Circles of Exclusion

Circles contain. They unify. They’ve come to symbolize harmony, wholeness, cycles, woman, eternity and more.

Kat Holmes Exclusion
Image from Kat Holmes’s book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design

They also exclude.

I’ve been reading Kat Holmes’s book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design and because of Kat, circles have new meaning.

What is inclusion?

Merriam-Webster defines inclusion in a few of the following ways:

  1. the act of includingthe state of being included
  2. the act or practice of including students with disabilities with the general student population
  3. the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)

So, if inclusion is “the act of including” or “the state of being included” or “the practice of including” this means something or someone is excluded, yes? Merriam-Webster seems to have covered all the bases with “people who have historically been excluded”.

Yet, Kat Holmes points out early in Mismatch that physical accommodations for people with disabilities such as ramps, modified doors and the like is not enough to be considered “an inclusive environment”. To be inclusive the “psychological and emotional” aspects of people must also be respected.

Even more, according to a Fast Company article, inclusion and diversity mean different things to millennials, gen-Xers and boomers. Millennials believe “inclusion is the support for a collaborative environment that values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives”. Some argue that inclusion isn’t the best as efforts to include may backfire and exclude. Hmm…


So, damned if you do, damned if you don’t? My sense so far is that Kat wants us to start somewhere. To be clear, “exclusion isn’t inherently bad, nor inclusion inherently good”. Mistakes are inevitable and to come away with greater insight with more people contributing to the conversation is priceless. Asking questions she believes is the best way to make progress; asking people who have been excluded is the best place to begin because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Inevitably, someone is excluded. Inclusion is on-going; however, she urges “responsibility for inclusion as a matter of intentional choice, rather than risk an unintentional harm”.

Image from Kat Holmes’s book, Mismatch.

“Invisible by Omission”

Several years ago, a friend’s 80-year-old father and I were sitting in his living room chatting, about what I no longer recall but, one thing he said to me that honestly shocked me at the time: “When you get old, you become invisible”. It was honest. Real. This became a conversation about how we as a society view the elderly and aging. We glorify youth and diminish pretty much anyone 40 and above. Why is that?

Kat briefly writes about how we categorize people. People are “multifaceted” so how do we determine which aspects we design for? Categories are simplified, typically binary and while they make things easier for us she warns us that there will always be people we leave out. We automatically prioritize some over others and essentially erase their existence.

Bias and Assumptions

Think about how we exclude based on healthy or not, with disabilities or not, ethnicity, economic status, religion, pedigree and more. As designers, it is important to ask ourselves: who are we excluding with the decisions we make? Remember the circle? Who is in and who is out?

We love to categorize. So, when it comes to data, I’ve been thinking: how are we collecting it? What determines our categories? When it comes to data, how are people excluded and therefore never counted? When it comes to data and training machines, how do we exclude? How are we creating bias in the algorithms we design?

What “mind bugs” have we acquired over the years that allow us to look for the easy answer or perhaps the most comfortable solution? Exclusion, according to Kat Holmes is how we learn to be inclusive. When is the last time you thought about what you exclude? How often do you question the status quo?

For better or for worse, the people who design the touchpoints of society determine who can participate and who’s left out. Often unwittingly.

Kat Holmes, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design

These are some of the questions moving through my mind.

So, what are designers to do? First, check “sympathy and pity” at the door. Then, open your mind to ideas that may counter your beliefs. Inclusion isn’t about you.

Three inclusive design principles by Kat Holmes

  • “Recognize exclusion”. This is the big first step. Recognize your own biases, assumptions and fears. The real work begins here—the truth.
  • “Learn from diversity”. Look to each other when doing the work to change.
  • “Solve for one, extend to many”. What is universal? Identify the thread that binds us together.

I’m looking forward to the rest of Mismatch. I have my own experiences of being excluded and watching those I care about be excluded. Kat has given me a lot to think about.

Learning and The Art of Statistics

I think this might be the UK version of the cover design; much more preferable than the US version.

This summer I started reading David Spiegelhalter’s book, The Art of Statistics, but never got beyond the second chapter. I also had plans to learn d3 and do a personal visualization project. So much for plans. School ended and then I got bombarded with work.

Summer. Poof. Gone.

