New Museum Director of Exhibitions Management, Ian Sullivan, on What His Son’s Brain Tumor Diagnosis Taught Him

New Museum Director of Exhibitions Management, Ian Sullivan, on What His Son’s Brain Tumor Diagnosis Taught Him

Every day we juggle. Maybe your version includes checking your phone as you power through lunch, or switching between 10 browser tabs strung across your laptop. If you’re a freelancer, you know about balancing assignments. That’s where Ian Sullivan, Director of Exhibitions Management at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, picked up his multitasking skills. Years of managing fulltime work at a museum alongside freelance exhibition-designer assignments made him fluid in this art. He never expected it would help him navigate the worst period of his life.

The initial balancing act for the California native began in July 2013, when his wife, Alexa Wilding, gave birth to twin boys, Lou and West. At the time, Sullivan was a dark-haired, punky exhibition designer at Bard Graduate Center Gallery who was partial to vintage western shirts. Wilding, a striking, pale-skinned and fine-boned musician, was a darling of the downtown folk rock scene. With her soft voice and ’70s vibe, she was referred to as “a neo Stevie Nicks” by The New York Times. They were a beautiful and unique family.

Almost a year after trading boozy brunches for milky burp cloths, and late-night rock shows for the cacophony of the wailing brown-eyed twins, life leaned in another direction. Lou stopped nursing, and he couldn’t hold food down. He woke frequently in the night. Multiple visits to emergency rooms yielded misdiagnoses but no real solutions.

It wasn’t until a new pediatrician decided to measure Lou’s head that the cause was discovered: a brain tumor. After surgery, the doctor determined it was an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects only two or three children in the United States a year.

I needed certain things to remain as normal as possible in order to feel like life was moving forward and not stopping.

“I recalled hearing a lot of different numbers and trying to make sense of it all, as if I could solve this math problem and find a positive answer,” says Sullivan. Per the recommendation of the oncologist, Lou underwent six months of in-patient, high-dose chemo and stem cell replacement therapy to make sure the brain tumor was completely gone. The couple traded their cozy New York City apartment for eight-day cycles in isolation with Lou at NYU Langone Medical Center, where they wore masks, gowns, and gloves and had to disinfect everything brought into and out of the room.

But when you’re going through hell, sometimes what propels you forward is simple. The momentum of their busy lives and a healthy child didn’t allow time to pause and feel sorry for themselves, Sullivan says. “I needed certain things to remain as normal as possible in order to feel like life was moving forward and not stopping,” he says. “With the treatment, Lou would be out for a few weeks, and we had to pretend like things were okay. We had West at home, so we just kept on that rhythm.” They divided and conquered, making sure there was always one parent with each child – or at the very least, a relative with West at home when both parents were needed at the hospital.

Of course, there was also work.

Wilding chose her music as a refuge. The singer-songwriter wrote an entire album on a toy piano that she borrowed from the playroom at the hospital. “The crazy thing is, while we didn’t get to sleep a lot of the night, there was this window from 7:30 to midnight that we wouldn’t have had at home,” she says. “It was weird, because I suddenly had alone time. Lou was out on morphine. It was horrible. But I thought, ‘I can crumble and feel like the world is over, or I can make the most of this time.’ I remember feeling guilty and miserable, but I knew that I had stuff to do.” Her album, Wolves, was released in July 2016.

I was working with horse blinders on while I designed this exhibition bedside from a children’s cancer ward.

Sullivan used this time to focus his energies at Bard. “I was working with horse blinders on while I designed this exhibition bedside from a children’s cancer ward, and all the while giving the project the time, attention, and design sense it required.” says Sullivan. “Somehow.”

Adopting his familiar “freelance mode” of focused multitasking made it possible. Over his career, Sullivan has produced exhibitions and environments worldwide, from the prestigious 55th Venice Biennale to the critically acclaimed “Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones” in New York and special projects in Beirut, Qatar, and South Korea. All while holding a full-time job. The months during Lou’s treatment proved trickier because it required physical time away from the office. Sullivan divided his work time into about 50 percent in office and 50 percent out. “Logistically, I just had to schedule my time so I’d make meetings at certain times,” he recalls. “Thankfully we live in an age when your phone keeps you connected.”

The image I have of Ian at this time is of him in a plastic hospital gown, with Lou sleeping and him designing on his laptop.

Before Lou’s diagnosis, there were a number of challenging projects in the exhibition schedule, and Sullivan was looking forward to broadening his design skills to include costume display and textile conservation. In particular, they were in the planning and early design phase for a historical exhibition titled “Fashioning the Body,” on tour from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. At night, he’d stay next to Lou as he slept and work in the dark with a laptop and a hospital rolling tray table. The opening on April 3, 2015, at Bard Graduate Center coincided with Lou’s completion of his chemotherapy treatment and the end of the family’s part-time residence on the ninth floor of the hospital.

