User perspectives on design: Does it work?

The hands and arms of two people sit at a table covered in papers and post it notes. It indicates a brainstorming session.Standard terms allow us to communicate effectively with each other. For researchers it makes it easier to follow a strand of research. With so many ways of talking about universal design it’s little wonder researchers are trying to find a way around this. However, it will always be a blurry field of investigation because the genie is already out of the bottle. It’s too late to change things now.

User perspectives and user involvement is part of the process of designing universally.  A research paper on user perspectives bemoans the terminology problems and attempts to seek some clarity. The authors argue user participation is not a method because there is no rule-based procedure to follow. Research logic is not consistent across studies. So they claim there is no way to validate the design decisions. They conclude that as there is no concise definition, and it’s unlikely to happen, it will be down to an agreed understanding. 

In a nutshell, there is no one method or process for user involvement in design. Attempts to devise one and give it a name will be unproductive. Rather, let the status quo remain and agree to an understanding between designers and design academics. Universal design does not offer the comfort of a step by step approach – it requires skill and creativity. That leaves it open for more than one way to achieve design outcomes.

The paper is somewhat technical and discusses the issues of multidisciplinary terms and multi-level inter-dependencies, and of course, terminology. The title of the paper is, Methodological foundations of user involvement research: A contribution to user-centred design theory. It was published in the Proceedings of the Design Society 2020 Conference

Abstract:  The concept of involving user perspectives into product development processes has its roots in the early 1960s. Although this seems to be following a quite long tradition, as a design research field, it did not improve substantially and, so far, no consistent perception or even definition of the concept can be found. The paper points out where design research on user involvement still lacks methodological and theoretical foundation and makes the attempt of providing impulses for systemizing the existing body of knowledge within the Design Society as a research community.

 

Design details and everyday experiences

Title of the article in white text over an image of the top of an escalatorWhat is it about designs that either include or exclude users? Many designs are everyday – the things we hardly notice. That is, until we have difficulty using them. Design students need to see how exclusion happens.

Deborah Beardslee takes the perspective of physical ability to analyse how inclusion and exclusion happen in the design process. She notes that most designs work reasonably well for most people even if they aren’t designed that well. But we are all familiar with some degree of compromised experience. For example, hard to read instructions, doors that are difficult to open, places difficult to navigate and generally unappealing places.

Beardlee’s article will be of interest to design educators as well as practitioners. It focuses on examining everyday interactions with commonplace items with analysis of several examples. The aim of the paper is to encourage strategies for educating designers to be more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive, High Quality Decisions? Macro/Micro Design Impacts within our Everyday Experiences, and was accessed from SEGD.org Universal Design webpage.

Abstract:  Age and physical ability are natural filters for assessing the successes of designed objects, messages, and experiences. Design problem solving contributes (or not) to the resolution of challenges faced by aging and/or physically challenged individuals as they interact with products and contexts in the built environment. This paper examines some design details, solutions, and situations that impact everyday inclusivity and quality of experience, and suggests approaches toward understanding and increasing interaction success for all of us.

The comparisons presented in this work are intended to initiate an evolving platform for the discussion and development of design education strategies and content that prioritize aging and physical ability issues. Some familiar macro and micro examples have been chosen to illuminate everyday user interactions, challenges, and considerations. Ideally, increased exposure to these aspects, through audience-, age-, and ability-related projects, courses, and curriculum, will strengthen awareness and empathy in young design students, and encourage thoughtful, and more inclusive, design in the future.

Inclusive Design: A never ending story

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.Truly inclusive designs are never really finished, and it takes more than a checklist. It’s about exploring the world with a new map. An article on the Automattic website shows how to begin the journey into inclusive design. The emphasis is on technology, but the concepts apply to other design fields. There are three main steps:

    1. Broadening perspectives and building empathy
    2. Bringing diversity into teams and processes
    3. Building inclusion into designs

Each of the three steps are explained in more detail in the article. Some concepts such as colour contrast are well-known to designers. Less considered factors are providing cost-accessible options of designs, and designing for low bandwidth. Designs should be adaptable for longer life and empower clients to continue without more designer input. These ideas really show that client needs are at the centre of the design. Designing out “pain points” is essential for all users. 

Design is a powerful tool and inclusive design has the “potential to unite heterogeneous cultures in shared understanding. To make products and experiences globally accessible.” Good design is inclusive design. 

 

Automatic Accessibility: Can it happen?

A smartphone is laying flat on the table and rising out of it is a three d castile building.What if web tools could provide accessibility by default? Susanna Laurin thinks it’s possible. In Europe there is a web accessibility directive that says all public sector websites, documents and apps must be accessible. So, hundreds of thousands of interfaces must be retrofitted. Public servants, developers, UX designers, graphic designers, web authors and others must be trained to make sure new interfaces are inclusive.

The European Parliament has funded a pilot project to see what can be built into authoring tools to create automatic accessibility. Laurin explains in her article how this is working. Technically it looks promising because the existing tools share many of the same challenges. The next step is to start developing and designing tools with in-built accessibility features.

You don’t have to be an ICT specialist to recognise the importance of this project, and that the European Parliament sees this as a priority. This item is from the G3ict blog site

For non-tech people who want to understand a bit more, have a look at this Easy Read version of How can new technologies make things better for people with disabilities?   