So now that I’m back at UM, I started reading The Art of Statistics, again…from the beginning. If anyone asked me about it, I would simply say that I don’t know much about it. For most of my twenty-some working years, my answer was accepted … until now.

Should, should, should…

Should designers learn to code?

Ever since I started designing websites the question, “Should designers learn to code” has been a never-ending debate. I used to think, Nah, leave it to the experts. Focus on your strengths—design! It was the easy answer; the one I, as well as many of my designer friends wanted to hear. Yet now, as a student in a STEAM program, I can say with certainty that a designer who can code has superpowers.

I’m trying to use a method of highlighting where yellow seems important and green are terms I need to learn and look up more if I don’t understand.

Should designers learn statistics?

I don’t think there is a “Pass Go” card for statistics if you want to practice data visualization ethically, truthfully, professionally. Of course you don’t need to be a statistician but as I’m learning, it sure helps you understand data. It helps you ask questions and more questions. I am convinced more than ever that as we move into this Fourth Industrial Revolution, citizens must have at least some amount of data literacy. Spiegelhalter says:

More data means that we need to be even more aware of what the evidence is actually worth.

David Spiegelhalter, Author, The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data

So yes, designers should learn statistics and The Art of Statistics is a great way to start. The format is wonderful because Spiegelhalter asks a question at the beginning of each “lesson”. He weaves jargon, concepts, history and process into stories from data which are stories about people and communities. What’s not to love? His writing isn’t dry. It is conversational, sometimes funny and always approachable. It is void of academic uppity.

Learning about distribution and logarithmic scale.

I decided to try a different approach to learning based on another book I’m also reading, Make it Stick. It’s a great book for teachers and students about learning. One takeaway was to break down anything you are learning into a series of steps or connections.

An excellent book for students and teachers.

That may seem obvious but apparently I went through life with with a different method for learning (memorization). With that in mind, I downloaded an upgrade to MindNode to try it out again (Thank you Qinyu for the reminder) to see if this process of creating a structure, a network, a series of relationships would help lodge some of these new terms and concepts into my long term memory. I’m also hoping this process makes learning statistics more enjoyable. So far, so good. (yay, me)

If you’re curious, you can click on the image or this link to see a better view of what I’ve started.

I’ve created mind maps on paper but what I like about MindNode so far is that I can move networks around easy peasy. The more I read, the more I process, I can go back and adjust as things become more clear.

Networks, Relationships, Connections

As a side note, I’m also learning how to design for artificial intelligence (or is it with?) and what has been interesting these past few weeks are how statistics, psychology, data visualization, artificial intelligence, and human-centered design are moving together and intersecting at various points as I process everything I am learning. The work I do (currently literature reviews) in the UX Lab continues to expose me to related terms and concepts.

As I move through The Art of Statistics, I’m getting early hints that I’ll be learning about analyzing performance for machine learning (regression models, algorithms, prediction). Cool. And recently, I learned about the theory of Connectivism.

There’s a path developing. Lightbulb moments.

We Lost Three Billion Birds

My husband and I have binoculars and a bird guide on a window ledge in our dining room. Sounds dorky, right? Well, I’m old enough to not care much about being a dork these days so onward.

We have a few bird feeders in our backyard and if I was home about this time of year and through the winter, we would be watching for birds and trying to identify them. Sometimes we would use our trusty guide book or use Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID app. There was also a time when we would send information about which birds showed up in our backyard.

So when I came upon this story in the New York Times about the loss of 3 billion birds since 1970 I was shocked, then deeply saddened, then alarmed.

Now, when I say shocked, I wasn’t surprised that there was a population loss. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, agricultural practices, invasive species … the list goes on. But really … danger, Will Robinson!

3 billion birds since 1970.

3 billion birds. 50 years. Gone.

Now, this graphic is beautiful. The colors, the structure, the information is clear and helpful. This is the online version in the Science Section:

Birds Are Vanishing From North America – The New York Times

Clearly, hit hardest are the Grasslands. The article mentions that even Robins and Sparrows, and Starlings (those invasive species) experienced significant declines.

Robins and sparrows.

a full-blown crisis.

David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society

Isn’t everyone shocked and alarmed?

Can you imagine a world without birds? I don’t know about you but that gives me the willies. In fact I recall a moment while walking in our neighborhood when I realized there were no bird sounds. It was the eeriest feeling. I went out every morning listening specifically for a chirp or a call. What a relief when I finally heard one.

