering people to do it themselves. So, really shoving that over to that side, I think it is key.

DEBORAH: Very profound. Lauren.
On the issue of context, we are representing different organisational structures on this panel. Depending where you are and how your work gets commissioned or procured, those assumption also kick in because it is time-bound and there is a budget. And there will be people in the audience who are very used to doing user engagement with blocks of five or ten or if you are lucky, 30 users that you can bring in for a period of time, to get the information and extract the knowledge and then finish the piece of work. It is really hard, I think both Lou and Julian covered it beautifully, nobody funds the hours. Most projects are commissioned to deliver a thing by a time. You might have some kind of continuous engagement and some maintenance of whatever the model is. But nobody funds the gaps in between. And the bridges that Julian talked about in terms of community engagement. Nobody pays for those. So, a lot of work that Lauren and I have discussed is: How do you make community engagement sustainable? So more than a panel or testers to test a thing. How can you build the relationship in a commercial landscape, so you have sustained input? And how can you do meaningful co-design over time that is more than a few sketching sessions and feedback on some wireframes. It is really hard. I don't think as an industry - you talked about maturity earlier - I think academia has the model pinned down, but the industry of delivering it is so far away from that, because everything is budget, funding or time-bound. And I think the way to probably get there, is to start to look at cross-community people, collaborating remember than competing and sharing the work a bit more. I don't know.

DEBORAH: Do you want to add?
>>: It is from different perspectives. Where I work a lot, is in organisations where they have made a commitment to do a largescale transformation and because my role in that space is to go - how do you want to do that? Often I start with: How are you going to, how is that going to look? What is that life cycle going to look like? But actually, my perspective on that continuous improvement loop is within a very large time-bound transformational change programme of which you can turn around and go: Well, that is not going to work, in the sense of continuous improvement. It is a very different conversation. But I absolutely get what you are saying. It is different, depending on how you are work is brought in and what they are asking for and how.
DEBORAH: Right. So, Lauren wants to say something but I would like to hear from Cristos, I would like to hear what metrics do you think particularly we could target for these feedbacks? What are the direct things we should be looking at, then I will take from Lauren.
One of the things you could measure is how much comes from the direct feedback. But I think to add to that one important element is if you have the culture of openness and feedback, when people from across your business and when you engage with your customers as well, they are more likely to come forward and actually raise issues, come up with ideas, be creative, build on each other's ideas, but you know, with teams creating something together, there are things that stop that. Measuring, are you hierarchical? With us, with AutoTrader, we try to be very flat as a structure. So, we know that actually if you are invited to a room, everyone is expected to contribute. So having that openness and encouraging that, and especially people who are more experienced, actually bringing all those different people in and all the different perspectives in. It is very difficult to measure, I guess, but on a practical thing you could do is - you could do it at a micro level, think at your next meeting when you are together with people - has everyone had a chance to speak? If they didn't, did you bring them in, so you create a constant loop of feedback. So, as well as having formal processes in police, it is like having that overall openness and culture of feedback.
DEBORAH: That is great. Lauren?
It is culture, you are right. You could do all of the things that funders or budget-holders want to you do, which is tell them how many people from a particular marginalised or disadvantaged group you have spoken to, you can tick diversity boxes about your team. You can see how many people want to keep on working with you afterwards. A big piece of work we are doing, which Hillary alluded to, is around how we start to share our learning around the work they have been doing around community engagement. But it is not just - here are the mechanisms to engage a community. This is what good looks like. It is more about: Are you in a place where this group of people not only trust you to work with them? But do you trust them? Often we don't trust the people who we exist to serve and we forget we exist to serve them. Rarely do we share power and address the hierarchies that crop up. It is hard, we are continued to work top-down and know best and make decisions. At a personal level, you know when the process is so tight you are, to overcome, and it is about understanding people. And the most important thing, and something no-one is doing well and we are still cusping, is understanding what meaningful participation means to the communities you are working with. It is what Lou said, why are you doing this? What is the purpose? We have all said it. Why, how are you benefiting this person? But above and beyond that, it is the bridge that Julian talked about. How we enable you, as an individual, a team, an organisation, to cross over, to let go of everything society has conditioned to be and your organisation has modelled for you, how we need to do things differently for people. I think that is the measure.
DEBORAH: Thank you so much. We have shared so much and I hope the audience have got something from it. We are almost out of time but we will have two questions from the audience.
>>: We have a few minutes; we should be OK.
FLOOR: (Inaudible).... What is the name of your organisation?
>>: Deep Root Consulting. I feel I need to give a proper answer. I was thinking about what you were saying about the trust bit and I was thinking about - it is so interesting because, one of the things you were thinking about talking about was where user feedback had led to a success in successfully changing the design. And actually, all of my examples around that are actually starting - there was not trust between the people who were delivering and the people who were using a product. And my fabulous example was of a data interface that turned off at lunch when the person who maintained it had an hour. So, everyone in the organisation didn't get what they needed between 12-1 because he was at lunch. And that is how he built it, because he was not there to do anything outside of his hours. I was like - wow! And for some reason, the organisation hated that interface. How about that? Anyway... Thank you Lucy.