“The image I have of Ian at this time is of him in a plastic hospital gown, with Lou sleeping and him designing on his laptop,” recalls Wilding.

Luckily, the Bard Graduate Center in New York, where Sullivan worked for more than a decade, was sympathetic and even helpful. “My boss was like family,” he says, still appreciative. “We lived in Bard Hall, and they gave us an apartment free of charge for family so they could be close and help out. They were so incredibly generous.”

Sullivan’s former boss, Nina Stritzler-Levine, gallery director and director of gallery publications, found that he continued to flourish creatively. “Ian managed three very demanding projects,” she says. “Every exhibition he designed elevated the practice of display. He did not let up on that objective.” She recognized his performance and promoted him to associate gallery director in July 2015.

If you’re lucky enough to get through a crisis, with distance comes perspective, and with perspective you fashion tools for your everyday life.

It all seems kind of incredible, considering that in addition to focusing on his day job, Sullivan was also working on exhibition design projects outside of BGC. He was freelancing for Massimiliano Gioni, the artistic director of the New Museum, on a curatorial project at the Nicola Trussardi Foundation in Milan, Italy. “The Great Mother” opened in August 2015, and it was featured in design reviews during the latter half of Lou’s treatment.

His work with Gioni on larger-scale projects outside of the New Museum, starting in 2009 with the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, led Sullivan to his current position, which he began in 2017 after Lou’s health stabilized.

Today, at the New Museum, Sullivan oversees a department of seven full-time staff members, while managing the entire exhibition production schedule. This includes artwork fabrication, construction, installation, and the eventual deinstallation and dispersal of loan works back to lenders and other museums.

Life at home is less structured. If you visit Sullivan and his family at their home in Irvington, New York, these days, the proverbial welcome wagon meets you at the elevator. Now five, sandy-haired Lou and West play in the empty hallway, turning the carpeted area outside the elevator into a creative space for greeting guests enthusiastically with traffic cones on their heads or performing impromptu one-act plays with a miniature puppet-show stage.

What I learned from that whole process is the importance of advocacy. I learned how to advocate for myself.

There is palpable warmth and love in their airy apartment that overlooks the main street of the Hudson River town. Standing in their kitchen, Sullivan looks like a cool suburban dad, with rimmed glasses and tattoos peeking out from under his wool sweater. He drifts in and out of conversations with the adults in the room and playing with the carefree boys. You almost wouldn’t know that Lou beat cancer three years ago.

But if you’re lucky enough to get through a crisis, with distance comes perspective, and with perspective you fashion tools for your everyday life. 

Wilding is articulate about her hard-earned lessons. “What I learned from that whole process is the importance of advocacy,” says the musician, who, with Sullivan, had to push for everything from an in-room refrigerator to a private room during their lengthy hospital stays. “Not only as a mother for my child, but I learned how to advocate in a way that I wasn’t naturally good at. I learned how to advocate for myself.” The New York native is working on a book of essays right now, and she says these skills have actually helped her navigate the process.

For Sullivan, it has put his work-life balance in perspective. “I’m much more conscientious than before of my time away from home, whether it’s working later in the day or on weekends,” he says. “I just want to be home and with the boys more, and work can take a backseat more often than not. I still feel we are making up for lost time spent in the hospital.”

There’s another mantra they learned and continue to abide by every day. It’s the advice their surgeon gave them early into Lou’s diagnosis. “All I remember is looking at the surgeon and asking, ‘What do I do?’” says Wilding. “And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to be very, very brave.’” So they were.

And they still are.

from 99U99U

The New Rules of Communicating in a Virtual World

The New Rules of Communicating in a Virtual World

Think about the correspondences you’ve had today: How many were done with people outside your office, whether over video chat, email, or messaging platforms? Increasingly, more and more of our work communications are taking place virtually.

While we can communicate with anyone on the planet at seemingly any time, it’s also resulted in unproductive and sometimes boring (if we’re honest…) conversations. Worse than boring, virtual communications often lead to misunderstandings because they deprive us of the emotional knowledge that helps us understand context, writes Nick Morgan in his new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World.

In his book, Morgan, a communications theorist and coach, addresses the mistakes we make when communicating virtually and provides strategies to facilitate more productive and effective conversations. Consider Morgan’s ideas below as the new rules to communicating in a virtual world.

Take the group’s emotional temperature.

“Begin a virtual communication by sending out one of several emoji, or symbols, agreed on in advance by your team, to indicate your emotional state at the start of the communication,” writes Morgan. “Have the entire team check in this way.” This will allow you to assess your group’s emotional state and give you a better understanding of their words and actions.

Express yourself.

“Increase your own efforts to be emotionally transparent and authentic. Precisely because the online world is emotionally less satisfying…you have to be clearer in your own mind on what you intend, what you expect, and what you require.”

