Design For All feat. Tom Pinks

Introducing Tom Pinks, Co-Production and User Experience Lead at Mind, the mental health charity. With a history at Samaritans and EF Education First, he recently earned the NHS Equity Award for his work on mental health stigma. Tom is an advocate for inclusive design, starting with underrepresented communities and scaling up. Here he shares some tips to help other designers design more inclusively.

The purpose of the series ‘Design For All’ is to demonstrate the importance of inclusivity in design and share knowledge on how to create more inclusive and accessible design experiences.

Can you please introduce yourself, what you do and tell us about your experience?

Hi, my name is Tom Pinks and I’m the Co-Production and User Experience Lead at Mind, the mental health charity. 

I’ve always tried to balance my love for design and content with a passion to help people. Before Mind, I worked with Samaritans, EF Education First and various mental health and wellbeing charities. Recently, I received the NHS Equity Award for leading research into tackling mental health stigma in underrepresented communities through design. 

I’m a creative at heart and have always been curious about how we can make user experiences more accessible. My current goal is to create a more inclusive digital world by working with leading organisations across various sectors to build more mental health awareness in UX and UI. 

How important is inclusion to your work?

Inclusion sits at the core of everything I do. 

At Mind, one of my main responsibilities is co-production, which refers to the unique collaboration between service providers and service users to reach collective outcomes on how products are built. Put simply, I ensure that our users are included in every step of the process of our design work. 

To put it even more bluntly – if I don’t incorporate inclusion in my work then I don’t have a job! 

Inclusion brings a certain level of richness and authenticity that you can’t find anywhere else. It has helped us reach people who are often overlooked in society and, consequently, gets them engaged in our purpose and mission. From a business perspective, this has led to growth in our visibility and helped all of our stakeholders connect on a deeper, more emotional level with who they’re designing for. 

How are you promoting inclusive design through your work and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

The most effective way to promote inclusive design is to not treat it like an afterthought. Our products are always built with inclusivity at the forefront and, in that regard, it’s always the first topic of conversation. Rather than focus on a general target user group, we tend to start small and then go big. We look at underrepresented communities first, then widen our scope to fit with a larger group of potential users. 

We often begin with two key questions at the start of any design process: 

– Who is this product catering for? 

– Who is it not catering for? 

From there, we can be sure that inclusion can be cemented in the work that proceeds. 

In big teams (and even smaller ones) it can be hard to get everyone on board with why inclusion is crucial, especially if they don’t know much about it. I’ve found that hosting workshops and Q+A sessions on accessibility and inclusion have helped with getting the whole team aligned on the importance of it. Not just one session either. Regular sessions always help refresh everyone’s minds (including mine!) on why inclusivity is best practice. It’s also an opportunity for people to ask questions and address anything they’re unsure of when it comes to accessibility and inclusion in their own work. 

What are 2-3 tips you’d share to other designers trying to design more inclusively?

1.) Always build on your empathy practice. If there’s one thing that the mental health sector and the design world share – it’s empathy. And we could always do better at it. Take time to see your designs from as many perspectives as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of those who are seeing your designs for the first time and who may not have the same abilities as you do. Be open-minded, ask open-ended questions and be aware of your unconscious biases at all times! 

2.) Connect with communities that have often been underrepresented in our digital world. From a business perspective, these communities hold the key to growing your userbase. From a human perspective, it will ensure your designs encapsulate the conditions and context your potential users are living in. 

Try to incorporate people in your research who could be more susceptible to exclusion. These may be minority groups that experience prejudice and discrimination throughout their lives. There are plenty of charities and community groups that support these people. From my experience, working with these communities not only helps inform our designs, it also give opportunities to those who may not otherwise have one. 

3.) Be fearless in your fight for accessibility and inclusion. As Steve Krug, author of one of my favourite books on accessibility ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, said: ‘Accessibility is the right thing to do. And not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do, because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives.’ 

As designers, we have the power and responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone. It’s in our nature to help people and we have the means to do that through our work. So grasp the opportunity, because when our most vulnerable people in society feel like they’re winning, we all do too. 

What are some of the resources you’ve found helpful to develop your understanding of accessibility and inclusion when it comes to your design  work?

The book ‘Inclusive Design for a Digital World’ by Regine M. Gilbert helped me understand just how unbounded the world of accessibility truly is.  

‘Building For Everyone’ by Annie Jean-Baptiste is a brilliant insight into how Google are leading the fight for inclusion. They offer some solid case studies that you simply cannot argue with when it comes to advocating for it. 

Another worthwhile read is the Microsoft Inclusive Design resource, especially its manual on Cognitive Exclusion. 

Regina Jankowski has written some brilliant articles on incorporating more mental health awareness in the WCAG. To my knowledge, these articles are the first of its kind in bringing mental health conditions to the forefront of accessibility and inclusion. 

Away from traditional resources, I’ve found that practicing meditation and mindfulness helps me be more aware and compassionate of people’s needs. It helps me see designs from a wider perspective and resonate on a deeper level with the people that use them. I started with apps like Headspace and Calm and now practice Transcendental Meditation on a daily basis. 

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Chris Nasrawi