Interacting with Interaction Design

Two men in dark suits stand in front of an interactive whiteboard showing a webpage with lots of information.Higher education institutions teaching interaction design are not producing graduates skilled at producing accessible interaction experiences. An article from Norway reports on the investigation of study programs to see what level of interaction design is included. Few programs include universal design expertise. And graduates are not necessarily conversant with legal and ethical accessibility responsibilities. This is a concern given that we live in a digital world and we all need accessible user experiences. An important finding and it would be good to find out if this is the case in higher education institutions in other countries.

In a nutshell, interaction design is about shaping software so that the end user understands where to find information.

Abstract
The interaction designer plays an important role in facilitating high-quality interactions and accessible user experiences. Currently, interaction designers have diverse and often interdisciplinary backgrounds, in which may create recruitment challenges for the industry. It is also a likely contributory factor to reported challenges on student recruitment to interaction design (IxD) programs – and consequently the reported industry shortage for IxD skillsets. Thus, we need to better understand the interaction designer’s expertise and skills. Facing this fact, the present study provides analysis of Norwegian higher educational (HE) programs within IxD. We investigate in-depth what characterizes the programs, and describe their current content, focus and organization. Overall, the programs educating interaction designers are quite heterogeneous. One of the main finding is that few programs include adequate universal design expertise, and graduates are as such not necessarily conversant with their legal and ethical responsibilities as IxD professionals. We also find a discrepancy between online program presentation and actual content. The paper concludes that added work is needed to alleviate an inadequate articulation of IxD expertise, graduates skillsets, and better support academic and industry recruitment.

 

This is Universal Design

Architectural drawings and a laptop.Making universal design standard practice is something the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA) has been pursuing for  almost 40 years. But there is still a way to go. To improve acceptance and application of UD, IDeA has a new research-backed assessment and certification program. It takes you through the entire process, from planning the project, through building design, and including facility operation. 

Design solutions and best practices gathered over the life of IDeA underpin the course units of a program called isUD™, or innovative solutions for Universal Design. Ed Steinfeld said, “This is the first recognition program to provide a comprehensive approach to user centered design, including attention to usability, wellness and social relations”. You can read more from the University at Buffalo Media release, which has links to more information.

 

Weaving for inclusion

A woman is in a power wheelchair. She is discussing with three other people.Being with, and watching users is the best way to understand how to design software. This is particularly important when focusing on making designs inclusive. A university in Scotland weaves concepts of inclusion and accessible design throughout students’ undergraduate degree gradually introducing them to more complex inclusive design factors. This model could be used in any design discipline. The difficult part is likely to be having teachers who are confident interacting with people with disability and able to support students as they interact with different user groups. The title of the article is “Weaving Accessibility Through an Undergraduate Degree” available from ResearchGate.  

From the conclusion:  “Across all years of our undergraduate programme, we support students to interact with a wide range of users, with a wide range of abilities. Students’ communication with the end users is important, to build confidence on both sides. Students engage with older adults first, as they can typically relate to them more easily and are encouraged to engage in a relaxed environment, e.g. only one note-taker is required. As students progress, they work with users with increasingly complex communication challenges. For students not familiar with disabilities, this can be a difficult experience, and so the communication is supported by teaching and research staff. Students may have personal perceptions of what they expect from this group, but as they build a relationship with the users these initial perceptions are adjusted. This gives our students motivation for the inclusion of accessibility in software development and we aspire for them to champion accessibility within industry and develop inclusive software as a result.”

Abstract: Globally, increasing numbers of people experience accessibility issues related to technology use. At the University of Dundee, we have developed a degree programme that aims to graduate socially-aware computing scientists who can develop for a range of access needs. To achieve this, we engage our students on a supported pathway of exploration, empathy and understanding. Students collaborate with user groups of older adults, adults with aphasia, and users of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). This practical experience leads to an understanding of the needs of the end-user and the need to develop for ‘people who are not like me’.  

Voices of people with autism in a book

Front cover of the text book.The autism research field has changed a lot in the last 20 years. One of the key findings is the impact the research process has on people with autism. So including the voices of people with autism is really important. With this in mind, a new version of a text book has sections written by autistic contributors from all walks of life. Neurodiversity is a relatively new concept and area of study. There is still much work to do in understanding the diversity of ways autistic people navigate the world around them. 

