07.21.22
Sloan Leo + Lee Moreau | Audio

The Futures Archive S2E10: The Automatic Door


The automatic door is a part of most peoples everyday lives, and certainly considered a convenience. But when you walk up to one does it feel magical? Futuristic? Frustrating? On this episode of The Futures Archive, Lee Moreau and Sloan Leo discuss the automatic door, and how we can design thresholds of all kinds to be inviting to all people.

With additional insights from Laurent Stalder, Bess Williamson, Wendy Ju, and David Gissen.

During the discussion of what design can do to go beyond just meeting the baseline requirements, Sloan Leo reframed the question designers should be asking of themselves:
What we're actually asking for in design right now is, "Can I bring in a commitment to people, to our humanity, to my value system?" And that's a massive paradigm shift that we are smack dab in the middle of.
Lee Moreau is President of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation consultancy based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University.

Sloan Leo (they/he) is a Community Design theorist, educator, and practitioner. They are the founder of FLOX Studio, a community design and strategy studio.

Laurent Stalder teaches history and theory of architecture at Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH in Zurich, and author of "Turning Architecture Inside Out: Revolving Doors and Other Threshold Devices."

Bess Williamson is an associate professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the author of Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design.

Wendy Ju is Associate Professor, Information Science at Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, and Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, and the co-author of "Approachability: How People Interpret Automatic Door Movement as Gesture." 

David Gissen is a writer, designer, and educator and Professor of Architecture and Urban History at the Parsons School of Design and the New School University. He is the author of The Architecture of Disability: Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes Beyond Access.


Subscribe to The Futures Archive on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. And you can browse the show archive.

Kathleen Fu created the illustrations for each episode.

A big thanks to this season’s sponsor, Automattic.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to The Futures Archive, a show about human centered design. Where this season, we'll take an object, look for the human at the center and keep asking questions. I'm Lee Moreau...

Sloan Leo
...And I'm Sloan Leo.

Lee Moreau
On each episode, we're going to start with an object with power. Today, that object is the automatic door. We'll look at the history of that object from our perspective as designers who've done work in human centered design. Not just how it looks and feels, but also the relationship between that object and the people it was designed for.

Sloan Leo
And with other humans too.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic. Later on, we'll hear from Amandeep Shergill, a member of Automattic'a global recruitment team.

Lee Moreau
Hi, Sloan Leo.

Sloan Leo
Hi Lee.

Lee Moreau
How are you?

Sloan Leo
Today I'm feeling pretty good and excited about, I don't know, the next six months. Whenever we get to the mid year part of the year, I'm kind of like: Oh, I have a whole new try again for six more months and I kind of love that reset.

Lee Moreau
Oh, good. Okay, so it's like you get another shot at 2022.

Sloan Leo
Yeah.

Lee Moreau
Well, I like that and we'll need that optimism today. We're going to be talking— this is our final conversation together in our stream of conversations related to convenience. And this conversation will be about the automatic door. I'm wondering what comes to mind when you think of the automatic door?

Sloan Leo
I think of a few things. I think of how much fun it is to push the button when you're a kid. It's kind of like when a kid gets in the elevator or in the automatic door, they see like they're like, Oh, I can wave my hand, I can step on this pad, I can push the button and like a grand entrance becomes possible. So I think there's also something like my adult theatrical, playful self that makes me feel like I was kind of royal actually, and not just like a door.

Lee Moreau
And you just did this, like, little arm gesture, so it's like a sweep to the side.

Sloan Leo
Yeah, it's like two double doors opening at the same time. There's a slight wind behind you, your caftan or your hair is blowing and you walk into the meeting or the grocery store, which is often times where I see automatic doors, but either way, a little drama Lee, a little drama.

Lee Moreau
Aren't you so happy that I finally arrived so I can buy some potato chips?

Sloan Leo
Like — you're welcome. I'm here for La Croix. You know, it feels a bit like that.

Lee Moreau
What else do you think of?

