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How did you two individually get started in design, and how did you begin your positions at Fjord São Paulo? “I studied business and marketing and dreamed of working as a marketing manager,” says Liliane Gomes. “However, in my first job, the lack of accessibility in the physical workspace halted my growth opportunities. One of the few options was to work remotely with the help of assistive technologies. I worked this way as a digital marketing analyst for three years, implementing social media strategies until I discovered UX design and fell in love with the discipline and its endless possibilities. I began to study product design and UX design with an extreme passion. During that learning period of roughly three years, I worked at a consulting company to practice my new skills. Eventually, I decided to focus my studies on accessibility. I was in a defining moment in my career and was searching for something that motivated me and had a social impact. That’s when I received the job offer from Fjord Brazil. Today, my goal is to build my career around accessibility.”

“Design was a natural progression for my career,” says Gustavo Abreu. “I’ve always been interested in telling human stories and finding truth in things to which no one was paying attention. My love of storytelling made me gravitate towards journalism and film, so initially, I made a career out of writing. After working for almost ten years in newsrooms, I started asking myself: How can I use these tools that I’ve gathered to make something great and potentially impact even more people? I came across the design world when I was doing content strategy work, and everything just clicked. It’s an industry in constant need of creatives who can bring curiosity, empathy and humanity to the business table. The rest was just a lot of hard work.”

What fuels your interest in creating initiatives that promote accessibility and inclusivity? “I can’t imagine anything more important than deconstructing the myth that disability is, in any way, related to inefficiency,” says Gomes. “I want to help businesses understand that people with disabilities are also significant consumers and a vital part of the workforce. My motivations come, first and foremost, from personal experience. Professionally, I’ve faced several disappointments with the lack of opportunity for growth. As a consumer, I’ve also struggled to use products or services because their designs didn’t consider people with disabilities in the first place. Today, I know that these problems are caused by faulty design processes in which inclusivity is seen only as a feature or, even worse, as a nice-to-have. Because of these experiences, I decided to build a framework called Inclusive Design for Digital Accessibility (ID-for-DA) based on everything I’ve learned over the years. This framework helps designers ask the right questions and focus on all things accessibility during the research phase. They support my goal to contribute to the broader debate of how to create genuine, human-centered experiences—considering people with disabilities at every step of the way.”

“Design, like every industry, is very elitist,” says Abreu. “My first couple of years working with designers made me realize how many of them came from privileged backgrounds. Coming from a minority group—working class, brown and queer—it bothered me to see the reflection of that privilege while co-creating design solutions. So, I became interested in creating design tools that help us identify our blind spots and eliminate them while still ideating. Usually, design tends to reflect what we know and the current state of things. But breaking out of that and expanding to different audiences—and even markets—should be the everlasting drive of everything we do.”

How has it been training designers on employing inclusive methods in their practice? “It’s been an exciting journey,” says Gomes. “At Fjord, all designers understand the importance of inclusion and accessibility during the design process. However, if you look at our clients, not all companies consider inclusivity the new standard. ID-for-DA solves that problem. Our framework offers easy-to-understand tools alongside training sessions, workshops and focus groups for people with disabilities. One of the most powerful tools is the Alterity Map, in which teams can explore different usability scenarios lived by people with disabilities. The Alterity Map is based on the original Empathy Map broadly used by design teams. However, instead of asking how users feel, think, say or do, we ask how they touch, see, speak or listen—while also mapping potential barriers and obstacles across the service or product journey.”

“Designers love putting on the ‘user hat,’ so it’s an easy ask,” says Abreu. “The main challenge is to be able to disseminate inclusive design as a mindset and not a method across all design ‘subdivisions,’ like design research and product design. We explored this challenge recently in a recent thought leadership piece I contributed to about the opportunity inclusive design offers to organizations in industries like consumer-package goods. Also, design is nothing without business and technology sitting across from us—but that’s also where it starts to get complicated. Clients will always ask us to prove the business value of inclusive design when, in reality, it should be a moral and ethical imperative, not a value-generation lever. And technology might tell us that inclusive design makes things more complicated, while it should be seen as a foundational driver and not a ‘plus one’ on a development backlog.”