There is a separate link to the discussion on how the authors went about including people with the lived experience of autism. This link also gives a short chapter by chapter review of the book’s content.

The title of the book is, Autism: A new introduction to psychological theory and current debate. It’s by Sue Fletcher-Watson and Francesca Happe. 

If you want a more personal approach to autism, you can read a transcript of an interview with Louis Scarantino – an autism advocate.  

The Autism Research Council has published its research priorities for 2019.

Highlighting the ‘Dark Side’

young people sit at a table which has a large sheet of paper and writing implements. They appear to be discussing something.Critical Design is a way of challenging stereotypes and prejudice. It is a way of looking at the world from the “dark side” of design thinking. A paper presented at a recent engineering and product design conference explains how design students responded to a series of workshops using the critical design method. The process does not focus on designing solutions. Rather, it focuses on designing to highlight the problem. The idea is to get the participants to think about the problem in greater depth. This is where satire and irony can be used to convey the message of stigma and exclusion. Students were also challenged to consider user empowerment, or how they might reshape societal and cultural stereotypes.

The authors explain, “it is essential that they are armed with design methods for tackling the challenges of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Furthermore, they must gain valuable experience of interdisciplinary work in order to be prepared for the ‘real’ world, outside of university”.

They conclude the article with, “Whether CD alone can help in battling stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and stigma – in so doing achieving a more diverse and inclusive society – we don’t quite know but are sure that it’s a good way to start!

The title of the paper is, Addressing the issue of stigma-free design through critical design workshops.  

Abstract:  Stereotypes and prejudices are a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that can impinge on peoples’ wellbeing. Moreover, the power of public stigma can make users of certain products experience discrimination, alienation, and inequality. Such experiences increase the likelihood of individuals rejecting products, services, environments, etc. altogether, often depriving them of e.g. safety, efficiency, and independence. In a worst-case scenario this can lead to a stigmatised condition that triggers further inequality and exclusion. In an increasingly complex world, it is imperative that those responsible for addressing future needs, challenges, and demands, i.e. the next generation of designers, architects, engineers, etc., are adequately equipped as regards methods and tools for battling existing stereotypes and prejudices related to social growth and development in society. Through this, they will ensure that stigma-free design is a priority when initiating, planning, and executing future projects. The purpose of this paper is to describe what happens when critical design is used to explore the stigma associated with existing products, services, environments, etc. in the context of interdisciplinary workshops, and to discuss the results so far. Furthermore, the paper examines whether and how this upside-down way of thinking about and performing design is a good contribution to the fields of design, architecture, engineering, etc. as a method of both teaching and learning about equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Learning through experience

A scene of the station showing people near the ticket barrier gates. Claremont College students from different disciplines joined the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip to Japan. A short video shows them checking out accessibility at Umeda train station and Ogimachi Park. The trip included time with Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department working on a project. They explored robotic technologies and universal design and created a model high tech recreational space for older people. The students conclude that barrier free places are not just for people with disability – it’s about including everyone. 

Abstract:  Studying Accessibility in Japan shows the research project led by Professor Angelina Chin (history, Pomona) with students who studied universal design and accessibility in Japan during the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip. The group also worked with the Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.

Editor’s note: This is a video only publication – I couldn’t find any written material other than the abstract. The download button takes you to a high definition of the video, not a document. It is a very large file.

Autism Research Starter Pack

Front cover of the starter pack with cartoon faces.Want to involve autistic people in your research? Well now there is a Starter Pack to help guide you through the participatory process. 

“This Starter Pack is for participatory autism research and is for anyone involved in autism research – in any discipline, in any capacity and in any stage of their lives. It describes how you can begin to genuinely involve autistic people in your research – in such a way that it promotes trusting relationships, is built on mutual respect, and involves listening to, and learning from, one another – that is, being empathetic researchers.” The starter pack is published with Issuu and is a set of slides with key information.

There is also the Participatory Autism Research Collective that is about promoting autistic involvement in autism research. 

