Elise Roy on Innovating while Doing Good

Elise Roy is a DC-based design consultant who specializes in coaching clients on inclusive design practices.  When she does this work, it’s personal. She lost her hearing over the course of five years, starting when she was ten years old.

And when she speaks, people listen. Her Ted Talk has over one million views, and her perspectives on inclusive design has influenced countless other designers.

Recently she spoke with AIGA DC about her life of a consultant, designing with disability in mind, and the dreaded imposter syndrome.

AIGA DC: Describe a day in the life of Elise Roy.

Roy: Well the thing is, my day is never the same! I could be doing anything from training designers on inclusive design methods, giving keynotes for some sort of organization, to advising clients. I start with weekly goals, but it tends to shift because I never know what may come up. That’s the life of a consultant!

AIGA DC: What do you wish you could’ve told yourself when you were just starting out in design?

Roy: That’s a good question. I would tell myself how important collaborating with others and bouncing ideas off each other is to the design process. There have been so many projects that I have worked on where collaborating with others has truly brought the design to new levels.

AIGA DC: What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

Roy: Being able to look at people’s disabilities as an asset and an integral part of the design process. It’s really rewarding because I get to do good in the process of helping companies innovate.

AIGA DC: When did you first hear about design used in this way ー disability-first and seeing it as an asset?

Roy: I first saw it through my own work when I tried to solve the problem of how people with hearing loss can’t hear the pitch change of a [power] tool signaling it is about to kick back. My solution, although originally geared towards helping the Deaf, in many ways was better than the solutions that tool designers created when they were designing for the average user.

Later, I read about OXO’s potato peeler that was created when the founder tried to help his wife who had arthritis. After that, I just kept seeing more and more examples.

People often get Universal and Inclusive design mixed up. Universal design is a one-size-fits-all approach to be accessible to the most people as possible through one product, whereas Inclusive design is a lot more about solving for a specific problem using disability and focusing on extending the solution to apply to the mainstream. You often get a family of solutions that are more flexible and dynamic than when we try to design universally.

AIGA DC: Do you experience imposter syndrome, and how do you combat those thoughts?

Roy: Of course! I think everyone does. I still struggle with it and I think many people do even though they are further on in their career. It helps to get a lot of feedback from my clients to combat those feelings.

AIGA DC: In your Ted Talk, you are open about your hearing loss. What would you like to say to other deaf or hard-of-hearing designers?

Roy: I would tell them that their hearing loss is going to help them be a better designer. They get to experience the world in a different way and with that comes a unique perspective that is extremely valuable to inclusive design.

AIGA DC: How has being a part of AIGA helped your design career?

Roy: AIGA has been great to get my platform of Inclusive Design on the forefront of designers’ minds. I’ve also been able to find a great network of people through AIGA.

To learn more about Elise Roy visit www.eliseroy.org or follow her on Twitter.

To continue the conversation, join us on the AIGA DC Diversity & Inclusion Slack group.

By Mary Corley
Published June 11, 2018