Sloan Leo
I think about, like, accessibility, like just straight up being able to like-and accessibility for folks who are using wheelchairs, but also for people who are like carrying a child or a bunch of large boxes. Like it feels like a nice gesture. It makes it easier for people who are doing things with their hands and their arms. So carrying a child into a restaurant or wheeling yourself into a movie theater or just being tired, you know, feeling weakened. Like I had gender affirming surgery in January and I couldn't really use my arms. I had very limited mobility, very limited strength. And so knowing I was going places that had automatic doors, made me excited to go out because I knew I could make it there and get in without having to ask for help. And sometimes that feels nice to, you know, it doesn't feel like we're pretending labor—like I think with a lot of the stuff we've talked about Lee, there's been like someone's labor was there and then it was automated, but like, who are we replacing with an automatic door? What, like the union of door openers?

Lee Moreau
Yeah.

Sloan Leo
Which I don't think is a thing. No offense, if that's the thing somewhere and I missed it, but I don't think it's a thing. So it feels like one of those luxury accommodations and it doesn't feel like we're we're messing something up social politically.

Lee Moreau
What are the things that you didn't say but I think about what I think of the automatic door is the future. The sort of sci-fi vision, like sort of Star Trek the whoosh door, which I think was only came from one side and it moved over and went swoosh and opened. So there is a kind of that magical entrance, whether it's in the supermarket or onto the the holo-deck or something like that, and that ability to like see the future through science fiction as a way to anticipate today. I mean, that's also something I think of with the automatic door.

Sloan Leo
Yeah. I mean, I think that this idea of like featuring as an activity or speculative design is something that has been like a permanent fixture of my my inner curiosity landscape. Have you ever heard about the elevator to space, which is kind of what preceded Elon Musk and Virgin doing what is actually an elevator to space like.

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
Those ideas actually started for me in The Jetsons, you know, I didn't watch as much Star Trek and Star Wars, but I watched a hell of a lot of Jetsons. And it's weird because I think The Jetsons, like, took place in 2025 or something, and I'm like: Oh, we're here, okay? And there are some really great futuristic things that are here now, but they're coexisting with like steampunk era stuff.

Lee Moreau
Right.

Sloan Leo
We have these automatic doors and microwaves which are kind of magical unto themselves, but we also still have a lot of like day to day regular stuff. So...

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
It's good to have both. If anything it makes me appreciate one of them a little bit more.

Lee Moreau
The future is not hitting us all at one time.

Sloan Leo
No, that's probably for the better.

Lee Moreau
Yeah. So we're going to now embark on our journey of hearing more about the automatic door from our historians and designers who will help us make sense of it. And this is what we've heard so far.

Laurent Stalder
We have been investigating what one could call microarchitectures of everyday life, like different threshold devices, different apparatuses, different machines.

Lee Moreau
Laurent Stalder teaches history and theory of architecture at the ETH in Zurich. So it's sort of hard to build a history of something like doors or even automated doors like we're talking about, who have precedents that go back to basically ancient Greece. But Laurent's work looks at the automatic doors that you and I experience every day, which started entering the public sphere in the mid forties.

Laurent Stalder
It was extremely interesting to see how a very traditional dimension of architecture, which is to create limits, can be rethought in the 20th century. We look at modernism as the open space, the limitless open architecture. Yet if you begin to investigate more precisely the threshold, you see that this open space is highly regulated. Indeed, architecture has always been a discipline that sets and defines the way a society organizes itself.

Lee Moreau
So the way Laurent is describing this is sort of that architecture is both functional, right, in the sense that it works, but also it's an- acts as a metaphor. So the notion of, door, the thing that separates us and we can go in or we can stay out, it divides both public and private. He's really focused on designing those in-between spaces and researching these sort of liminal in-between spaces that separate inside and out, different behaviors from one another, you know, light, odors, even different populations— that threshold that connects things. This is kind of a almost poetic way of thinking about space.

Sloan Leo
Yeah, it reminds me of the field of dramaturgy. If you go see a play and there's three acts— between those acts there, there's this moment where you have to transition the audience from what happened just then to what's about to happen. You know, like this kind of like moment of in-between space. It also that idea of, like, dramaturgy as a way to connect a set of experiences into a cohesive, like narrative. And experience resonates with me a lot as a person who hosts events. You know, like community design in our studio, and my own temperament means I'm making lots of thresholds and lots of moments of transition. So when people enter your house, like, is there a basket of little sandals if you have a no-shoe household policy? Like, is that a way of creating a threshold that's welcoming? Is the welcome mat a type of threshold like the actual mat itself? Because you're kind of like cleansing yourself before you go into the space. And so I think that the way Laurent talks about architecture with that bit of like lyricism and romance and process is actually really familiar to me as a person who works in community because you want to make things easier for people to be together. And even that is easier, like pleasant if not pleasant, nice, and if not nice luxury, and if not luxury, at least just like really sweet and tender.