A related open access research paper reports on the outcomes from a seminar series, identifying topics relevant to building a community of practice in participatory research. The title of the article is Making the future together: Shaping autism research through meaningful participation.

Another, more dense publication, On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy problemdiscusses the issues as contested social realities.

And a free online course, Understanding Autism  from Future Learn and the University of Kent

Innovation, inclusion and leadership

Students and teachers in a lecture room.“Inclusive design can help all human beings experience the world around them in a fair and equal way”. This is the definition on the Global Disability Innovation Hub website. Their blog page is titled,  “Why inclusive design matters and how we are leading change”.  The blog leads up to their new Masters course Disability, Design and Innovation. The course design process included people with disability.

This multidisciplinary course is run in conjunction with the University College London, Loughborough University, University of the Arts and London College of Fashion. International students can also apply. There are bursaries available for UK and EU residents (submission dates closed for this year).  Here is a video with a brief overview.

The Global Disability Innovation Hub has more information on their website on research, education and practice.

The Disability Innovation Summit will be run alongside the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Call for papers will run between October 2019 and March 2020. Priority will be given to submissions with: a passion to collaborate globally; products and ideas that are ready to go to market, or have the ability to be scaled; and tangible solutions that can impact lives around the world.  

Principles for Accessibility Studies

Brightly coloured graphic figures of all sizes and colours merged together.‘Poietic Design’ is about re-imagining everyday designed objects in ways that reconnect us with our everyday experiences. Objects should not just be useful; they should be intrinsically meaningful both philosophically and emotionally. In his paper, Gian Maria Greco discusses the move from particularist approaches based on disability to universalist approaches. This takes it from one person’s problem to a solution for everyone.

Greco follows on from the philosophical work of Rob Imrie and his discussions on the quest for universality. The title of the paper is, Accessibility Studies: Abuses, Misuses and the Method of Poietic DesignGreco concludes the article with a list of principles for design:

    1. The Principal of Universality: accessibility concerns all, not exclusively specific groups or individuals.
    2. The Principle of Personalisation: one size does not fit all. The design should be able to respond to the specificities of individual users.
    3. The Principle of User-centrality: design should focus on users and their specificities.
    4. The Principle of Epistemic Inclusivity: users and other stakeholders, including experts, are bearers of valuable knowledge for the design of artefacts.
    5. The Principle of Participation: design should be carried out through the active participation of the stakeholders involved.
    6. The Principle of Pro-activism: accessibility should be addressed ex-ante, not ex-post.

You will need institutional access for a free read, or try Google Books. 

Abstract: Over the past several decades, accessibility has been increasingly pervading a vast range of fields, producing a large number of new ideas, theories, and innovations that have already proven to be quite fruitful. A closer look at how accessibility has entered and developed in various research fields shows that said fields have experienced fundamental changes: a shift from particularist accounts to a universalist account of access, a shift from maker-centred to user-centred approaches, and a shift from reactive to proactive approaches. Through these processes, accessibility has birthed new areas within those fields, that have been gradually converging to constitute the wider field of accessibility studies. The nature and position of accessibility studies has now become a central topic. This ongoing progression of conceptual clarification may bear some misunderstanding and misinterpretations along the way. In the paper, I first briefly review the principal traits of the process of formation of accessibility studies; then address some possible misconceptions; and finally, introduce a first, very general sketch of poietic design, a method proper to accessibility studies.

UD and the interior design curriculum

A glass walled foyer of an office building with planter boxes and black seating.Inclusion will remain a futuristic concept if we continue to train design professionals without including UD in the curriculum. This was highlighted in a recent survey of interior design students.  It showed the majority had no idea about universal design and of those who did, most only vaguely understood it. Students who had exposure to UD were in favour of having the topic in the curriculum, while others said it would interfere with the technical nature of the course and dilute rigour. They also claimed UD would be an unnecessary addition to an already full course. The results were similar to previous studies showing UD awareness is missing in design studies. 

The first part of the paper covers the background to UD in detail and will be known to many. The second half covers the method, the results and important discussion. This paper comes from the U.A.E. where most of the universities in the region are run by either American, Canadian or British institutions. The title of the paper on ResearchGate is, Concept Awareness of Universal Design in Interior Design Program in the U.A.E.