So, I though that a post on my Instagram grid with as many words as I’m known to cram into small space wouldn’t be enough to hold everything I’d like to say about what’s going on with Ravelry.
Before we dive in, I’ll also take a minute to ask you to be respectful of each other in this conversation.
We may disagree and be angry at each other, but it’s never an excuse to be trans-phobic, to dead-name and misgender people. It’s also no excuse to use slurs and LGBTQ-phobic attacks. If that’s your thing, you are not welcome in this space.
A summary of what happened
For a short summary, when Ravelry rolled out the new branding, some user complained about severe migraines and cases of seizure triggered by the animated login page background and harsh contrast have been reported (see this post from Countess Ablaze, who has been personally affected by the situation, and she’s not an isolated case).
On their forums, moderators and staff have been consistantly closing thread about accessibility stating they don’t want to host the conversation there, and directing people toward their support email. Here’s a message left on a theread their own VP of Operation (Mary-Heather) left :
So basically, no conversions about those issues will happen publicly. People who did sent their feedback regarding accessibility issues have been reporting they never got a response after 3 weeks.
And then, there was this amazing tweet from Cassidy, one of Ravelry’s founder (and developper). Cassidy, who’s been on/off Twitter since the crisis started (because her mental health required sudden boundaries. Another thing to unpack here!) :
Many of us suspected this tweet to be targeting @ktb38. All she truly did before Cassidy accused her of lying and spreading misinformation, was lead a short survey on Instagram asking pattern designers if they’d noticed a drop in their pattern sales since the new design had rolled out. 75% of the 100 responders said yes.
Conveniently, Cassidy’s Twitter account has been erased, leaving only screenshot as a trail. Let’s remind you that back in February 2020, Katie Bea was nominated a human of Ravelry following her work to raise awareness about size inclusivity issues.
Amazing how suddenly she’s turned into the villain because she’s openly advocating for inclusivity for disabled people.
This letter signed by Cassidy’s name, was apparently sent to some of their users who wrote them emails expressing concerns about the accessibility of the platform since the new branding has been rolled out on June 16, 2020.
So, yesterday (July 29, 2020), after that letter had made it to my Instagram feed, I caught fire, and I posted this :
(That’s my “I sense bullshit and I’m angry” face, but apparently I never look angry enough!)
Content of my post is the following :
So, hum. I’m angry. I am mad. And before I dive in, Black Lives Matters. Why are Breonna Taylor’s killer still free? Don’t forget to vote.
Ravelry’s founder is busy telling their community that people affected by the rebranding are lying? That they’ve got expert who said the website is all fine and dandy. A random PhD dude on Psychology Today said we were a bunch of idiot suffering from mass hysteria (like are we in 2020? Can you be more condescending and misogynistic please?). So basically, and clearly, I, a person who’s been working the industry for a decade and who kinda knows a bit about accessibility, and who pin pointed some of the aspects of the new design who are causing issues, is clearly just having a subjective opinion and all the things I said were a problem aren’t. It’s all in our collective head you see.
I am angry because this website and its owner have claimed multiple times they want to be inclusive and support diversity. So let me ask you : was it just performative all along because it was convenient and it brought some good press on? How come you can claim being an ally but still closing your doors to folks who previously had access to your platform? How can you be actively gaslighting and accusing us of lying, saying you’ve got experts on your side? Where are the reports? Who are those experts? Did you include disabled folks in the process? Have you listened to their concerned? Did you let them be around the table with y’all, or was that redesign just a need to make everything shinier and please yourself, forgetting you’ve got a huge user base relying on your product to support their business?
Right now, I don’t see diversity and inclusivity. I see people making a problem that could have been solved with an apology and an agreement that things didn’t go the way they plan and taking a step back a thousand time worse.
Fellow UX designers, this also a call out to all of you who thinks it’s okay to design things without consulting your end users, who thinks it’s okay to focus on pretty before usability. I will die on that freaking hill if I have to, but usability and accessibility should always come first
Aesthetic is subjective. No one will ever universally agree on the aspects of things, however, usability is something you can test and improve and verify, so stop making it the last thing on your to do list.
Also, I know that the onus is not just on us (UX folks) when it comes to accessibility, but it’s our job to make sure we provide the data and the required empathy at the table to defend our end users, all of them, not just those who fit the criteria we find easier to work with.
Put your damn ego aside, you’re not making the product for yourself, you’re making the product for people to use and benefit from. If you’re more motivated by being the one applauded for your good work in the end, I don’t think your priorities are in the right place. And when you design with your ego, there’s no place for empathy.
And guess what, Empathy is probably the first thing you need to be able to make things inclusive, by agreeing your experience is not universal, and that other people with different background and story will experience things an other way. And that’s what makes our job wonderful. So toss the ego, get your head out of your own butt for a second and listen to those who are trying to tell you something doesn’t works for them. I promise you, it is worth it.
And because I’m a serial rambler, I wonder what we’re going to do in 5 months when we won’t be able to have the classic UI available? Does it mean that we’ve got a 5 months eviction notice?