>>: Any other questions?
FLOOR: I have worked on the development end of things and sometimes what I'm seeing, are things like - getting something out there is really good, I have found, but also things like customer support, those very people that you kind of think of as being somewhere else, and having to deal with all the things that are then passed on to you, do you ever interact with customer support as being something that you can use usefully?
Absolutely. Our first product that we built actually with having accessible and inclusive design there from the beginning, as something that we would strive for, was a product called Real Builder (?) so that people can complete more of their purchasing of a car online and the design team, the developer teams worked closely with the customer support teams. They were so close; they are always so close to their needs of the end user. And involving them from the beginning and not as an afterthought is so important and everyone enjoyed working together. It was very refreshing for all the developers and designers to actually have them on the team from the beginning because it solved so many problems, giving them that insight and not having to backtrack. Absolutely. They are the people that know in our case, the customers a lot better.
FLOOR: What would you say is your biggest challenge in paying attention to accessibility with respect to populations? You know, blind versus, "versus" is not the right word, but considering the various type of people who have disabilities or impairments, what is the one you most commonly forget, for example?
>>: Thank you, Elizabeth. I would say - going back to the point I made before - it is involving enough people, having enough awareness. Understanding things that aren't necessarily binary or categorised. So, looking at complexities, looking at multi-morbidity. Looking at things that clash. And combine with each other. I think, as I said earlier, it can be very persona-driven. People are taught to use specific assistive technology for certain things. Rather than really understanding human experience across a range of technologies and service that is they interact with. I think we've, you know I think that is the way the accessibility community has been schooled. We have done it; we are running a session right now that shows you the nuts and bolts of what you need to do. But that should largely be for testing, not design. I believe research and design is much more collaborative, participatory, as we say, like trying to involve as wide a view of how people might interact with the thing as possible. But it's subject to funding, as you know. I would say we always include it but the degree and the extent to which you can go, tends to be capped by time and money.

>>: One quick question from the live stream: How, when we have a mentality, often, of getting something out of the door quickly, working to an MVP and we are also working probably on a tight budget, how do we make space in the process to design for those educations and to design for the arrows, the stuff that is in between the service components that Lou talked about? How do we change that mentality and make space for that stuff?
>>: It's not easy. It never is. Regardless of which sector you work in, so academia, business, social enterprise, everyone is bound by time and money and available resource. So, it has to be an organisation-wide discussion, decision. You carve out space. You give people time and permission. Often people don't feel they have permission to challenge the way things are currently done. And honestly, I'm kind of - eat the whole elephant kind of person. Big picture in systems. I work for a wonderful human called Harry Bailey(?) who advocates the incremental change, next step on the journey. Change one or two things at each process. Sometimes that means influencing within your organisation. A lot of the time - and we have talked about this a lot - influencing externally. So, there aren't many budgets currently for community engagement or systems change. We have to advocate pretty hard for understanding there is a problem or a possibility, helping people understand how it fits within what they currently do and how it'll help ease things up. So, I think the bottom line is - it has to come back to a need. So, we are an organisation providing a service like anyone else. You have to understand what the team or the client you are working with needs and how and demonstrate how you are going to best come out of that. It is just doing it in some way.
>>: I think viability is a bit of a misnomer if it is not serving the product or need of its audience. Sometimes we boil viability down to - have we done enough to speak it the right kind of people? I think MVP has become a bit warped in that sense.
>>: Thank you. Thank you to our panellists. Give them a round of applause and to Deborah, a brilliant facilitator. A warm round of applause. Thank you, folks.