Lee Moreau
For me, when I think of the automatic door, I like zoom back to my childhood. And I grew up in a very small town, so there was no automatic doors in my town.

Sloan Leo
Not even at the grocery store?

Lee Moreau
There was no grocery store, no.

Sloan Leo
Oh.

Lee Moreau
So we would have to drive like 15 or 20 miles to get to a place that had a grocery store that would have an automatic door. And I remember. So that sort of royal gesture that you were- for me, that's a childhood playful, almost like using the force kind of thing where and- I still do that like I, I gather you still kind of might make a gesture...

Sloan Leo
I do.

Lee Moreau
Yeah, right.

Sloan Leo
Yes. Like you're a magician.

Lee Moreau
Yes. Yup. And I do think there was a bit of, you know, for me transitioning from a small town to a big, a big city thing that was happening as a child. But anyway, Laurent Stalder wrote an article called Turning Architecture Inside Out: Revolving Doors and Other Threshold Devices in the Journal of Architecture History. And Laurent, is in his article, points out the different types of places that we see this architecture being potentially more welcoming. So in, in our contemporary world, we can achieve this moment of going to these spaces and having them really welcome us thanks to the automatic door where just sort of opens up automatically. This is like we're all accustomed to this and this sort of contemporary retail oriented space. But if we think historically about the past, there were these really imposing thick, heavy doors to like a courtroom or an institutional building that were not welcoming at all. They're the opposite of that. And you probably have memories of that, or different experiences where the sort of imposing door that's meant to prevent you from gaining access at all. So this is really all of this is building to a really important conversation about human centered design, and this is Laurent one more time to kind of take this home:

Laurent Stalder
Through this history of threshold devices, one can follow the way society defines what the human body is. It allows you in that in real and metaphoric way, to describe life in a relationship to society.

Lee Moreau
You know, who can ultimately access or not access the space, is physically and metaphorically determined by the doors that we build, whether they're automatically opening or automatically locking. The thresholds that would create how thick or thin, how transparent or opaque— this is all, this is design.

Sloan Leo
And it's also like what locks and what doesn't lock, I feel like is also part of that question of threshold spaces like. So I also think that doorways as we design them, be they automatic, be they very heavy, very hard, do they have a lock? Do they have a window? In my last apartment I got really into painting the doorjamb, and just the doorjamb. So I say the doorjamb— it's like they're kind of like inside flat section of a doorway. And like most of the time that's not any color. It's just like white, like the rest of the house. But I painted them like bright blue and it gave everyone this little bit of a tickle. They were like: Oh, what is that?

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
And like, that's also the possibility of doorways or dramaturgy or liminal spaces, is that they can be neutral, they can be hard, or they can be delightful.

Lee Moreau
We've been talking about the sort of poetic and sort of lyrical and metaphorical aspects of doors and the first part of this conversation. But now we're going to really talk about the history of accessible architecture and how the door plays out in that world.

Bess Williamson
The first principle of universal design is equitable design, which is to say that the design is useful to people with all different abilities. And the example that they used for equitable design is the automatic door, right in that it is usable for a variety of populations.

Lee Moreau
Bess Williamson is an associate professor of art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the author of Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design.

Bess Williamson
The idea of the automatic door, is it works for many populations, right? It certainly works for, you know, wheelchair users for whom like going up to the door and opening it is a whole choreographed and difficult sort of spatial negotiation, but it also works for many other populations. For opening the door for someone else, for if you're carrying a bunch of stuff, for people who use a walker, you know, so we can think of the way in which the automatic door treats you the same way regardless of what your disability is. So it really meets a lot of those kind of principles.

Lee Moreau
Sloan Leo, at the beginning of the conversation when you were kind of invoking some of the the doors that came to mind, right, you mentioned access. Can you talk a little bit- a little bit more about that?