Note on that last paragraph : actually, Ravelry will give us a 6 months notice before they retire the Classic Ravelry look, so we have an unknown amount of time + 6 months.
Let’s unpack what’s not great
Here are a couple thing grating on my nerve with this situation and why this is making me so angry.
A claim of inclusivity and diversity
Ravelry has been surfing a very interesting wave of “we’re an inclusive community” following the famous Trump Ban in June 2019. A stance that many Ravelers (myself included), support and many of us showed up on social media to say so and defend this position.
They’ve also been very vocal about LGBTQ inclusivity, sporting the rainbow flag during pride month for a couple years now and adding support for pronouns in profiles, etc.
However, inclusivity isn’t a pick-and-choose what you want to include thing. If you are inclusive and if you’re actively using this as a moto, you have to be inter-sectional. What it means is that disability and disabled people cannot be left out of your community, otherwise, we clearly don’t have the same notion of what “inclusivity and diversity” mean.
To me, and that’s something really dear to me in my personal and professional life, the web is the one place where our physicial capacities shouldn’t make a difference. The web is a marvellous tool that opens many horizons and brings an amount of freedom some disabled people cannot have in the physical world, because it’s rarely made to include them. Expecting disabled people to always be the one to adapt themselves instead of adapting the world we live in feels very wrong to me.
To be truly inclusive, you need to be willing to put your own bias aside and accept that you will fuck up on things. That’s okay, you’re human, we all made mistakes, pobody’s nerfect. What’s important here is to acknowledge said mistake and learn from it.
If they had been truly inclusive and owned up to this stance, Ravelry’s staff probably should have included disabled people in their consideration when they started to redesign the website. But they still have a gendered logo they call “Lumpy” because she’s round and imperfect (which is slightly insulting to the fat community, an odd stance when you want to bring in size inclusivity?) , and the whole redesign has a lot of issues that trigger photosensitivity.
There hasn’t been an open beta of the new design, it’s been rolled out without much of a warning after a very short closed beta where they’ve invited only a selection of people they’ve chosen. So, did they think of making a call for disabled user as well when it happened? Did they listened to people’s concerned during the beta? My own expertise makes me think they didn’t, otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about this today.
If you need some explanation on the concept of gaslighting, Wikipedia has you covered.
“You’re spreading misinformation”
“You say this, but you don’t have proof.”
When someone says they’ve got a problem with your platform or software, your first job is to listen, not to disregard issues because they challenge your own vision and biases. On a side note, that’s supposed to be your #1 job as a UX designer : shut up, listen, observe, empathize, understand. (I feel like I’ll make a whole dedicated blog post on that UX design is about soon).
Is it hard? Heck yes.
I know I’ve been there myself, placing the blame on my client when I was a newbie that didn’t knew better. It still happens on occasion, because as human being, in our occidental and white society, we’re not taught much about accepting our mistakes, we grow up in denial of our own history of serious foulness, so owning our mistake is hard on us.
When we’re told we hurt someone, we are super quick to get on the defensive and it’s easier to told the other one that they’re the one who misinterpreted us, than actively consider the impact of our actions.
By saying we don’t have proof, despite the many voices who’ve spoken up on the matter, is saying we don’t believe the people who’ve been hurt and we don’t believe in their experience. This is a great way to cast doubt on the saying of the victims.
A PhD dude from on Psychology Today has also been accusing us of mass hysteria in a very condescending and misogynistic tone, because that’s what he believes is happening, is absolutely not helping our case. To some people, this will be enough insight from a supposed position of authority to discredit every person who came forward saying something is wrong with Ravelry’s new design. And it could be the one doctor mentionned in Cassidy’s letter, since she’s not even providing sources or official reports.
The author of the article is also relying strongly on a bunch of preconception people have about epilepsy, where only rapidly noticeable flashing content can be a triger.
Dear friend, there’s a reason why the WCAG 2.1 has criterion made specifically regarding animation : people suffering from vestibular disorder can be affected by parallax effects (something that’s been very trendy around 2010) and some type of movements in a screen.
Here are the two specific criterion and the link to the pages explaining why they exist :
Level A is the lowest level of accessibility compliance the W3C considers to be required for most basic accessibility. This is what’s supposed to be a standard.
If you read about the criterion 2.3.1, you’ll understand that outside the notion of proper flashing content generated by the author of the content, some display settings can generated such flashing effect by displaying some colours. It can be counteracted by carefully choosing your colour palette and design.
Like I mentioned in this article not all screens, or eyes for that matter, are made equal, and the use of some colors with a certain level of saturation and contrast can generate the flashing effect. The New Ravelry design do have a very flashy color scheme with highly saturated colors (link to an image of the color sheme used on NuRav).
This amount of saturated colors, especially the yellow and cyan, combined to the very dark and harsh drop shadow effect they’ve use can be enough to generate issue for people who are photosensitive.
I am not a doctor, but even I know how to read accessibility guidelines and listen to people experiencing issues to work with them and understand what’s happening.
To be quite frank here, I work on a very high quality 4k monitor for about 8h/day for my job, I have glasses with blue-light filters, and I rarely feel this amount of eye tingling than when I look at this specific color sheme, and I’m not particularly known to be photosensitive (though I have a very keen eye for colors!).