Assign an MC for regular meetings.

“The group can’t run itself without the virtual equivalent of body language. You need someone who’s in charge of making sure that each person talks and that everyone is engaged.”

Schedule meetings for the appropriate time duration.

“Have you ever put a conference call on mute while checking Facebook? Then why do you keep booking hour-long conference calls and expecting people to stay focused the whole time.” While we’re at it, do you enjoy cooking, gardening, watching TV, playing the trombone at an extremely high volume, or other such hobbies? Do you sometimes do these while you’re muted on a conference call? If so, break the habit.

Share non-work moments.

Those working in offices together often use meals as ways to connect with colleagues and peers outside of regular duties, whereas those in remote locations don’t have that opportunity. So try your own ways of establishing emotional connections beyond the work, like filming a birthday message for a peer on their birthday, or sending another office lunch.

Give everyone a role on calls.

“Let everyone lead, train, and be the expert for the rest of the team. Share the spotlight, get everyone involved, and watch the connections become stronger and stronger.” Divvying up the roles ultimately leads to greater investment in the meeting.

Don’t go longer than ten minutes in any format without a break.

A call without breaks is like a never-ending email and people will zone out at some point. “The breaks will allow people to reengage. Offer a change of pace.”

Never send a brick email at the last minute.

You know what Morgan is talking about, right? Those emails that arrive 10 minutes before a meeting and have a checklist of 37 items that all need to be completed by the time the meeting starts. “I love it,” said no colleague ever. “It shows you care very little for their opinion or perspective,” emphasizes Morgan. Instead, give everyone a reasonable assignment and proper time to prep for meetings.

from 99U99U

Kim Høltermand: From Police Fingerprint Examiner to Professional Photographer

Kim Høltermand: From Police Fingerprint Examiner to Professional Photographer

I was born in Copenhagen on May 25, 1977, the same day Star Wars opened in theaters. Every time I meet a Star Wars fan, they tell me I was born under a lucky star or something.

It’s funny because I was the classic ’80s boy, with a huge imagination and a love of Star Wars, and it has really inspired my work. I grew up drawing; my father and grandfather were very good at drawing and I was good at drawing. I wanted to be an animator for Disney.

But I went to high school and just got a job after. I’ve had many ordinary jobs – working the switchboard, putting people through to companies. I worked as a shoe salesman, which was not my passion. Sometimes you’ve got to take a job to have money.

I was working as a fingerprint examiner for the police when I started to get into photography. My now ex-wife and I had moved to a house outside of Copenhagen that used to belong to landscape architects. They had left a lot of magazines around and forgotten to end their subscriptions. I started reading the magazines and found that architecture was pretty fascinating.

I didn’t have a camera so I bought one, thinking I’d take it on travels and take photos of my family, but then I thought, Why not try shooting architecture? And on Christmas Eve 2007, I joined Behance and uploaded my first series. It got a great response. That fueled my need to do more architecture photography.

From then on I would do fingerprint examining during the daytime and use every minute of my spare time to do photography, wishing it would become my living bread one day. Nine years later, in 2016, I stopped working for the police and am making a living from my photography.

An image from a personal project titled Nordic Futurism. Image courtesy of Kim Høltermand

There’s so much I love about shooting architecture – the lines, the textures, the mood. I think most of my work has been based on mood. In the beginning of my photography, it was the dark mood, the eerie mood, the melancholy mood. More recently, I’ve been happy to try out some sunshine, black and white, and more contrast work.

I think that tells you something about my life in general. When I started in photography, I was in a marriage that was not working out. I was very frustrated about my life, and it had an influence on my work. I became fascinated with mist and fog. It was my escape from everything; I could be content alone in the mist with my architecture and my structures. And indirectly, that actually made me a better artist and photographer because I learned about myself. I learned a lot of stuff driving around in the fog. Some obstacles can make you a better person.

From a person project titled The Silo. Image courtesy of Kim Høltermand

The reason so many of my images use desaturated color is because when you suck out the color, it makes the image more cold, lonely, and full of solitude. But even as I’ve become happier in my life, I still like desaturated colors. I think it has something to do with being raised in the Nordic countries. Our climate is very cold; there’s not a lot of warmth or summer. It’s more about wood, stone, cold materials, and flat landscapes. Sometimes I like to look at colorful photographs, but it’s not something I want to shoot myself. Even if my style changes, I will never go into full color, Las Vegas–style photography. If I change my style, it will be because I change my equipment. I do want to evolve and try other cameras and techniques.

I remember this time in 2010 when I was in Sweden intending to shoot fog and mist. The whole week was sunshine, and I was like, “This is not a good trip.”