Sloan Leo
Oh, totally. I mean, if we look at the work of like Lesley-Ann Noel around pluralistic design or universal design, there is this erring towards what makes this a good experience for more people or for the most people. And whether we're talking about doorways or stairways, any of the thing that gets you from the outside space to the inside, the interior of something needs to be accessible enough that there's not a hesitation as a barrier. So as someone who is, who like had a period of time of being like physically less able, which happens to all of us at some point in our lives, I was sad that there were so many doors that I couldn't push open without asking for help. You know, I think about like even a car door if it's automatic versus a car door that requires like a really-a pulling. I didn't have the physical strength to do that and I always had to ask for help. So can you imagine if only 10% of our public doors are automatic and the rest you have to push, but you're in a wheelchair or you're pushing a stroller, or you are without one limb, or you're exhausted, or you're fat. Like all the things that can prevent mobility or ease of mobility can be addressed by things like automatic doors, like putting ramps next to stairs so we can design and go on experiences together.

Lee Moreau
Mm hmm.

Sloan Leo
Because sometimes when we look at these doors, it's like, well, the front door is a push door. But if you go around the side, there's an automatic door.

Lee Moreau
Yeah.

Sloan Leo
And like, why are we okay making side, back doors of shame for people who are in a different position with their mobility or their way of relating with physical situations?

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic, which is building a new web and a new workplace all around the world.

Amandeep Shergill
My name is Amandeep Shergill. I am based in the UK about an hour north of London, right near a town called Milton Keynes. And I look after technical recruiting for Automattic, so I lead a team called dot hire and we are responsible for global recruitment of engineers, product people, and anything related to tech.

Lee Moreau
At Automattic, Amandeep found a new way to lead.

Amandeep Shergill
Leadership at Automattic is different to what I've expeirenced anywhere else. It is a lot more fluid, a lot more open, a lot more transparent. We're a very open company, just like, I guess the nature of WordPress we are part of an open source ecosystem. So, you know, we follow a lot of that when we're actually working internally. Leadership is not traditional leadership in terms of what managers, we're called leads for a reason. We lead our teams. We don't manage our teams.

Lee Moreau
Amandeep is committed to expanding Automattic's global perspective.

Amandeep Shergill
So what makes a good fit at Automattic? The honest answer is everyone is a good fit as Automattic. The key thing is it's somebody who and who believes and understands in our mission. But generally, you know, because we are so diverse, we have over 1900 people I think it is now in 90 odd countries speaking over a hundred languages, you know, there is no one good fit for Automattic.

Lee Moreau
Designing a better web. Join us at Automattic dot com slash design. That's auto-m-a-double t-i-c dot com slash design.

Lee Moreau
You just talked about this earlier, you called it the doorway of shame or something, which is like around the back. This is very much a part of this conversation. And, you know, I think really in architecture school, at least when I was going through, we did a really horrible job of thinking about accessibility in the context, you know, yes, it's true that in many cases form follows function. And if, if so and we're mindful about what that really means, then we should have been thinking about that a lot more. But quite often form was the driver and form was leading all conversations. You would think that school, as a sort of unconstrained environment, would allow much more dialog around the balance of these things. But I think we really do struggle in the academic world, which probably translates to a struggle in the professional world, which is, I think you said like 10% of doors are automatic and that means the other 90% are less accessible, let's say, or not as inviting. What's your take on that?

Sloan Leo
You know, there's a way in which this idea of like human centered design and kind of how its different than kind of maybe architecture school when you went to architecture school Lee, where you weren't necessarily encouraged to think about who is using the door. And so right in that way human cenetered design is this kind of like really revolutionary idea of like: oh, the user! Like radical.

Lee Moreau
Right.

Sloan Leo
And as you know, my critique of HCD in favor of community design is that it should be radical, not about the individual human, but about the community you're trying to build. And I think that in community based design, it is much more likely that someone says, like, are there, is there anyone who can't take the stairs? Let's think about what they may want. And that could be the friend of a friend of a friend of someone who's coming to a situation. So I think that there is this like there's an opportunity for a design to be radical by saying maybe instead of starting with a product design and saying, is this for a man or a woman, an able bodied person or a not able bodied person— we can have some standards that like just assume that we should make space for all of the above as opposed to trying to respond to like the one community member who knows we need this thing. It should be like for community the space should be physically accessible.

Lee Moreau
That's a baseline.