Colours for colour blindness

Title of the blog article using light blue and dark blue colours.Colour is often used in charts, maps and infographics, but what if you can’t see some colours? One in twelve men are colour blind, but not for all colours or the same colours. Infographics are becoming more popular as a means of explaining things. So choosing the best colours is to everyone’s advantage. Venngage website has an good guide and lots of tips on making charts more accessible. It shows the three types of colour blindness and compares them with normal vision. Different colour palettes are provided along with templates. The blog page includes links to other resources. Colour combinations to avoid include:

    • Red & green
    • Green & brown
    • Green & blue
    • Blue & gray
    • Blue & purple
    • Green & gray
    • Green & black

Most colour blind people can detect contrast, so as a last resort, if you must use these colours, make the contrast as strong as possible. Patterns and textures also work. The article is titled, How to use color blind friendly palettes to make your charts accessible.  Colour blindness is technically referred known as colour vision deficiency (CVD). 

Another resource for map colour by Tedora Zareva is useful too. You can also find out more about CVD or colour blindness from going to the National Eye Institute website

Four circular charts showing how people with colour deficiency see different colours on the colour wheel

 

You understand me? Maybe

Front cover of the toolkit with three overlapping circles, bright pink, purple and turquoise.This toolkit about communicating with customers follows its own advice. The information is written in a straightforward way. Lots of graphics illustrate key points, and the information is very specific, such as when to write numbers as digits or as words. While the information might not be new to some, it serves as a good reviser of current practice. Designed for organisations but good for everyone.

The Customer Communications Toolkit for the Public Service – A Universal Design Approach has sections on written, verbal and digital communication. At 134 pages it is comprehensive. Each section has examples, tips, checklists and links to learn more. The intention of the toolkit is for public service planning, training and informing contractors. But of course, it works for anyone who is communicating with the public. 

Another great resource from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. Interesting to note that they have chosen colours for the cover and their logo that almost everyone can see – that includes people with colour vision deficiency.

Diversity, Design and Usability

An infographic wheel with Designing for Diversity at the hub, and the different factors mentioned in the text around the hub.The term Diversity is often thought of as a cultural thing just as Accessibility is thought of as disability thing. The concept of universal design doesn’t separate these and doesn’t separate them from what’s considered mainstream. That’s the meaning of inclusion and inclusiveness. Let’s not get hung up on the words. 

Diversity covers gender, ethnicity, age, size and shape, income, education, language, culture and customs. There is no Mr or Ms Average – it’s a mythical concept. Dan Jenkins writes about diversity as inclusion for the Design Council and makes this observation;

“Often, it’s a perceived efficiency-thoroughness trade off – a variant of the 80:20 rule, that crudely suggests that you can get it right for 80% of the people for 20% of the effort, while it takes a further 80% of the effort to get it right for the remaining 20%. However, much of the time it is simply that the designers haven’t thought enough about the diversity of the people who wish to interact with the product that they are designing, often because it’s not in the culture of the company.”

Similarly to Kat Holmes, Jenkins says to think of capability on three levels:

1.    Permanent (e.g. having one arm)
2.    Temporary (e.g. an arm injury)
3.    Situational (e.g. holding a small child)

“The market for people with one arm is relatively small, however, a product that can be used by people carrying a small child (or using one of their arms Infographic wheel with Usability in the centre. The next ring has three factors: Sensory, Physical and Cognitive. The outer rim expands on these three aspect.for another task) is much larger. As such, designing for the smaller market of permanent exclusions is often a very effective way of developing products that make the lives of a much wider group of customers more flexible, efficient and enjoyable.”

Jenkins reminds us that all our capabilities will be challenged eventually, either permanently or temporarily. That’s why designers need to think of the one arm analogy in their design thinking. Excellent easy read article from the Design Council. Infographics are taken from the article.

Much of Jenkins’ content is similar to Kat Holmes material and the Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit. There are three articles on this website that feature Kat Holmes:

Typewriters: A device for vision loss.

What does inclusion actually mean?  

What is the meaning of inclusion in inclusive technology?  

Also her book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design,

Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design

Stick figures represent the family members. The video is in black and white. This is one frame from it.Having trouble convincing others that universal design is for everyone and not ‘disabled’ design’?  A 6 minute video shown below takes you through an everyday family activity of leaving the house and catching a bus. It goes through the process of how to design for everyone. “For many of us we don’t think twice about how we use technology, travel, move in and out of buildings or use the web…” The video explains how universal design is good design for everyone.

The video was produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. It is a good example of both closed captions and audio descriptions. 

 

Innovative Solutions with UD

Long view of the inside of an airport building.Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access – IDeA, advocates for socially responsible design to be standard practice. IDeA claim that adoption of UD has been hindered by a lack of detailed guidelines and gaps in training for designers and builders. This is where their Innovative Solutions for Universal Design project, or isUD comes in.

The short video below begins with the basics of universal design and why designs should be inclusive. It then invites viewers to check out over 500 solutions in their online program. The nine chapters based on the 8 goals of universal design cover: design process; space clearances; circulation; environment quality; site; rooms and spaces; furnishings and equipment; services; and policies. The focus is on public and commercial buildings. IDEA, is a research-based organisation based at State University of New York, Buffalo.

Inclusive Digital Design Poster

A screenshot of the poster showing the principles of inclusive designBarclays Bank has developed a set of inclusive digital design posters. They are based on seven design principles. These principles can be applied to other design fields as well as digital platforms. You can download the A3 poster which gives a quick overview. Or download a more detailed  set of A4 posters. Barclays Bank began investing in inclusive practice many years ago, but they haven’t rested on their laurels. They also encourage their business customers to get on board with accessibility. You can read more about the posters from The Paciello Group website. The seven principles below are explained in more detail:

      1. Provide comparable experience
      2. Consider situation
      3. Provide comparable experience
      4. Be consistent
      5. Give control
      6. Offer choice 
      7. Prioritise content
      8. Add value

Barclays says the Inclusive Design Principles are about putting people first. It’s about designing for the needs of people with permanent, temporary, situational, or changing disabilities — all of us really. The posters are a good quick reference for web and app design professionals.