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99U Conference

Kat Holmes: To Be Successful, Ask ‘Whose Voice is Missing?’

Google’s director of UX design says the ability to seek out a range of perspectives is a critical skill for leaders of the future.


When we set the theme for our 2019 conference — The Creative Future — we imagined a future where creative skills are more pervasive and prized, and how that might reshape the world around us. As we prepare for the event in May, we’re asking our speakers to share a skill they think is important for all creatives to navigate what’s to come.

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Kat Holmes believes good design is design that includes everyone. As the director of UX Design at Google and author of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, she subscribes to the World Health Organization’s definition of disability as a “mismatched interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live.” Kat will be speaking at the 11th Annual 99U Conference, taking place May 8-10 in New York City.

Q. What is a skill you’ve cultivated in your career that you believe to be futureproof?

A. Taking a moment to consider whose voice might be missing from the conversation and seeking out a range of perspectives is an evergreen practice. I always learn something new when I take the time to listen.

Q. What brought home the power of taking into account missing voices to you?

A. When I was at Microsoft, I was on the team working on the design of a digital personal assistant. At the time, there were no tools for doing voice-based conversation design. So we had to make it up as we went. None of us had ever been a personal assistant or worked with one. We didn’t know where to start. We may have been experts at technology, but we realized we weren’t pros at what it takes to help out humans. A powerful resource for us was meeting with people who were professional personal assistants. They were able to help us understand their role and share their expertise for how a human creates a great experience for another human. Through that, we realized the value of recognizing whose voices or expertise are missing.

Q. Why will this be important for the future?

A. Because creativity thrives in unlikely intersections between people. When you consider whose voices or experiences aren’t included and you seek out those perspectives, solutions emerge that would not have been possible were it not for the unexpected intersection. This is how we begin to develop a diversity of ways for people to interact with the products and solutions we create.

Q. How do you get better at realizing you’re overlooking an important perspective?

A. I always tell people that it’s like brushing your teeth: it’s something you have to do every day. Developing any kind of skill requires a conscious effort to practice that skill. If your intention is to pause and recognize what voices or expertise aren’t represented and are needed, then you have to commit to doing exactly that.

 

Hear from Kat Holmes and more creatives shaping the future at the 11th Annual 99U Conference, May 8-10, 2019 in New York City.


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