Humans at the heart
How we're building an inclusive product and culture at More Human
I'm Emma, one of the Co-Founders of More Human. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 29, around 9 and a half years ago, and at that time I was working as a Creative Director for a web agency. Before my diagnosis I’ll be honest, accessibility was my bug bear. It was the thing the client threw in, usually at the last minute, that turned the beautiful, creative design I had preciously pitched to them into something that felt a bit more functional and looked a lot more crappy. I’d usually wonder who the people were that needed bigger text or simpler language and why such a small group of people as I saw it had so much sway. I’m really not proud of that thinking but I think it's important that I share it because it shows that you don’t have to be born an evangelist.
My diagnosis threw me into a world where I suddenly became part of that ‘small group’. There were 3 things that became screamingly obvious very quickly:
1. This group of troublemakers ruining my designs wasn’t as tiny as I had thought and it had a valid point
2. Designing for enhanced needs helps everyone
3. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to tech solutions. There are a whole host of challenges people could face that aren’t the more obvious disability needs, there are people who can’t afford internet, there are people who suffer from anxiety you could induce with a tiny detail. Some people have …. Gasp …. multiple challenges.
Armed with my new knowledge and determination to try and solve it I joined Parkinsons UK to help them create a testing process for devices and apps. I saw the things the participants most liked using weren’t ugly, or clunky and didn’t look ‘special’, the tech they loved best were the things that felt just like what everyone else was using with clever hidden hacks built in to help them. I learned that technology is at its most inclusive when it fades into the background and supports humans to be their best.
And this couldn’t have been better illustrated to me than when I was approached by the BBC in 2016 to be part of a documentary they were making called The Big Life Fix where a designer from Microsoft created me a bespoke device that helped me overcome my hand tremors and write again clearly for the first time in years.
At the time the blogs and newspapers often reported the technology wrongly as a pen or it was dubbed a watch even though it didn't tell the time, but they never misquoted my first words on using it, not a swear word thankfully, or misread the look of just complete and utter joy on my face as I wrote my name out beautifully and legibly. What it had helped me achieve was more important than the thing itself.
And now 5 years on it no longer fits my needs but the effect it had on my feelings of self-worth as a designer and my confidence to step up as a person were changed by it forever.
So when I came to build my own business this was something I wanted to bake into our product AND the way we work. Luckily my co-founders Mel and Duncan were coming to the process with the same intention, to use technology to give people super powers rather than be the magic itself. We came together on the Zinc business builder programme which encourages a research-led approach to product and service design, something we threw ourselves into.
I’m going to share with you a little about how we prioritise inclusivity internally and externally as a team because the two really go hand-in-hand at More Human. During the first COVID lockdown we ran virtual cafes for community groups who suddenly found themselves unsure of how to come together under the new restrictions. We served over 1,200 guests at casual virtual events and noticed that the leaders of the communities were in most cases really struggling with admin, attendance and having no one to delegate to.
Our software unlocks potential in people to set up grass roots events and to be able to achieve professional results and success as an amateur. We’re building a library of blueprints; events designed with the help of premium content partners, so that organisers can just add them to their calendar. So essentially our product goal in itself is an inclusive one, to democratize event building. These thoughts were borne out of the learnings from our cafe events and also the 1:1 chats we had with potential users.
Our platform itself has been designed with less confident and less able users in mind. Working on the ground during lockdown with communities showed us the spectrum of tech capability in both our target users and their attendees.
For our primary users, amateur event organisers:
We’ve built in a modular way and integrate with the platforms and tools they’re already using so its not such a scary step to try something new suddenly. For both organiser and attendee the majority of the journey is delivered and managed via email making it really familiar.
We’re prioritising mobile optimisation into our build as we know not all of our users can afford a larger device than a phone and we’ve kept the interface design simple and quick to load for low data usage and easy access to attendance registers when on site at an event.
We aim to keep calls to action to 1 per screen, use simple language and large hit areas to help users with cognitive and dexterity challenges
And for their attendees:
We’re fully white-labelled and use things like dynamic terminology, so the organiser can set all instances of the words ‘host’ and ‘attendee’ to be more suitable to their community for example one of our clients 45+ Not Grumpy who refer to their attendees as ‘not grumpies’. This alongside allowing the organiser to set customised colours means that end users get a familiar look and feel and appropriate terminology during their experience with us. Familiarity is a huge part of inclusivity.