Sloan Leo
Yeah, the baseline should be— and that's why I think that universal design is trying to do that. It's trying to set up some baselines of understandings for people who do product and service design to actually just like not make it look like the architect was a bit of a jerk and didn't think about other people.

Lee Moreau
Let's hear some more from Bess Williamson.

Bess Williamson
The double edged side of universal design, is does making something universal, suggests that it's somehow common sense or obvious. We know that accessible design is not common sense and not obvious because it's lacking in so much of the world. So I think that pointing it out, but I think also remembering the roots of universal design, right, that they were developed by a disabled architect. That he often thought in terms of what's enough and then what's beyond enough, what's really making a space accessible and welcoming— will remind us that universal design does not mean kind of not talking about disability. In fact, if anything, it means talking about disability more, but understanding it as part of sort of all communities.

Lee Moreau
Again echoing what you just said, Sloan Leo — Bess is asking for something more than just universal design. She's asking for what's beyond enough. It's not about just putting that shameful door in the back. It's about reconceptualizing your entire approach.

Sloan Leo
Yeah, completely that. And like, what a wonderful invitation. And that invitation butts up against or chafes with why we make a lot of our design decisions, which is actually about managing legal risk. Like when you look at the design of the majority of public spaces in built environments, you're trying to keep things to code. And the code isn't like, well, this must be a welcoming space. The code is, it must be like a functional space. And I think that that's actually like part of this really interesting, compelling, and fascinating moment we are in with design, where what we're asking of design is for it to have like morals and values and not be like apolitical or cause agnostic. But the ecosystem design is operating within with like legal and governance and risk and like fire restrictions for how tall a door has to be and the number of places of egress and a limited budget, you can accidentally get to a place where you're like, well, I mean, I did it. It's it meets the code.

Lee Moreau
Yeah.

Sloan Leo
And what we're actually asking for in design right now is like, what's beyond enough is can I bring in a commitment to people, to our humanity, to my value system? And that's a this is this is a massive paradigm shift that we are smack dab in the middle of, I think, in the capital of the design world.

Lee Moreau
And you're dealing with this a lot in your work day to day. I mean, this is your practice, right?

Sloan Leo
Yeah. And we see it and we see in our practice, both with our advocacy clients. This idea of like removing barriers from a theoretical standpoint. But we're also right now bidding on a couple of projects with architects. We were approached by a really rad architecture firm that's designing an art museum, and they were like: You should help us. And I was like: I don't — I'm not an architect. And they're like: Yeah, but you think about accessibility and community and sustainability and this like these values that show up in your practice as things you can do, design around and through. And that is like a new thing for us that I'm very excited about. So I think that part of what I hope for in the design of physical space is if we're talking about automatic doors, is that we we think about what it is that should be standard in our spaces that would make it more likely that everyone could participate in using it.

Lee Moreau
And you just said the word welcoming, Bess has said the same word welcoming this notion of a more experiential way of thinking about different aspects of our of our lived experience. So it's we, we are transitioning from the way that things are designed to the way that we behave when we're in them and the interactions that we have. And that kind of continues this conversation on the automatic door and welcoming and accessibility.

Wendy Ju
When I'm designing interactions, a lot of what I'm trying to do is set up enough of the situation that I can elicit the behaviors and the responses people around me are going to have and then use that knowledge to design objects that have behaviors.

Lee Moreau
Wendy Ju is an associate professor at the Jacobs Technion Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and the Technion.

Wendy Ju
It's not just computer technology that people have social responses to. They have social responses to anything that behaves seemingly socially and anything that has intelligence or behavior. You know, even though the doors are not human, people don't feel like they have social responses to them based on social obligation.

Lee Moreau
Wendy primarily studies how people interact with automation. And she's actually conducted a series of studies around the idea of approachability in terms of how people interpreted interactions that they had with automatic doors.

Wendy Ju
I was really drawn to the automatic door because it's an everyday example that people are aware of and used to of what I think is a coming wave of automation. So the fact that people interact with doors every day and in fact interact with them so often that they're invisible to them and they don't even think about it is exactly why I thought doors were a great thing to point out as an example of what the future could be like. And then one of the really important things for me was to point out to people the way that the interactions we have with doors do break down sometimes.