Together, you helm one workshop at Fjord where you raise awareness on products and services that foster inclusion and another where you talk about creating responsible experiences. What inspired you to create these workshops? “Working with clients opens your eyes to how exclusionary products and services are, and that’s where most of the inspiration for these came from,” says Abreu. “As designers, we should always push ourselves to awaken difficult conversations that have been hiding under the rug for years and to make them as visible and as loud as possible. One good and simple example in service design is that companies are still creating ‘family plans,’ yet in reality, we know that families come in many shapes and forms. Consumers want the freedom to shape their accounts or subscriptions however they like. Designers should be the ones asking those questions—or no one will. To make designers aware of these things, we need to amplify these messages.”

Clients will always ask us to prove the business value of inclusive design when, in reality, it should be a moral and ethical imperative, not a value-generation lever.” —Gustavo Abreu

What kinds of accessibility tools can designers use in their projects? “The best place to start is studying and using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in your everyday design process,” says Gomes. “Once you grasp those principles, keep your mind open to different frameworks that may help you along your learning path. Don’t discard anything. Be curious. Question things. Read—a lot. And when designing digital products, search for plugins. Try them all, if possible. Figma, which is currently one of the best collaborative tools for digital product creation, has its own community of developers creating terrific plugins for designers to test features using prototyping tools.”

“The first thing to remember is that accessibility is part of inclusive design, which should always look at the bigger picture in designing experiences. To shape accessible products and services, we should see it as an integral part of the process and not an afterthought,” says Abreu. “This means conducting more inclusive research projects and considering a broader range of users before narrowing down our target audience. Once we figure out the ‘whys’ and the ‘whats’ during explorations, we need to guarantee more inclusive tests to validate hypotheses and make sure the ‘who’s and the ‘hows’ actually go together.”

Tell me about some of your favorite projects you’ve designed together. What have you learned from them? “I’m particularly proud of a recent session we did for our Design Conversations series, a regular panel discussion we hold for our colleagues to unpack meaningful topics on design,” says Gomes. “This edition was about inclusive design and accessibility, and we broadcasted in three different languages simultaneously to make it inclusive for designers across four continents.

“Inclusive meetings are a very relevant topic these days due to remote work,” Gomes continues. “Over the past year, I’ve learned that some simple gestures can really increase the participation of people with disabilities: things like keeping your camera on so lip-readers can have a better understanding of what’s being said; explaining what’s on your slide so the blind can get a sense of the content; and avoiding figures of speech, so people on the autism spectrum can fully comprehend your talking points.”

“Recently, we delivered a transformational project for a client in the health industry where we got to assess and redesign more than 200 of its insurance and coverage pages,” says Abreu. “The combined effort between the design, technology and content teams was probably our biggest learning, considering that these disciplines are the basis of digital experiences. As we mentioned before, inclusive design and accessibility are everyone’s business—not just a UX challenge.”

You feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted designing for inclusion. What kinds of barriers has it revealed? “The pandemic increased online communication overnight, especially in social networks,” says Gomes. “Conversations on social issues grew when people worldwide were forced to interact solely with our current digital tools. Many noticed—probably for the first time—how standardized and limited our online experiences were. People with disabilities took this opportunity to start a broader debate on the importance of digital diversity and inclusion.

“We showed the general population our struggles and frustrations with products and services that weren’t designed properly,” Gomes continues. “For example, there are e-commerce systems with inaccessible navigation through a screen reader, digital banks that don’t have sign language support and public services that don’t alternative forms of signing a document rather than by hand. All these situations revealed how necessary it is for companies and governments to incorporate inclusive design in their processes.”

Where do you feel hiring practices can do better to develop more inclusive teams? “The best way to improve hiring practices is to promote debates between people,” says Gomes. “Social events are an excellent opportunity to acknowledge team diversity. When we encourage interaction, we are automatically facilitating conversations and, more importantly, asking questions. As a designer with quadriplegia, I may not know much about how a blind programmer works, but the best way to discover that is to ask them directly. Only when we know the stories, needs and desires that people with disabilities have in the workplace will we offer accessible assistance and equipment.”

