Diversity and inclusion are slowly moving away from an afterthought (or worse, a non-thought) in the tech world. And to highlight the new attention the space is getting – in every aspect of the concept – today announced a startup developing tools to help designers and developers make their end products more accessible to the visually impaired.
Stark, a New York-based startup that allows designers who build with design software to run their files through a built-in tool that reviews them and provides color edits and other suggestions to help meet guidelines for people who do less well see has raised $ 1.5 million.
Stark plans to use the funds to continue building integrations with commonly used design apps and building integrations for developers (where code is read and deployed: a Github integration next) and the expanded pricing and pricing business continues expand usage levels.
Currently, users can use Stark's plugins for Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD, which give them access to a contrast checker, intelligent color suggestions, 8 color blind simulations, a color blind generator and a quick contrast check (under Adobe XD).
The long-term plan is to build an end-to-end platform and consider inclusivity for other types of needs beyond visual impairments and since accessibility can also come in physical form, consider more than just software and to create More options for automatic correction of details.
As Cat Noone – the now-European-based CEO who co-founded the company with Michael Fouquet (the team works remotely, she said) – describes it, the goal is to "become the grammar for accessibility in software".
Funding, a pre-seed round, comes from a broad and interesting group of supporters. It was led by Daniel Darling and Pascal Unger from Darling Ventures, which also included Jason Warner, CTO of Github. Indicator ventures; Little Perkins' Scout Fund; and Basecamp Ventures. Individual supporters include the product accessibility manager at Atlassian, the director of fair design and impact at Culture Amp, a director of design at DuckDuckGo, a former vice president of software development at Oracle, and others.
One reason Stark has drawn the attention of all of these investors is because of his traction.
Early versions of the software have been available for eight months as plugins for Sketch, Adobe XD, and Figma. During that time, 300,000 users, mostly designers, engineers and product managers, have been recorded on these three design platforms. Current customers include Microsoft, Oscar Health, the US bank, Instagram, Pfizer, Volkswagen, Dropbox and others.
It also has 10,000 people in its "community," including people more directly involved with Stark (rather than just using its plugins) on platforms like Slack receiving their newsletter, and more.
Diversity and inclusion made the headlines this year, which is good news even if the reason for it wasn't so good – the sad state of how minorities are being treated by law enforcement. Partly because of the profile of these incidents and the protests that followed, much of the world has linked the concept of D&I very closely to racial inclusion. As this story continues to unfold (and hopefully we continue to see more positive and sustained efforts to address it), the kind of diversity and inclusion that Stark addresses is of a different kind.
It's a logical, if often overlooked, area: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that (as of 2018) about one in four adults in the U.S. lives alone with some form of disability (a number that doesn't include children) . The largest of these are cognitive disabilities. Essentially, this means that while a lot of the design (and technology in general) wasn't actually developed for this broader group, it is a very large market.
At a time when technology is regularly recognized as a bad guy – and the reasons are varied and involve mental health; physical health; and economic, environmental, civil and legal implications – developing software and hardware that is more inclusive could go a long way in bridging some of the gaps technology has created with (and within) society.
"We're talking about the largest minority in the US," nobody said. "Without a wheelchair ramp, you wouldn't be building a building today. Why don't we include these people in our software design?"
Nobody said that she and Fouquet originally came across the idea of Stark while working for another company developing an emergency medical services app to be used by the elderly. They created a very early version of the tool that they can use for this work. They showed it to others and found people asking if they could use it too. "And then it's just a little snowball," she said.
She then said that she was in a "rabbit hole into the world of design and accessibility" and realized that not only were there no tools really built for it, but that "the problem was so much more than paint. "(In Colors began Stark, hence the big name.)
There's an interesting whip and carrot out there in the bigger market with things like inclusive design: for some it might be a problem to have to adhere to, others just believe it's the right thing, while others may not care, but (rather cynical) I think being inclusive is good looking. Whatever the motivation, the trick with Stark is that it's easy to get more people involved, and that lowering the barrier at the end of the day can only be good.
“No software product should exclude a disadvantaged minority of its users. It's bad for business and bad for society, "Darling said in a statement. “We're seeing a dramatic increase in awareness among software designers, developers, and executives about delivering products that are generally available. Stark has quickly won the industry's trust and is on the way to becoming an important part of the software infrastructure. We are thrilled to partner with such an enterprise-minded company that is already improving the way software is made worldwide. "