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Women Shaping the Future of Design: Meet Kat Holmes, Director of UX at Google and Founder of

In 2018, Kat Holmes published her book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Designand launched, a digital media enterprise dedicated to providing inclusive design resources and education. Currently a director of user experience (UX) at Google and formerly the principal director of inclusive design at Microsoft, Holmes knows a thing or two (an understatement) about designing and optimizing a product for massive audiences of users. While at Microsoft, she was the leader of the company’s executive program for inclusive product innovation; her award-winning inclusive product design toolkit was subsequently inducted into the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.

But it would be a mistake to think that Holmes limits her purview to the world of technology. A glance at both and the first few pages of Holmes’ book make evident that Holmes champions inclusive design—and the pros who execute it in their respective fields—everywhere from the built environment (she curated an exhibit for AIA Seattle in 2016) to education, and of course, the pixels of the tech world. Interior Design sat down with Holmes to discuss her work with Mismatch and the impact of inclusive design.

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Interior Design: How does your work with Mismatch relate to your day job?

Kat Holmes: Mismatch is the name of my book and the name of my website. The word “mismatch” also refers to the World Health Organization’s definition of disability, which in 2001 was redefined as the mismatched interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live. Known as the social model of disability, this definition helped to shape my thinking about inclusive design. I approach all of my work from the perspective of trying to understand how design can be the cause of exclusion (intentionally and unintentionally)—but design can also be the remedy for exclusion.

ID: Did you have an ‘aha’ moment that prompted you to veer your career in the direction of inclusive design?

KH: My aha moment came when I was working on a digital personal assistant at Microsoft. At the time, there weren’t any voice-conversational design tools to help us develop this AI assistant. We discovered that one of the best resources for us was to talk to actual human personal assistants to find out what it takes to create a great experience for another human being. Their expertise was crucial to our work.

What led me to inclusive design was exploring the many kinds of human expertise that are missing from most design processes. Most notably, the expertise of people with disabilities who have long been innovating a diversity of ways to interact with technology.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes. Photography courtesy of Kat Holmes.

ID: You mention in your book that inclusive design can be challenging to implement successfully across multiple teams in a large organization. How have you personally overcome this in your role as a leader at some of the biggest multinational technology companies?

KH: It takes a lot of people and collaboration to build an inclusive design practice within an organization. The important thing is to keep asking whose voices and whose expertise are missing. If you keep asking the question, then it forces you to consider how you can create a diversity of ways for people of different abilities to engage with the solutions you design. I firmly believe that inclusive design fuels innovation and makes good economic sense. Reminding senior leadership about all the ways that inclusive design helps the bottom line is key. 

ID: The approaches you outline in Mismatch extend to a variety of disciplines (ex: the built environment, software, education) and incorporate a variety of professionals who are experts in those fields. Why was it important to you to look beyond the specifics of your own field?

KH: Exclusion happens everywhere. When I was consulting, I worked with companies across sectors. Regardless of the line of business, the questions were similar: Everyone wanted to know how to start and how to get buy-in. I wanted my book to help set a foundation. Once grounded in some basic principles, companies can begin to incorporate and adapt inclusive-design practices for their respective needs.

ID: What changes have you seen in the way the design and engineering community approach inclusive design in their practice since releasing Mismatch (the book) and launching the digital media company?

KH: Interest in inclusive design has been growing and preceded the publication of my book. My book was published last October and there hasn’t been enough time to be be able to gauge its impact. Anecdotally, the response from the people who have read the book has been positive and I’m grateful.

ID: What are your hopes for the future of inclusive design?

KH: I always tell people that inclusive design is a daily practice—like brushing your teeth. You have to do it consistently to receive the full benefits. There are many different forms of exclusion that we don’t fully understand. The practice of inclusive design will help us navigate those waters.

Read more: Meet Malene Barnett, Founder of the Black Artists and Designers Guild

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Google creates neuroaesthetic experience for Salone del Mobile

After walking through Google’s exhibition A Space for Being, visitors received their biometric data collected by special wristbands. (Edoardo Delille/Courtesy Google)

This past week in Milan during Salone del Mobile while designers were showing off their latest furnishings, Google was putting on its own exhibition. Following up on last year’s Softwear exhibition, in which the company teamed up with Li Edelkoort to envision a more comfortable, integrated hardware future, this year the tech giant built out three rooms in the Spazio Maiocchi for a show called A Space for Being.

A Space for Being explored the ways qualitative senses could be understood with quantitative metrics. Google collaborated with Susan Magsamen of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University’s Brain Science Institute to develop a design installation that explored the possibilities of neuroaesthetics, or the brain’s and body’s responses to the aesthetic world.

Visitors lined up around the block to be adorned with a wristband that collected biometric data while they explored the rooms’ various furnishings, colors, lights, music, scents, and textiles by Google’s Ivy Ross, Muuto’s Christian Grosen, and Reddymade’s Suchi Reddy.