In my work, I know I have something good when I feel it in my heart and my stomach. I remember this time in 2010 when I was in Sweden intending to shoot fog and mist. The whole week was sunshine, and I was like, “This is not a good trip.” On the very last day before leaving for Denmark, in came the mist of the century. I had never seen so much mist in my whole life. So I quickly drove to a nearby lake, found some rocks at the shore, and started shooting. It was like magic. I was alone, it was all quiet, the birds weren’t awake yet. And I thought, “This is gonna be the greatest series ever.” The concept just formed while I was shooting.

Some years later, I was contacted by an architect from Hong Kong, and now there’s a whole hotel there inspired by that series. I haven’t been to the hotel yet, but it’s the biggest compliment you could ever have.

Taken in Tuve, Hong Kong. Images courtesy of Kim Høltermand

I live in Copenhagen with my girlfriend, my daughter, and my girlfriend’s two children, and I don’t intend to move anywhere else, though I do want to travel more. To travel outside of Denmark is to realize what’s so unique about it. I was in Dubai recently – it’s like walking into the biggest casino in the world; everything’s just crazy. And when I returned home, I was like, “It’s so quiet; so clean.” There’s no noise at all; the trees are green. Everyone is kind to each other. It’s a very happy place.

As told to Lauren Covello Jacobs

from 99U99U

From Scrappy to Scale—A DIY CEO Explains Why Creatives Should Embrace Capitalism

From Scrappy to Scale—A DIY CEO Explains Why Creatives Should Embrace Capitalism

If you’re driving down a road outside of Santa Fe, don’t resist Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return.

The immersive art venue housed in a former bowling alley is a cornucopia of disarmingly innocent appliances that lead to an otherworldly land of phosphorescent trees, musical dinosaur skeletons, and mysterious ruptures in space and time.

The House of Eternal Return welcomed its millionth visitor this summer. New venues are opening in Las Vegas and Denver. And, following the devastating fire at the DIY space Ghost Ship in 2016, Meow Wolf launched The DIY Fund to share resources with fellow DIY venues.

We asked Meow Wolf’s CEO and 99U speaker, Vince Kadlbuk how an art space can mean big business, navigating creativity and capitalism, and how to go from scrappy to scale.


You’ve been working on Meow Wolf for a long time. When did you first think there is a business here?

About three years after we started, we did an immersive exhibition in a space called The Center for Contemporary Art. We put up this giant ship that had crash-landed in a fictitious sci-fi world. And there was a moment when a mother came up to us and said, “Thank you for creating this project. It’s the only thing that’s pulled my son away from video games all summer long.” And we had the realization “What we created was more entertaining and significant to this kid than video games, which means that there’s a business there.” That’s when the gears started turning: How do we do this full time?

Vince Kadlubek Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is an immersive art installation that bridges the real and imaginary world.

Has there been a time when you’ve struggled with whether to make a decision as a business lead versus as a creative?

I can justify creative value as our business value. Meow Wolf is a maximal creative company. We go above and beyond what is normally considered to be the minimum viable product. So, I’m not beholden to cutting corners or maximizing profit margins. We’ve proven that above and beyond creative work has value in it. A project like Denver, for example, is incredibly high tech and we’re working with hundreds of artists. It’s a really expensive project and we’re going to keep the tickets prices reasonably affordable. That might seem like it doesn’t make sense from a business perspective, but it’s my job to justify why such a massive creative project gives more value than what we can see in the ticket.

Does that mean you have a lot of difficult investor conversations?

There are difficult investor conversations with people who are interested but not totally sold yet. My job as the CEO is to make sure that the money we bring in is aligned with our character. We’re lucky to have a team who are investing for the right reasons: because of who we are, not because of what they want us to be. Our investors have been our biggest cheerleaders.

Vince Kadlubek Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is born from the community of DIY artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

You have a DIY Fund that gives resources to other DIY venues. Why does that fund exist?

We were on the outside, looking in at the creative economy for so long and we remember it. It’s still a fresh taste in my mouth. The only way we’ll become a successful company is if we’re impacting the creative economy at large. We want to makes sure that, if we’re going to grow, it’s a rising tide that lifts as many boats as possible. We want to grow the pie as big as we can so that other people can be a part of it. Right now, we create immersive experiences, entertainment, and merchandise, but the biggest goal is to influence the creation of a global creative economy platform that opens up the possibility for artists to be paid in a radically different way.

What’s your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is raising money. That sounds so superficial, but you really have to believe in a vision and convince people whose job is to be skeptical that it could be a good investment. Once money is raised, a lot of the other difficulties fall in place. It’s difficult to get artists to collaborate and work together and believe in a big project like the one we’re doing in Denver, for example. But when you have money to pay people, they don’t have to have a giant belief in the whole project. I have a lot of issues with capitalism, but it’s been an incredible vehicle for productivity and the ability to build remarkable things.

Vince Kadlubek CEO Meow Wolf

“We were on the outside, looking in at the creative economy for so long,” says Meow Wolf CEO, Vince Kadlubek.