“As designers, we need to be tooled to poke through traditional HR recruitment processes—even AI-powered ones,” says Abreu. “Going to design school is still a big privilege no matter where you are in the world. We should aim to identify a designer’s mindset in someone while interviewing regardless of their portfolio and, once they’re in, help them to develop and build their own work based on their curiosity and eagerness to learn. The best designers do not necessarily come from traditional design backgrounds or are equipped with ‘best in class’ hard skills. I love the debate around inclusive orchestras and the controversy around blind auditions, which only contributes to keeping orchestras exclusionary. The best talents sometimes need to be shaped—and in design, that is particularly true. The design world needs more people with backgrounds in service, psychology, film and anthropology.”

What are some accessibility issues that the world of design needs to pay more attention to? “Designers must consider inclusion and accessibility requirements as the new norm,” says Gomes. “In my first few projects here at Fjord São Paulo, I noticed that we lacked a comprehensive framework with inclusive tools to address such requirements. In 2019, we tackled the idea for our online platform Fjord Trends that we’re not able yet to design products and services at the individualized level, which would resonate with the demand for diversity. And it’s something that motivated us to create the ID-for-DA framework. One of the keys is to include insights from people with disabilities into the discovery process. Something is off if the team finishes their initial discovery phase and hasn’t uncovered any potential accessibility issues. I hope to continue building the ID-for-DA framework and making it a staple in the Fjord design process.”

“Traditionally, design and technology tend to follow a similar pace and work hand in hand,” says Abreu. “These days, we spend a lot of time designing screens because that’s where 95 percent of our digital interactions are. But as we move towards different types of interfaces—like voice and chat—eventually, that’s where the inclusivity challenges will lay on. Things like racist AI already exist, and that’s why we need better methods to prevent them.”

What sites or blogs do you frequent? “There are a few I recommend, especially for designers interested in exploring the subject with more depth,” says Gomes. “I love Deque because it approaches digital accessibility with inclusivity in mind. The Web Accessibility Initiative from the World Wide Web Consortium is a must, as it’s from the organization responsible for the WCAG, the gold standard of accessibility guidelines. Microsoft’s inclusive design page is also a terrific place to learn. I also suggest looking at the Design Council—it explains how design should work for everyone.”

What excites you about the world of design right now? “When I think about all the possibilities that inclusive design opens, not just for my career as a designer but for all users,” says Gomes. “Inclusive design, if appropriately incorporated into our everyday processes, is a transformative tool. We are exploring uncharted territories. People that were sidelined because of their different realities are brought into the equation, improving and enriching experiences.”

“Reimagining the world post-COVID and how industries are going to handle consumer interaction has been the center of client discussions for the past year,” says Abreu. “But what particularly interests me is how societies across the world are going to solve financial inclusion, which is the basis for any other consumer discussion. We spend way too much time shaping new products and offerings, when in reality, we should be discussing access and how to be truly relevant for the communities we serve.” ca

The eldest sister to four brothers, Liliane Gomes is a communicator and marketing analyst who discovered from her own experience how accessibility solutions could impact the design industry. After becoming quadriplegic, she feels constantly moved by inclusion challenges and seeks to leverage ideas under the lens of inclusive design. Within this discipline, she is an activator in constructing inclusion and professional development programs for persons with disabilities in organizations. At Fjord, Gomes is an enthusiastic designer of inclusive methodology and accessibility management as methods that enable the development of accessible technologies and journeys with different interaction perspectives. Her ultimate goal is to positively impact the lives of people around her. 

Gustavo Abreu is a passionate, curious designer who believes in the power of storytelling to delight, inspire and transform the world. He has a ten-year background in journalism, with work featured in magazines such as GQ BrasilHarper’s Bazaar Brasil and Vogue Brasil. Since joining Fjord in 2018, he’s been devoted to developing methodologies to help design, business and tech teams to build better products and services with inclusivity at heart. Abreu also leads initiatives to make inclusion and diversity a foundational pillar for Fjord in Latin America. Outside of design, he’s a dedicated DJ and an advocate for the LGBTQAI+ community in São Paulo.


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