A Book Apart

Get to Know David Dylan Thomas

Sep 16, 2020

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Author David Dylan Thomas

Meet the Author
Up next in our Meet the Author series, we’re getting to know David Dylan Thomas—author of Design for Cognitive Bias. He tells us about how pancakes center him, what he admires most in a person, and how he gets out of his head to solve problems.

ABA: What is your favorite thing about your workspace?

David Dylan Thomas: The quiet. The solitude. The rest of my family is kind enough to relinquish the master bedroom and leave me to myself. That having been said, I’m just as likely to crank up some Wu Tang Clan if I really get going.

ABA: What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?

DDT: Make pancakes. I’m not kidding in the book when I talk about loving pancakes. They really center me.

ABA: In your opinion, what should someone consider before starting out in web design / development?

DDT: Learn ethics. That might sound harsh, but honestly there’s no profession I want you out there doing without having some sense of ethics. I was having a conversation with a design ethics professor and we marveled at the fact that the issues we see in tech today all hinge upon ethical considerations philosophers have been talking about for millennia. We have the frameworks to think through these issues, we just don’t teach them.​

ABA: Is there anyone you’re following the work of right now, who you’d recommend others pay attention to?

DDT: Take a look at the Design Justice movement. If you want to center on one person, look at the work of Sasha Costanza-Chock, who literally wrote the book on Design Justice. The movement is concerned with understanding, and disrupting, the role of power in design and realizing that if we don’t take steps to dismantle it, we risk perpetuating the same injustice in our own work.

ABA: What does the tech industry need more of? Less of?

DDT: The tech industry needs more people who have historically not had decision-making power to have virtually all of the decision-making power. This means women, people of color, transgender people, people with disabilities, people without money, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, basically anyone who’s been on the business end of unjust design for the past fifty years. It also needs more regulation, preferably designed by those very same people (in fact, that may be the first step in giving them decision-making power).

It needs less of a glorification of wealth. It needs less of a savior complex. It needs less self-glorification overall. It needs less capitalism.

ABA: In moments of self-doubt, how do you recharge and rally to keep going?

DDT: My family. They believe in me when I don’t believe in myself. My wife and son are a never-ending resource of love, affection, and understanding. I’m continually astounded by how sensitive my son in particular is at telling me when I need a pat on the back.

My friends. I have some of the most understanding, kind, smart, funny set of friends anyone could have.

My fans. I have, over time, built up a group of folks who follow what I do and believe in what I do and I’ll remind myself from time to time that they’re out there Tweeting kind things and signing up for my webinars and listening to my podcast and chatting with me after talks and that means a lot.

ABA: What is your go-to source of inspiration when you’re trying to get out of a creative rut?

DDT: I’m a lateral thinker so if I’m having a problem with something I’ll tend to look to something completely different for the answer. If I’m having a problem with a book, I’ll watch a movie. If I’m having a design problem, I’ll read about 18th Century mathematical debates. I need to get out of my head to fix things.

ABA: Is there a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night? What is it?

DDT: Knowing what I know about bias, and how hard it is to combat, I get very pessimistic sometimes about the fact that there are large numbers of the population who are bought in on some particularly destructive beliefs, and that the odds of convincing them otherwise are very, very low. Once someone is all in on, let’s say, anti-vaccination, it is exceedingly difficult to convince them otherwise, and when something like that scales, even if lots of people believe the opposite, it doesn’t matter because it only takes a relative few to threaten everybody. So, yeah, that’s a dilly of a pickle.

ABA: What characteristic do you most admire in other driven/creative people?

DDT: Niceness. “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” I admire it more than I admire smarts, and I really admire smarts.

ABA: What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without to get you through a week?

DDT: Netflix. I mean, it doesn’t have to be Netflix per se, but I need that moment where I can just sit down and watch something without distractions, without agenda, and without anyone needing anything from me. As Homer once said, “Television asks so little”.

ABA: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made to do the work you do?

DDT: I’ve walked away from some pretty big paydays in order to change jobs or tasks to get to a better culture or work that aligns more with my values. I don’t consider it that much of a sacrifice because most of the time when I was making that kind of money, I was pretty miserable, so that made it an easier choice. And I was always happier (if a little poorer) afterward.

ABA: Is there a piece of professional or life advice you’ve gotten that has always stuck with you? What is it?

DDT: Alex Hillman once said, “It is impossible to listen and react at the same time.” That has stuck with me forever. And I act on it every day. It’s true. If I’m listening to someone tell a story and I instinctively start thinking, “Oooh, I’ve got a better story than that! I can’t wait till this person stops speaking so I can tell it!”, as soon as I start having that reaction, I’m no longer listening to what that person has to say. So I’ve endeavored to practice active listening whenever I talk to anyone and it has paid off. I feel calmer. The person feels (and is) heard. Everyone comes out ahead.

Learn more about all our authors—check out the rest of our Meet the Author series!


Dynamic Duo

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Design for Cognitive Bias and Cross-Cultural Design book cover images.