Does that mean that creatives should embrace capitalism?

A year and a half, before we were opening our doors and bringing in hundreds of thousand dollars a week, we were delivering food at ten dollars an hour. There are creatives out there who, with just the smallest amount of support, can create incredible economic successes. They need to think: How do I, as a creative, participate in a capitalist structure? End this narrative that there’s such a thing as selling out. That’s what keeps creatives broke and powerless. That none of us are participating is what allows capitalism to be so shitty. If we were, we could all make impact on how capitalism evolves. There’s a bridge that needs to be built between the creative world and the business world: it’s a two-way bridge. Both people need to build it. That’s the biggest thing that I’m hoping comes from Meow Wolf’s success: that that bridge is built.

When you say ‘global creativity economy platform’, what does that mean?

Look around—every square inch, every cubic foot of the world is an opportunity for creativity. And every person is a potential consumer, buyer, or supporter of that creativity. Right now, the venue for creativity is limited to brick and mortar buildings; performers have to have a place to perform; artists need to have galleries to show. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution that is allowing for new infrastructure not just based on just physical buildings. Uber does digital infrastructure creating opportunities for any driver to become a taxi driver. Airbnb created a digital infrastructure for any house to become a hotel room. This is the same type of thing: How do we create as many venues and opportunities as possible for people to compensate artists for their work. It’ll takes a lot of collaboration: a lot of creative companies coming together. It can’t be done by just one.

from 99U99U

How Can We Make Design Better for the Color-Blind?

How Can We Make Design Better for the Color-Blind?

Editor’s note: Matteo Farinella, who created the header illustration for this article, combines his PhD in neuroscience with his artistic skill to visualize complex scientific concepts. In his words, “This image maps the ‘perceptual confusion’ of colorblindness to a ‘geographical confusion’ that we can all relate to. The three colors here are represented as three hills, covered in photoreceptors. While the blue hill is clearly visible, the paths leading to the red and green hills are not as easy to follow. It’s in that forest of red-green midtones where colorblind people tend to get lost. So designers should try to avoid those tones.”

The plight of the color-blind designer seems like a daunting one. It’s a fairly common phenomenon. Out of necessity, the condition is often hidden from employers and colleagues by a large swath of artists and designers seeking to protect their professional reputations and keep their livelihoods from peril.

“I don’t want my colleagues to second-guess every design decision I make,” asserts Stan*, a graphic designer of 15 years. Color-blind, he prefers to remain anonymous. “I’ve learned to work in this industry despite having color issues, and it’s never once presented me with a professional hurdle I couldn’t overcome,” he says, referencing past digital and print work for top-tier brands such as PetSmart and Mars Candy. “The truth is I am color-blind and know several other designers who are as well, but we don’t publicize it.”

Were these designers to come forward, however, their potential contributions to the worlds of teaching, design, and general awareness would be considerable.

A ‘colorblind designer’ sounds strange, but there’s a lot of us out there.

Color blindness is an inherited condition that limits a person’s ability to distinguish between color shades, most commonly reds and greens. Our ability or inability to recognize color is dependent on cells in our eyes called cones. There are three, each triggered by different wavelengths of light that send complex messages to the brain, which combined produce the appearance of color.

How to design for the color-blind.

Image courtesy of EnCrhoma, which notes “Image colors are simulated. Red-green color deficiency varies by individual.”

A common misconception is that color-blind people can only see the world in black and white, a separate condition called monochromacy. In reality, color blindness works on a gradient, from difficulty discerning specific shades to an inability to recognize more than three or four colors. This neurological quirk is the result of a mutation on the X-chromosome. Since women have two X-chromosomes, one acting as a backup to counteract potential defects, they’re less likely to inherit the disorder, which typically manifests in three specific ways.

The most common is red/green color blindness, protanopia, where subjects have difficulty viewing red light and often confuse blues with purples. Deuteranopia works similarly but affects the ability to see green. Tritanopia, the least common, affects the ability to distinguish blue and yellow. According to statistics, while only one in 200 women worldwide is color-blind, one in 12 men, or approximately 8 percent of the global male population, have varying degrees of vision impairment.

Potentially eight out of every 100 visitors to a site or an app may be seeing and experiencing content differently than intended.

For UX and graphic designers, this means that potentially eight out of every 100 visitors to a site or an app may be seeing and experiencing content differently than intended. For the color-blind, daily tasks like reading an onscreen message at the gas pump, with its green and red buttons, may be an exercise in confusion and frustration. Informed designers, on the other hand, have the power to meet this challenge head-on.

Most well-executed examples of color-blind-friendly design are so subtle you’d never even notice them. It’s the websites that indicate a clothing item’s color in the title, or the designer who utilizes texture instead of flat pigment in a pie chart. The most forward-thinking design companies have begun to create mobile games that contain a special color-blind mode to ensure inclusion, the most popular of which is Dots, a puzzle app aimed at matching colored dots. On the other hand, many productivity apps rely solely on colored labels to relay critical information and are next to impossible for the color-blind to navigate.