Conjuring a world without birds is a thing I don’t dare imagine, like the death of a child. Their fate is our own.

Joel Sartore Photographer

Can you picture 3 billion birds?

So, while writing this post, I realized that I wanted to show you what losing 3 billion birds looks like. Can you picture it? I can’t. If I had to explain to my 7-year-old niece what a loss of 3 billion birds looks like what would I show her?

I couldn’t find anything but this piece, Drowning in plastic: Visualising the world’s addiction to plastic bottles by Reuters came to mind.

It is insane to see the relationship of plastic bottles to iconic structures like the Eiffel Tower.

1.3 billion bottles. “Every day the equivalent of a bottle pile half the size of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is sold around the world.” Reuters

Would the story have greater impact and meaning among non-bird experts and fans if there was a way to see scale; a tasteful rendering and relationship of the number of birds to something familiar like the Statue of Liberty or covering an area the size of Texas or ?

I’m thinking yes. Do I have an exact solution? No, but I’d love to explore it some time in the future. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to help conservation efforts and take every day I see birds (even those pesky Starlings) as a gift.


Project Pitch: The Poetry of Anne Sexton

Today we pitch our project proposals.

Time limit: 3 minutes.

Writing poems, my quiet place.

I signed up for a poetry class during summer break while an undergrad at The University of the Arts (UARTs) pursuing my BFA in Photography. I had no idea what I was getting into but I went with it. The experience turned out to be one of the unexpected “bests” of my life. That summer was also the year I learned, in great detail what happened to my grandfather , a man I never knew because someone decided to take his life long before I was ever imagined.

Writing poems gave my anger and loss (can you mourn someone you never knew?) a place to rest. It was also the first time I recited a poem in public. Granted, it was a room of my classmates but for someone who honestly prefers to sit in the audience, this was big. Huge.

Transformations was my introduction to Anne Sexton.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read her poems and this idea of a project has been a wonderful way to reacquaint myself with her and her work. It’s been, well, decades. Does her work resonate with me now as it did then? I believe this project will be an emotional journey as much as it is a learning experience. What will I discover?

I’m proposing a visualization that slightly petrifies me.

I tweeted last night that I’m already in the “dark swamp of despair”.

Self-learning: Python, D3, scraping data, build a corpus… oh my.

Blogs, tweets, StackOverflow, GitHub, Codecademy, Lynda … you name it, I’m searching for “How to …” often.

  • Learning python: New jargon. Decisions about IDEs. Pandas… they aren’t cute black and white furry animals?
  • Learning how to properly analyze and clean text data: Pre-processing? Does my data need to be organized in a csv file or like a massive dump in a txt file? Looking for tutorials on how to prep text with Jupyter notebook) Soooo many questions.
  • Learning D3 is not going to be easy though I am hopeful Amelia Wattenberger’s book, Full Stack D3 and Data Visualization will be a huge help. (She is based in Rochester, NY – cool.)

Some classmates have suggested that I use R instead of Python. I’ve gone back and forth on this. Maybe I’m crazy but I prefer to learn Python because it seems a language that crosses many disciplines for many applications. Then, there’s the fact that python was named in honor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus!

Part of this is also recognizing that I know what is good but my abilities to execute are far below what it probably takes to meet my own expectations. Ira Glass has something to say about this and I’m trying to find some comfort. One would think familiarity of this mind space would make it easier each time. But no…

Still, I have some bright sides.

Mindy McAdams, a data journalism professor at the University of Florida was helpful in getting me setup with Python. I didn’t know it at the time but miniconda was the right way to go and given the number of IDE options, I’m so glad I went with Jupyter Notebook. (Seriously Mindy I cannot thank you enough.)

The bright side wouldn’t be complete without mad props to Lenny Martinez, one of UM Interactive Media’s data journalism professors. His positivity is all goodness when I feel like I’m drowning.

And, to end on a positive note, I do know how to install packages and I know kernals and cells, virtual environments and I’m not afraid of Terminal so much anymore. Not bad. Perhaps I need to just get over the fear that I’ll break something if I type incorrect syntax and also not worry so much about creating a properly formatted text file.

Ah, the “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”.