At the end of their walkthroughs, attendees were given synopses of their bodies’ responses to the various spaces, helping them see in which context they were most at ease. While this kind of data-driven neuroaesthetic approach is still in its nascent stages, one could imagine a future when data-driven design becomes more normal, especially in settings like healthcare. Even for those who might balk at the idea of collecting this kind of information to create something so subjective as an interior, the results show that design has a profound impact on us, our biology, and our wellbeing.

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Discover Napa’s Most Design-Forward, Cutting-Edge New Winery

As a music exec, Kashy Khaledi made a career out of bringing creative personalities together to bridge culture and corporate strategy for Universal Music Group, Google, and Mazda. In his first foray into the wine business, Khaledi has combined Californian midcentury aesthetics and style of winemaking with a modern, multimedia approach to create a Napa winery very much of the moment.

“Wine is alive and real. I would rather worry about Pierce’s Disease than piracy,” Khaledi says. “Also, there’s nothing more depressing than a creative executive over 40.”

Photo: Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

As you turn off Highway 29 just north of Napa city proper onto the Oak Knoll property, Ashes & Diamonds’ two modular white winery buildings—designed by L.A.-based architect Barbara Bestor, who has also designed Beats by Dre’s headquarters, Intelligentsia coffee’s West Coast flagship, and the Palm Springs Hotel—seem to simultaneously emulate the rolling hills of the valley and leap out from them on a complex that feels somewhere between a Silicon Valley corporate campus and LACMA.

Accessed by a sunshine-yellow door and triple floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors which open onto a grassy area crisscrossed by paths (nicknamed the Quad), the rectangular hospitality building is crowned by a custom perforated, corrugated zigzag canopy which creates dynamic shade and an interplay of light and shadow over the course of the day.

Photo: Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

Inside, a custom terrazzo bar and eclectic furnishings—a Jean Prouvé desk repurposed as a communal table, Knoll Saarinen lounge chairs in retro-color-pop yellow and purple, a vintage midcentury Cees Braakman sideboard, and scattered North African rugs—create a tasting room that feels like an elevated common room with a variety of places to sit and sip. The most striking features of the taller production building, just behind, are the circular windows set into the cobra-head-shaped first floor, which extends out over an enclosed VIP-tasting-cum-events room and a ground floor breezeway.

Photo: Emma K. Morris / Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

Bestor says she was briefed to create a serious production facility with capacity for 10,000 cases of wine per year, as well as hospitality spaces that felt like a comfortable living room recalling the midcentury-home-turned-museum Eames House in the Pacific Palisades.

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“While there are nods to Albert Frey in the portholes and Donald Wexler’s folded plate roofs of the midcentury Palm Springs postcard fantasy, we aimed for a lighter and more current take fitting to the industrial nature of wine production and more residential scale of the hospitality,” Bestor explains. Khaledi knew Bestor from his first job, at the Beastie Boys’ record label, and the fanzine Grand Royal, where she was resident architect, and he says he admires her work’s “unwavering spirit of possibility and streak of rebellion.”

Photo: Bénédicte Manière / Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

When an opportunity arose to buy the property in one of Napa’s most sought-after zip codes, Khaledi, whose father is the eponymous owner of the winery Darioush nearby, felt the aesthetics and mood of midcentury California were a perfect fit for the light-handed wines he loved from the era and wanted to remake.

“The midcentury era isn’t a gimmick for us. It was an era of lightness, optimism, and possibility,” he says. Ashes & Diamonds also pays lip service to Khaledi’s artistic influences. The name is taken from Khaledi’s favorite movie, a Polish film about life’s crossroads and the big decisions people make. The poem printed on each cork, by 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid, is featured in the film in the form of graffiti.

Photo: Emma K. Morris / Courtesy of Ashes & Diamonds

Graphic designer Brian Roettinger, best known for art directing album covers such as Jay-Z’s  Magna Carta Holy Grail and Mark Ronson’s hit Uptown Special, was commissioned to create Ashes & Diamonds’ striking monochrome labels. Here, even viniculture has a collaborative, almost band mentality. Rather than hire one winemaker, Khaledi has signed two and gives them props for both their oenology cred and their taste in music. Steve Matthiasson—whose classic, restrained approach to winemaking won him Winemaker of the Year from Food & Wine and San Francisco Chronicle—enjoys skateboarding and punk rock by Minutemen and Dead Kennedys. When she’s not managing the vineyards or scrubbing tanks, Diana Snowden Seysses—alum of Robert Mondavi Winery, Ramey Wine Cellars, and Domaine Dujac in Burgundy—gets her groove on with A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

How does Khaledi feel about his latest creative project?

“Now more than ever, as we’re mentally mutilated by an overabundance of information and ‘breaking news,'” he says, “I find solace in the notion of disconnecting to go outside and meet people in analog.”

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