“Many designers aren’t aware of this disability, and even the ones who do don’t see it as important enough to consider adapting their design processes,” explains Matej Latin, a UX designer living in London. Latin initially kept his condition a secret, but emboldened by support from past and present coworkers, he now promotes color blindness awareness and accessibility on the web and social media. “A ‘colorblind designer’ sounds strange, but there’s a lot of us out there,” Latin explains, mentioning a blog post he wrote a few years ago titled  “A tale of a colour blind designer.”

Designers are terrified of coming forward because they’re scared they’ll lose their job, or be seen as less capable.

It quickly became popular, with designers writing in to express their own reluctance to come out as color-blind. “I still get at least one email each month. Designers are terrified of coming forward because they’re scared they’ll lose their job, or be seen as less capable,” says Latin. He can’t emphasize enough how wrong this is. If anything, he believes color-blind designers tend to do a better job of designing with users in mind, since “they can experience these issues themselves.”

His advice has been to stay quiet if you’re afraid of losing your job but has discovered it’s rarely an issue. “In most cases, they’ll find it fascinating,” he says. He believes color blindness helps him to make more deliberate choices and view what others can’t. “I can see immediately if the contrast in a user interface isn’t right,” he explains. “It’s jarring for me but not for non-color-blind colleagues. Being on the receiving end of a disability forces you to think more about the person who will use your product. And that’s essential for all good design work.”


Dots game colorlind mode

In DOTS colorblind mode, colors are represented by symbols, allowing players to follow gameplay by connecting dots of the same symbol. Image courtesy of DOTS.

Multiple public resources also exist to better design for the color-blind. Founded in 2009, Usabilla was created to help marketers, designers, and UX practitioners generate more-accessible sites. Today, they offer tips on making websites easier to read for the color-blind. “Just like we wouldn’t exclude people who use a certain browser or device, we shouldn’t exclude those [who need] special accommodations,” Usabilla marketing manager Kathleen Hickey tells us. “Designing with inclusiveness and accessibility benefits everyone.”

She maintains that incorporating features that benefit those with special needs must be seen as an opportunity to embrace the core principles of the web, offering an improved experience for as many users as possible. “In the case of designing for color blindness, websites aren’t just meant to look good – they’re meant to be easy-to-use for everyone, including the color-blind.” Usabilla’s site contains easy-to-follow instructions and tips on designing for the color-blind, including directions for using both colors and symbols, limiting the color palette, utilizing different textures and contrasting patterns rather than multiple colors (especially for graphs and charts), and avoiding problematic color combos like green and black or blue and purple.

They point to Facebook’s easy-to-identify form fields and error messaging as an example of a particularly successful site. It’s rumored that the site’s iconic blue color scheme was specifically chosen to accommodate founder Mark Zuckerberg’s red-green color blindness.

People with normal color vision underestimate how much we depend on color for information.

Researchers are also working on gene therapies to help “correct” color blindness, most notably Jay Neitz, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmology and a color vision researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2009, Neitz successfully administered an injection of cells into two squirrel monkeys lacking a gene known as L opsin, which provides information for the cones in the iris that perceive long wavelengths and red colors – the same cause of red-green color blindness in humans. Neitz’s team injected a virus carrying altered genetic information supplying the missing L opsin gene directly into the retina, and over the course of 24 weeks, the light sensitivity of the cones in the monkeys’ eyes shifted, permitting newfound color sensations. So far, the monkeys in this ongoing study have yet to exhibit any side effects. Beyond its importance to the study of colorblindness, the project is linked to larger research into gene therapies that may someday restore light perception to people afflicted with degenerative eye disorders. But we are still far from “curing” color blindness itself.

“People are desperate to find some solution,” Neitz told us, explaining that this condition leaves sufferers open to all kinds of “basic quackery.” He mentions EnChroma, a popular set of glasses that promises to enable viewers to “see” greater color ranges, citing its fundamental inability to change the neurological makeup of an individual.

While the glasses can filter out particular wavelengths of light and change the intensity of colors, they don’t permit you to see a new range of colors. “Some have tried on the glasses and say they like the way the world looks better,” he laughs, “but are they making people’s color vision better? No. The only way to make a significant improvement is to replace the photopigment that’s missing.” Ultimately, he says, people with normal color vision underestimate how much we depend on color for information, from witnessing fall foliage and viewing a beautiful painting to following critical directions.

The doctor, trying to cheer him up, joked that this would only be an issue if he wanted to be “an electrician, a dermatologist, or an artist.”