But who knows, maybe it’s just the power of suggestion… As a trained UI/UX designer, it’s absolutely not my place to know about screens and colors, right 🙃
No expert found issues (really?!)
So, I am a bit tickled by the fact that Cassidy says no expert found any issue with their new design when I, for one, a senior UX designer who’s been working the industry for about a decade and has been working in setting where accessibility was required, have been extensively documenting type of disabilities and elements that may be an issues for each of them. Bonus : I’ve tagged them in multiple post and stories about what was going on and nobody ever reached out.
Despite the fact that I have a generous imposter syndrome, I know when I’m being bullshited and ignored.
And I know I am not the only one who’s been doing this either, some even went to extend their free help on Twitter to Ravelry so they could fix the issues. Apparently, those offer have been ignored.
My guess is that we have a unknown amount of time before they pull the plug on the Classic theme, meaning it’ll be on designers and makers to do whatever is required to be able to keep on using the website or find alternative, which honestly sucks (see this blog post where I explain how it may impact businesses as well).
I wonder if their response would be the same if there were more competition on the market.
But right now, I feel really sad and disappointed, I’d even say betrayed. Ravelry has been the central point of many meaningful relationship I’ve developed in the community and it’s the case for many other people. Feeling like our collective experience and concerns has made us expandable truly hurt.
I wrote this blog post late on July 29, 2020 to be published the next day. On July 30, 2020, before I could publish it, Jessica, the co-founder of Ravelry has published a very long letter that has been awaited for a long time. This letter can be read on their blog : A Letter from Jessica.
I’m still angry. I don’t think this is not the apology we’ve been waiting for, they’re apologizing for upsetting people but not for the harm caused. A lot of what has happened in the last 6 weeks have made many of us felt betrayed, ignored and unheard. The lack of transparency on what their plan was to fix the issues has been worrying many of us regarding our future access to the website and to our communities.
But what gets me the most is this :
With regard to tweets and emails sent by Cassidy, we would like to make clear they do not reflect the opinions and professional intentions of the Ravelry team, or the way we think about what people are experiencing. We have not been as aware as we should be that these messages were being sent. Cassidy was not in a state to be talking with people, though she does understand that this is no excuse and that the emails that she wrote were hurtful. She is ashamed and sincerely sorry. It will take a period of adjustment, but in the future Cassidy’s role will be focused on technical work. She no longer has access to the customer service emails and her Ravelry mail is disabled.
For starters, I wished those excuse had been pronounced by Cassidy herself, without using mental health has a deflector and get our sympathy and compassion. Though, this said, I hope Cassidy will get the help she needs to feel better.
I, like many other, have been appalled by Cassidy’s behavior.
Seeing the excuse of not being in the right mental space to interact with people used to justify what has happened feels like a very weak excuse, especially when this same tactic has been used in the past to excuse the very very disturbing behaviour of Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician). I think I’m not the only one with serious trust issues when it comes to this particular scenario : someone fuck up, hurt other folks, “sorry, I’m mentally ill, please have compassion for me and don’t be too mad”.
This is redirecting the blame for Cassidy’s behaviour on the victims and this is not okay.
I wished there had also been personal and public apologies made to Katie Bea and Lindsey, but also to all the other folks who may have received those horrible email.
Also, given how fast the screenshot had been shared on Instagram, I have a hard time thinking they weren’t at least a bit aware. The tweet of July 22, 2020 in which she’s clearly stating that @ktb38 is lying should have given them a hint that they needed to get their shit together and talk with Cassidy to contain this.
Many users of Ravelry have mental health issues, myself included, and I would never have used my own difficulties to justify such a hurtful behaviour. If you’re not in a mental space to talk and interact, just don’t. Wait for a little while, take a step back and/or find a proxy to help you get through it and process your feelings before reacting.
The other elements that makes me go all 🤔🤔🤔 :
Over the years, we had heard from many people who had trouble using the Classic version of Ravelry.
Accesibility issues of Classic Ravelry being known, I have a hard time wraping my UX designer brain around the fact that they did not involve someone knowledgeable in accessibility right from the start of this project, and that the community hasn’t been involved in the process either, to ensure they would cover the wide array of issue they could try to fix progressively.
With over 9 millions of registered users. You are not a small player anymore, you’ve got a serious monopoly in the market and being known outside of Ravelry in the knitting and crochet community is extremely hard, and this means you’ve got to step up your game so you’re not leaving people outside.
Over the years, a lot of people have volunteered their time and labour over the years to help them, and we will keep doing it, but it’s a two way street. We can show understanding and compassion, but we need to feel you are listening to us and that you’re being honest with us.
Right now, I have serious trust issues. You’ve showed me a side of your personality I never saw coming and that trust will need to be rebuilt. I feel like this letter is a vague attempt at soothing us so we’ll stop being so noisy but isn’t the fully genuine “Sorry, we fucked up, we’ll do better” I had expected about 5 weeks ago.
Let’s hope I’m wrong and this is a step toward fixing things up and seeing things improving from now on.