Lee Moreau
So the study that she and her researchers did set up conditions in which the doors sort of appeared automated, but they were actually controlled by the researchers to either respond or not respond to the participants as they approached. And they got these really emotional results from people in this interaction.

Wendy Ju
They will see that the store looks well lit because there are still people inside and they'll walk up to the door and the door won't open. And some of the things I've seen people do in that situation are so interesting. Some people are mad at the door, you know? So I think they don't think about it as its own entity until it seems to have some agency that is refusing them. And so then they are angry literally at this like, you know, a panel that's keeping them from going where they want to go. Other people I've seen will go and walk at the door again, but louder. They'll move in a more exaggerated fashion. And I love this because it shows that they understand that there's a communicative component to their emotion that they don't normally have to think about. And they obviously think that the door not opening for them is some sort of misunderstanding, and if they are clearer about their intentions then the door will open for them. And I just think that logic in itself is also just amazing and beautiful and something we need to learn from.

Lee Moreau
And you know, what's interesting is when the the doors open for subjects, even if they hadn't necessarily been planning to use that door, you know, Wendy's this team discovered that, people felt more compelled to, like, step back and, like, go through the door, it's like, oh, I've been invited to go through this door. I didn't want to go through the door, but since it opened, I'm going to go through it. People felt rude basically if they didn't enter the doors that open. So like, you know, the world is becoming increasingly automated. We don't think of it becoming friendlier or more welcoming necessarily because of that. But how does this play in our complex understanding of convenience as things are becoming more automated, they-they're triggered by things, they're they're moving seemingly with with willfulness, but not necessarily where's this going?

Sloan Leo
You know, I feel like our relationship to technology is always talked about as if it's going to happen in the future. But we already have a lot of these technologies now. I was living in San Francisco for a bit and I walked past what used to be a coffee shop I liked, and instead it was a robot making coffee for people. And I was like: Yay? And it's like, okay. Or, you know, I think any of things we talked about are like the Roomba. I'm like, I don't like vacuuming and like watching the Roomba, which my friend says we should put googly eyes on, does actually make me pretty delighted. I was like: Go, robot man, go.

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
So like, we have emotional relationships with technology already, including the door. And I think part of why at Flox Studio we ran a program called Community Design for Leaders, which is our intensive that we offer every quarter, is because designers want to be thinking differently and there's very few spaces for people who are on the edge of design, whether or not you work at Deloitte or Doblin or Ernst and Young or a smaller shop. There's a lot of designers who are like: Can I make it nice? Can I make it caring? Can I make it equitable or just? And there's not a lot of space in their practices to figure out what needs to be different. So I think the world that we want, where what we're designing is designed for delight, for being kind of tickled, for a smile and in a way that acknowledges that preexisting relationship we have or interaction we have with these objects. I think we can make the world quite lovely, actually, and that the dystopian world is when we end up with just like police dogs that are made out of robot parts. Like we don't want that. We want the piece of it where it's like, you know, a little robot that goes to the grocery store for you could be kind of nice.

David Gissen
I don't focus on accessibility. I'm interested in a politics of disability and architecture and cities in which accessibility might be a complementary goal. But it's not the ultimate outcome. The ultimate outcome is for buildings and cities in a multiracial democracy like the United States to increasingly represent ever greater and expansive kinds of concepts about what buildings and cities might be.

Lee Moreau
David Gissen is a professor of architecture and urban history at the Parsons School of Design. He's the author of The Architecture of Disability: Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes Beyond Access.

David Gissen
Disability always seems like a problem that has to be addressed by architects or urban planners. And so with our project, we wanted to create a world for people who are both disabled and not disabled, to show disabled people can offer that's beyond simply ideas about accessing space, but that can maybe enable you to rethink how you connect or interrelate with your neighbors property, how you move through a block, how these things can be reimagined through disabled people, but that provide something much more than just access, but something very pleasurable for everybody.

Lee Moreau
I mean, this is about doing more, doing way more that we have allowed ourselves within our current constraints to happen today.