Loren Long was in junior high when he had his eyes examined by an ophthalmologist and failed to pass the color test. The doctor, trying to cheer him up, joked that this would only be an issue if he wanted to be “an electrician, a dermatologist, or an artist.” Unfortunately, he had already discovered his passion, and talent, for painting.My mom really helped, strongly affirming, ‘Hey your art is beautiful. Don’t let anybody say you can’t be an artist.’” Today, he’s an illustrator, writer, and New York Times best-selling picture book author. “I often talk about this moment when I give keynote speeches.”

“I realize my color blindness is an obstacle, but certainly not a disability,” he says. “When I’m making my color paintings, yes, it’s something that I have to deal with. But I’ve learned you can ask someone who has color vision to help.” Unable to use art supplies without the colors listed, for much of his career he kept his color blindness a secret. “I was always afraid they wouldn’t hire me. But those of us who are color-blind, we see most color – we just don’t see it the way you do. I see value, and it heightens my art. I see a fuller range. It’s given me an underdog mentality, which has served me. I’ve never taken anything for granted and always felt like I had to work hard and prove myself. I think for a person who’s creative, that’s a good mentality to have.”

from 99U99U

The Best Colors Named After People

The Best Colors Named After People

Worried about your legacy? Curious how you’ll go down in history? Forget about chasing money or power. Instead, you might consider adding your name to the ranks of chroma celebs. We played a round of “How did that color get its name?” and found a cast of characters that made us stop and stare. From bubblegum battleships to Yves Saint Laurent’s design inspo and the Roosevelt who pushed the limits of the unprintable, these creatives took a seriously nontraditional path to get into the history books. Keep an eye out for their namesake colors in the wild. And, hey, maybe you’ll have one named for you one day, too.

Majorelle Blue
Artist and Morocco-based expat Jacques Majorelle sacrificed any chance of being remembered for his watercolors when he painted his new Cubist villa to resemble a deepwater electric eel. The bold blue entranced and enraptured many a visitor to Marrakech. One of its most well-known devotees was the designer Yves Saint Laurent, who purchased the Majorelle property in 1980. The signature vibrant blue began to make bold, graphic appearances in YSL designs – a potentially expensive move, as Majorelle patented the color before he died. A few manufacturers have developed a close-to-perfect alternative for those hankering to paint their patio, or you can buy your own tiny can of real Majorelle blue in the Jardin Majorelle gift shop. Be warned: It likely won’t meet the liquid restrictions for your carry-on.

That bubblegum blaze from your corner Instagram bait pop-up experience actually got its start in a naval correctional facility in rainy Seattle.

Mountbatten Pink
Mountbatten pink made its dusky rose debut during World War II, when Lord Louis Mountbatten premiered the paint job on the hulls of the Royal British Navy. Perhaps hoping to make a splash with the same color camouflage philosophy that had launched the Dazzle ships of WWI, Mountbatten believed that the pink could make his Navy disappear at the hours of dawn and dusk. He may have been right. But the blush was hardly a needle in a haystack at midday. The invisible sub program may have been scrapped but God help me, I don’t think I can unsee it.

Veronese Green
Paolo Veronese moved to Venice in the early 1550s. As one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance, he might have sewn up a legacy as Venice’s greatest prodigy if that city, with its filmy light and vibrant colors, hadn’t attracted so many creatives warring for supremacy. Veronese created a family enterprise, a studio workshop assisted by his brother and sons, which produced portraits of Venice’s opulent feasts and ceremonies masquerading as biblical storylines. Since Veronese Green and its sibling emerald tones are copper-based, many of his colors have faded to brown, cloaking the original hues in mystery. But if you stop by his former home in Venice, you might notice that the current downstairs tenants honor the building’s former inhabitant with an awning in his namesake green.

Baker-Miller Pink
That bubblegum blaze from your corner Instagram bait pop-up experience actually got its start in a naval correctional facility in rainy Seattle. After catching wind of a psychology study that claimed the color could weaken anyone who looked at it, two prison officials, Gene Baker and Ron Miller, painted one of the cells the color of Kendall Jenner’s bedroom to watch its effect on the incarcerated. The results have been…irreplicable in scientific studies. But that didn’t stop tales of the enervating power of pink from spreading. Soon, it graced the walls of psychiatrists’ offices, dentists’ waiting rooms, and overnight cells for the intoxicated. So next time you snap a selfie against the pink backdrop of your local Museum of Marshmallows, think of Baker and Miller. Are you putting yourself in a pop-up prison of your own making?

But karma’s a you-know-what, and they accidentally trademarked the wrong color.

