A few days ago, I saw a sparrow trying to carry a big berry in its beak. It tried to fly a couple of times but every time it would try to take off, the fruit would roll out of its beak. An otherwise healthy bird, its physical capabilities were limited because of the context and nature of its task.
User experience vs. Some user experience
This brings me to today’s quote by Billy Gregory, Senior Accessibility Engineer.
When UX doesn’t consider ALL users, shouldn’t it be known as “SOME User Experience” or… SUX?
In short, first, discuss and determine the questions your team wants to be answered, Often when we start research or design, we have this idea of the “regular” person who will use it. This “regular” person ends up meeting some criteria like age, education, gender, job description, and income. But often we imagine that this “regular” person can see and hear well, and is mobile, with body and brain functioning at full capacity.
Billy is saying that most UX ignores designing for people with physical or mental limitations. I would go further to say that any of us can be working with reduced abilities temporarily or because of the task or context that we work in, and most UX ignores this too.
We do not think of parents trying to use the phone while holding a child and grocery bags. We do not consider the office employee with an arm or a leg in a cast, or someone standing in the scorching sun and trying to find when the next bus would arrive. Any of us can have limited physical or mental capacity and yet rarely do we imagine our “regular” users to be imperfect.
Here is an example where different contexts might lead to the same kind of reduced ability.
What ties together Anosmia, working with animals, and cooking?
A few years ago, I was working on a non-profit project for people with Anosmia – a condition where someone loses their sense of smell partially or completely. They were going to use an app to support their adherence to smell training exercise, which involves sniffing at least four different odors twice daily for several months.
Since people would hold the fragrance for smell training in one hand, they would have only one hand available for the app usage – consider this with wider phones. So, we discussed designing the controls relevant to the task such that they could be accessed by one hand. So here the anosmia was not the disability rather the context of the task was leading to a disability.
A similar example was a study with professionals who work with animals, and while working with an animal, they may have only one or neither hand free for data collection.
And there are many everyday contexts where we have only one hand free or none, e.g. reading a recipe while cooking/baking.
Yet this possibility for single-handed or hands-free operation is offered by very few products. Often when I have these discussions, teams only consider tasks where the user is busy with “their system”, as if while doing tasks outside “their” system, people grow additional limbs!
Awareness is the first step to change
Let’s work with the NCredible framework as an example. Once you and your team have your questions outlined, plot them within different quadrants of the Ncredible I leave it up to you to decide which temporary or permanent disabilities to design for or if you should design for it at all. But decide is the keyword here. At the very least the “SUX” we design for should be a conscious choice. And awareness is the first step of change. So we should consciously acknowledge and develop an awareness of what subset of the user experience is our product facilitating or addressing, and what subsets are not.
For example, without thinking, I implicitly wrote this article for someone who already knows what user experience and design are, has a visual acuity (natural or corrected) of 20/20, an education level of Grade 9 or higher, has no or mild color blindness (red-green), etc.
What else did I miss and what is the SUX that you are designing for?