Designing for extremes

Are you an average user? Does your environment stay the same? Do your energy levels or emotional state change, affecting how you interact with the world?The average user does not exist. The average user is a combination of all users that often overlooks that we are all unique, with our own needs and preferences. Some of those needs and preferences stay the same. And some change quickly or slowly over time.As a user moves away from the artificial concept of average, the experience that person has and the relationship they have with your product that has been designed for average can start to suffer. Delightful might become usable. Usable might become adequate. And for some, the product is not usable at all.Average often forgets the extremes. But if we design for the extremes, the average will take care of itself.

Who is an ‘ordinary’ Australian? The term is often abused by politicians, but the ABC crunched the numbers and found the ten “average characteristics”:

You speak only English at home
You were born in Australia
Your parents were born in Australia
You’re Christian
Your family has English ancestry
You’re in a registered marriage
You live with your spouse and two children
Your home is a free-standing, three-bedroom house, which you own with a mortgage
You have two cars
Your family income is $2,000–$2,999 a week (or $104,000–$129,999 a year) – Source

But in reality, almost nobody actually meets all of these criteria.

Nobody is ‘normal’. There is no such thing as average or ordinary.

The American airforce discovered no pilot actually met the dimensions the cockpits had been built for, which was a supposed ‘average’. By designing for average, they’d designed for nobody. The solution was adjustable seats, technology which we see in all modern cars.

Two things we should take from this:

  1. As individuals we are all different
  2. As designers, our products should support diversity and adaptability

Things organisations should embrace:

  1. Awareness
  2. Culture
  3. Innovation

In Australia the government’s requirement to meet accessibility standards raised awareness across the private sector as well as government. However the push for a11y didn’t really stick, the culture didn’t change. People had followed a checkbox compliance approach and not really got to the core values and systems to make it a permanent change. Some changes to approach – innovation – is required. We are missing opportunities by treating accessibility as an ‘access checklist’.

We need to change our thinking to designing for extremes to the benefit of all.

The Microsoft inclusive design kit points out accessibility is not a small market. 26k people have a permanent disability like one arm; but then 13m people have a temporary disability like a broken arm; and another 8m have a situational disability because they are holding a new baby in one arm and doing everything with their other arm. So it’s 21,000,000 not 26,000.

We can also think of diversity and inclusion as being an iceberg – if we don’t look below the surface we simply won’t see most of the impact.

Things we can do:

  1. Diversity in research – recruit more broadly
  2. Use inclusive design principles – build for as many people as possible
  3. Diversity in testing – move away from checklist compliance to accessibility as part of usability

Last thought: extreme becomes normal.

Instead of seeing people as extremes, we should see them as normal. We are all different and we should embrace that difference in ourselves and others.