Payne’s Gray
William Payne hit upon the perfect meta color for himself. The drawing master innovated by splitting paintbrush hairs to create foliage, blended his paintings with bread, and created this neutral tint that some even grayer member of his circle found ahead of the curve. Many of his landscapes were, perhaps unsurprisingly, of slate quarries. In the damning-by-faint-praise words of a 1922 biography: “That Payne was a great artist can hardly be pretended…In the treatment of sunlight he was perhaps rather more successful than most of the artists with whom he had at first to compete.” To be fair to his legacy and memory, that same biography did refer to Payne gray as “useful.” As a great creative once said, some are born gray, and some achieve grayness.

Alice Blue
Like a bolt out of the…well you know, when the 17-year-old Alice Roosevelt swept into her dad Teddy Roosevelt’s White House, she created the modern paparazzi. From her pants and her Dorothy Parker–esque one-liners (“If you can’t say something good about someone…sit right here by me”) to the snake she toted around in her purse, press coverage of the first daughter was a hot topic for sassy women of all ages. And also for men of all ages who like to criticize sassy women of all ages. Whether the icy-cold-shoulder blue originated with Roosevelt’s signature wardrobe or her eye color, it quickly became a celebrity brand and a favorite for women’s dresses. In 2001, Alice Blue was trademarked by a U.K. company trying to ruin everyone’s fun. But karma’s a you-know-what, and they accidentally trademarked the wrong color.

from 99U99U

Bullet Points, Visuals, and OXO Peelers: Three Experts Advocate for Inclusive Design

Bullet Points, Visuals, and OXO Peelers: Three Experts Advocate for Inclusive Design

Are you designing inclusively? You might be and not even know it. White space, bullet points, plain English—all these elements make your work accessible to whole demographics of potential users. But you might also have blind spots that unwittingly exclude whole audiences.

On World Interaction Design Day, IxDA and Adobe hosted more than 90 events around the world in 37 countries to continue the conversation on how designers can bake inclusive design into their practice from the beginning,

At the event 99U attended in New York City, designer Marie van Driessche, Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, and author Liz Fosslien shared the following ideas on how to use design to make products, teams, and information accessible to everyone.

Good design for the extremes means good design for the masses.

Often designers are asked to create for a user persona; a specified, highly-targeted audience. Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, suggests casting a wider net: think of the range of your potential audience and design for them. On one side there are the early adopters who preorder new tech and will happily set up a trial account. On the other end of the spectrum are the users who will be the last to try out new technology because of lack of access, or because they’ve been overlooked in the design process.

Everyone takes in information in different ways. Make sure your product or website includes multiple options for how to engage.

According to Anderson, by designing for both those extremes, you’ll create a product that also captures the entire spectrum in between—the general mass of users. To illustrate his point, Anderson referenced Smart’s storied OXO peeler, initiated to be comfortable and accessible to those with arthritis, but designed with the high-performance needs of professional chefs in mind. The result? An award-winning, iconic design that is a staple of household kitchens.

Designer Marie van Driessche; World Interaction Design Day; Photo by Joe Anastasio.

Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

Your copy should be accessible.

There are basic tenants of good writing—make a clear point, one point per paragraph, and avoid jargon. But there are equally codified tenants of writing for accessibility. Designer Marie van Driessche advocates for:

  • Short sentences
  • Abundant white space
  • Visuals, diagrams, and images
  • A glossary of specialized vocabulary
  • Bulleted lists

Van Driessche notes that English is a second language—after signing—for many deaf people. So written wordplay like puns and synonyms can be hard to follow. Plus, there’s a larger audience that can benefit: the 50 percent of U.S. adults who are not able to read at an eighth grade level.

Provide choice.

The community of users who need accessible design is incredibly diverse. Just within the Deaf community, van Driessche says that there is a massive range of capabilities. Some are born deaf, while some may only be experiencing hearing loss temporarily. Others are fluent in many languages, including sign and written languages.

Everyone takes in information in different ways. The solution? Make sure your product or website includes multiple options for how to engage. For instance, when posting a video, include transcripts, video captions, and additional video of a person signing. That way, users can select the option that’s best for them.

Marie van Driessche; Smart Design technology director, John Anderson; author Liz Fosslien; World Interaction Design Day. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

From left to right, Marie van Driessche, Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, and author Liz Fosslien speak on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.

An inclusive workspace requires constant vigilance.

Liz Fosslien, author of No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed) maps out guidelines for creating inclusive environments at work. One of the biggest problems she sees? People hired to bring diverse experiences feel—ironically—that they have to blend in to succeed. “Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice. And belonging is having that voice be heard,” says Fosslien. Only with belonging is diversity realized.

Inclusive design is dynamic, never static.

Just as each human capabilities change over time—as they learn sign language, or lose mobility in their fingers—so too must accessible design evolve with them. Even if you come up with the perfect product for one person, that person’s condition will change. Design must exist in dimensions and must take time into account. Van Driessche advocates for thinking of design processes in an ongoing alphabetical A-Z loop, where you reach the end and then start over and start iterating again. That way designers will engage with their products, not just across finish lines, but across time as well.


from 99U99U