Sloan Leo
Yeah. You know, I'm I'm working right now with The New School and Bloomsbury Press on a book about the future of service design, which again, just for people who are listening that are new to service design, it is like how do you design a service like Medicare or Medicaid, or a laundry mat, or a child care facility? Like all these things that provide a service to us. My work in that book is to lead a chapter called Queering Design. And I feel like all of this conversation between what Bess has been writing about, what David's talking about, your own experiences as an architect are actually about how do we queer the process and the practice of design so that we are less caught up in like individual identity, to David's point, and more caught up in like, what does this mean in a kind of more global or democratic idealism? If you'll let me go meta for one moment, because, you know, it's something I like to do, Lee, you know, the word of a single identity of I'm a disabled person, I need a different door, right— it instead should actually be about how do we organize ourselves around the shared political or power identities, which sometimes have an overlap with your identity. So like for David's point, it's like, are we designing for people who have lots of social power? Or people who have less social power? So it's less about the specificity in the identity and more about how all of us, people who are out like a physical or political disadvantage in the design of the building, their collective opinion and needs is really where we should design from. So that it doesn't become well, this is good for disabled people, but bad for trans people. We should look at it as like people who are marginalized or extracted from how do we give something back to them? How do we actually look at design, architecture, automatic doors as a way to be welcoming into places that are like nourishing for us and fun and like alive and integrate all of us in our communities.

Lee Moreau
Your description suggests like a radical reorientation away from difference towards some level of like where we-where we actually are aligned, right. It's not not looking for the separations. It's looking for the things that actually bring us together.

Sloan Leo
Is looking for the shared power. And it goes a lot into talking about democracy and how like the end stage of every democracy is this like kind of suctioning extraction of all of the possibilities of power into the hands of the ruling class. So we don't need to go into all that today, but in the design world, what it would look like is like a few people actually decide what the codes are for urban buildings in Brooklyn. It's like five people making a decision. And what we would need in David's example of the world is actually like a set of guidelines or informations and insights that say you're designing for for full integration, not just inclusion.

Lee Moreau
I want to go back to the automatic door. And, you know, you had said this earlier, like the automatic door is it's automatically opening and it's automatically closing and locking. So I want this to end a little bit more optimistic.

Sloan Leo
I've got optimism for this. I do.

Lee Moreau
I have this like image of the automatic door, like kind of like Wendy's research waiting to open. It's just available to open. It's about, right, and that's a conception of automation that we don't think of as readily. Like usually automation leads us to dystopian things, but in some sense, this kind of waiting to open and waiting to welcome is actually a kind of a beautiful idea. Where else can that exist in our lives in the future, this like waiting to welcome.

Sloan Leo
Yeah, I think it's like waiting to welcome is partly about like there being a delight on the other side of the interaction or something that's really a aestheically inviting on the front end. Like I'm sitting right now in front of my microwave and like if every time I push the microwave button or like came within a foot of the microwave, the microwave was just like, I'd love to have a snack with you.

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
I honestly would find that kind of fun. At some point, I know it, maybe it's like too much, but part of me is a person who lives alone a lot of the time. It's like, I want to be seen and acknowledged and I want my things kind of like little kids talking to their stuffed animals like. I do think that smart homes can offer us, like, a little bit of softness or a little bit of reminding us of what it is that we wanted to accomplish. Like if the door to the gym in my building automatically opened, but no other door did, I'd be more likely to go to the gym. So it's like, can we be strategic about the location of automatic doors as a way to increase like certain types of lifestyles and welcoming? All of that technology shouldn't just be about efficiency. It should be about like giving more delight. Because if we're not designing for delight in times like these, we've missed one of the core design constraints, which is that things are hard, let's make them easier and more light filled. We have the power to do that as designers.

Lee Moreau
Yeah, it's true. Like the function of the automatic door as it accesses a shopping mall versus a hospital, a very different kind of invitation.

Sloan Leo
It's a different kind of invitation. But they should all be like, I think if we're talking about welcoming, we're talking about care. And I talked before with you about like designing for care. So can the door be a way of indicating care? Like that, you enter this threshold and it's like, we're happy to see you. We're going to care for you here, whether you're a mall or a hospital or even a court facility. Right? Like, I don't believe in the carceral state, but if we're going to have it, can we make things a little gentler for people to be like: Hey, how are things happening in your life? Welcome to this space we're trying to solve for it with you. You know, like, is there a way that, again, our politics of of kindness and of generosity can be part of how we design. And I definitely think it can, because it is. We just need to fan those flames a bit, right. And that's why we have this awesome podcast is to be like: Have you thought about this thing in design and giving people these little like provocations that might change their practice a lot.

