Why inclusive design benefits all your users

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Digital design digest

Welcome to the first of a regular feature where I will highlight some interesting links about digital/design/web/etc.

I used to produce a similar roundup of links at a previous workplace. I have decided to do something similar under my own steam as part of my resolution to generally write more again.

The links I feature won’t necessarily always be new. But they will be topical and relevant to what is occupying my thoughts.

This first edition looks at why designers should take so-called edge cases seriously, to the benefit of all users.

Design for Real Life: An interview with Sara Wachter-Boettcher — A List Apart

In an interview for her new book, Sara Wachter-Boettcher outlined some of the dangers of treating so-called edge cases as secondary in importance.

Our users don’t live the tidy little lives we’ve concocted for our personas, with their limited set of problems. Life is messy and unpredictable; some days, terrible. When planning a project, it’s important not to let our excitement lull us into blithely ignoring life’s harsher realities.

I was particularly struck by her thoughts on Oxo kitchen products.

Think about the brand Oxo, which makes ergonomic housewares. People love Oxo products. But they weren’t initially designed to suit the average user. They were initially designed with the founder’s wife, who had arthritis, in mind. But by making something that was better for people with more limited ranges of motion, Oxo ended up making something that was simply more comfortable to use for most people. We have the same opportunity in our interfaces.

This serves as a reminder that making a design accessible fundamentally improves it for everyone.

Designing for people who have better things to do with their lives — Joel Spolsky

Covering a similar topic, this classic article may be 16 years old, but it is still hugely relevant today (in the way that Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is).

To be scientific about it, imagine 100 real world users. They are not necessarily familiar with computers. They have many diverse talents, but some of them distinctly do not have talents in the computer area. Some of them are being distracted while they try to use your program. The phone is ringing. WHAT? The baby is crying. WHAT? And the cat keeps jumping on the desk and batting around the mouse. I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

The myth of the sophisticated user — Smashing Magazine

One of the most disappointing things about working on digital products is when people are convinced that their users are a cut above. I have encountered this attitude a lot in my work with higher education institutions. Too many people say, “My users are clever, so I don’t need to make my content easy to read.”

A similar attitude is found among some developers who think it is the user’s duty to learn properly how to use their sophisticated software.

This article expertly demolishes those attitudes.

…while [unconfident] John and [tech-savvy] Jane have different problems and are different types of users, their needs are identical. In short, they both want to get the hell off this screen. John is unconfident, and Jane has other things to do. They both need the screen to make sense. They both need the task flow to be obvious. They both need to just get past it.

Microsoft’s radical bet on a new type of design thinking — Co.Design

An outline of how inclusive design is guiding decision-making at Microsoft.

Let’s say you’d like to build a phone that’s easier to interact with while you’re driving. You could just try to study people driving with their phones. Or you could actually study how the blind use their phones. How do they know when their phones are paired with another device? What aural feedback do apps need to provide, when opened? You could build those features into a phone, so that by serving someone disabled, you serve everyone else better. Holmes put it more succinctly: “We’re reframing disability as an opportunity.”

The resurgence of inclusive design — Nomensa

A wider view of inclusive design, including a look at its roots in architecture and an explanation as to why inclusive design is not the same as accessible design.

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