We ask for and hold minimal data at checkout so it’s not daunting, there’s not excessive form fields to fill in or basket countdown clocks stressing you out. And we monitor and fix errors in data, things like incorrect email addresses and payment issues and reach out to the attendee with a solution often before they even contact us about it.
We put a More Human wrapper on all our event blueprints so customers can be reassured that they’re high quality, well-planned, inclusive and most of all fun. This wrapper could for example be meeting in a pub before the group travel together to the theatre so they can connect with each other first. It’s really important to us that we’re helping people feel confident in turning up so we’ll plan to incorporate things like venue accessibility ratings using third party tools in the future.
We co-create with our customers which means we have to be vulnerable and open about the stage we are at in our development and the things we might not yet know. We test our ideas with real users using paper prototypes. Here’s an example of one of Mel’s paper based games used to learn about what hosts would expect from an onboarding process.
We also have a Resident User, Anne, who works as a member of our team and helps us learn and understand more about the needs of our users. She’s been a client of ours from day 1 and we were excited to be able to bring her onto our team part time to share her knowledge.
We’re big advocates of testing by using. The fear is with more formal market research that you’re always listening to the opinions of the same sort of people, who have volunteered to step up and learn and are seasoned interviewees. We believe that the best way to test with a diverse audience is to just get your audience to use it. Get the right people involved and just put something out there and see what happens.
So we’re prioritising building inclusivity and accessibility into our product but also into our culture. As someone with challenges I’m a big fan of people bringing their whole self to work.
We've tried from the start to avoid complex processes that paper over cracks and spend more time 1:1 with each other and getting the support we need to achieve our goals. Anyone can suggest an idea or way of working at any time and we’ll trial it as a team and see how we get on with it. If it works for us all we’ll keep doing it, if it just works for one of us we’ll find a way to support that person to continue doing it. We run regular what we call ‘Ritual Resets’ to work out if the things we’re doing are still valuable and working for everyone so we don’t get too bogged down in internal process.
Here are a few things we’ve trialled and stuck with:
1. The review and feedback process
We run ‘brain trust’ sessions where any of us can discuss in a safe space anything we want to share that we’re working on, signalling how happy we are with it, what stage we’re at and what help we’re looking for before anyone else weighs in. This came as a response to my own anxiety and cognitive overwhelm in more traditionally structured feedback sessions.
2. The progression process
We don’t run yearly appraisals but set rolling goals for ourselves and book weekly 1:1s with each other that we can structure in whatever format helps us best; traditional coaching style, a brainstorm, deep focused thought etc. We receive 360 degree feedback during these sessions. We celebrate wins and weirdly celebrate failures even more because of what we get from the experience. We have a Book of Wins, a scrapbook that we store records of our team wins and things like ‘nailed an investor pitch’ and ‘managed to get 8 hours sleep’ sit alongside each other with equal weighting.
3. Holding meetings
Even though 4 of our team work in the same office if we’re calling our 5th member Andy we all use different screens to do so. This was at Andy's request because he felt overwhelmed at a bank of faces in one room staring back at him. Virtual working is a new challenge a lot of us have been facing and it brings with it a new set of rules and etiquettes. We’ve put things in place to deal with those moments when my Parkinson’s overwhelms me or Andy’s autistic son bursts into the room excitedly. Or when you just need a couple of minutes without being on show.
4. How we deal with roles
You may notice the 3 of us refer to ourselves as Co-Founders, not CEO or CMO or some new fangled role like Chief Opportunities Maker. And that’s because although we put indicative job titles in our job specs within the organisation we’re aiming for something much closer to a holocratic model. So for those of you unfamiliar with holocracy a central pillar of this method of running a business is that people are assigned to a number of smaller roles that are more flexible but utilise their skills and are much more function focussed rather than title focussed. Currently we don’t technically have one CEO. If you split up the functions of a CEO in your head it actually fits neatly into chunks, theres things like externally representing the company, building partner relationships, things that fit my skillset and ability really well and I love doing them. Duncan on the other hand has a much more suitable set of skills to lead the business strategy and Mel loves shaping the internal culture. Combined we’re a really spectacular ‘CEO’. It seems silly to restrict that and just use one person’s skillset.
We know despite all the things we’re putting in place we’re definitely not perfect, there’s work to be done now, and as we scale our processes and culture will need to too but inclusivity will always be top of mind for us. It sort of has to be when you’re called ‘More Human!’