Lee Moreau
You know, one of the things that we were talking about with the automatic door was this notion that it is sort of an invitation whether or not you double back and actually go through this door that open like it happened in Wendy's research, I'm not sure, but it's an invitation to what's inside this sort of welcoming. But then there are the doors that like are not automatic and they never will be. So like I remember walking down Fifth Avenue and a lot of those sort of high end retail places are-those are not automatic doors. They're big heavy doors.

Sloan Leo
They're usually locked. And you had to push a doorbell and then someone has to let you in. I know, because I do love a little luxury shopping.

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Sloan Leo
I'm not going to lie to you.

Lee Moreau
Right. And but quite often they're not only locked, but there's somebody behind them who's, like watching you as you approach to determine whether or not they think you're the person who should be shopping at Gucci. Right. So, I mean, like where there is automatic door, there is hope, I think in many cases, right. It's a signal.

Sloan Leo
As a signal of like we're trying to make this public in some way or at least a signal like this isn't exclusive. Like I can't think of— like Soho House or because like members only clubs, they don't have automatic doors because they don't want everyone automatically in. And that's like a separate conversation for a separate day. But the places, like you said that like there is an automatic door, it does feel hopeful because it feels like an acknowledgment of community by saying like, yeah, we want to make it easier for you to get in and out. We want to do a better job on like retaining the cost it takes to keep the building hot and cold. But it is about like we have a shared space and experience here, let's like lean in to that. So maybe, maybe the opportunity is to ask ourselves, like, if I'm designing something that's automated, what are the other ways that I want to show like a welcoming, not just like not just access, but welcoming.

Lee Moreau
I'm glad that we can end with some hopefulness about the future because I think so much of it is like we can be super negative about the future all the time, but like for what? At a certain point, it's good- it's good to see the hope in things and imagine where that's going to play out. So that kind of takes us, I think, to sort of our thought exercise for this week. And I'm wondering if you have something in mind that could be a way to reflect on the automatic door and about convenience more broadly?

Sloan Leo
I think the idea that we can design for hope is really timely, Lee. And I don't think I have like a list of like, what does it mean to design for hope, here's 12 bullet points in my TEDTalk, but, like if giving a little bit of space for hope as a design constraint, which is like maybe these things could be good, maybe this isn't going to be the worst case scenario. Like even putting that in your practice next week— I might even say, like my version of that might be like, go on a scavenger hunt in your life to identify a type of design in your built environment that makes you feel hopeful. Like, if we can start to see it in our own lives, it might be easier to start designing for it.

Lee Moreau
I love that. I think that is the assignment right there.

Sloan Leo
I hope people can tell us about that Lee. I know we're a podcast, but if they want to put in some comments at the on Spotify page or on the Apple page or send in comments to you or go to the Instagram, I really am curious, like if you're taking this scavenger hunt for hopefulness and the built environment design. What are you finding? Lee and I want to know!

Lee Moreau
Exactly. Sloan Leo, thank you so much. It's been wonderful collaborating with you this season and I look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

Sloan Leo
Yes, I refuse to say goodbye. I'll just say, See you later, Lee. This has been awesome.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with the show. Go to TFA dot design observer dot com or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you liked what you heard today, please make sure to rate and review us and share this with your friends.

Sloan Leo
And make sure you're following me on LinkedIn at Sloan Leo.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you this season by Automattic. Thanks again to Laurent Stalder, Bess Williamson, Wendy Ju, and David Gissen for talking to The Futures Archive. You can find more about them in our show notes at TFA dot design observer dot com, along with a full transcription of the show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Owen Agnew edits the show. Thanks as always to design Observer founder Jessica Helfand, and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


Posted in: Inclusion, Product Design, Social Good, The Futures Archive



Comments [0]



Sloan Leo + Lee Moreau Sloan Leo (they/he) is a Community Design theorist, educator, and practitioner. They are the founder of FLOX Studio, a community design and strategy studio FLOX Studio is on a mission to alter the future of work by integrating community & social justice values, design thinking, and organizational development.


Sloan Leo + Lee Moreau Lee Moreau is the founding director of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation studio based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University.

Jobs | December 07