Three Takeaways from Microsoft Designers

Think about the things you do everyday. Biking down a curb cut. Pouring a teapot. Flipping on a light switch. These tasks seem seamless.

But sometimes, everyday experiences that may be seamless to some may be exclusive to others. Blind people can’t use many apps on smart phones. Women are more likely to feel cold in air-conditioned offices because the temperatures are set for men to feel comfortable. And more.

I attended a talk today called “Creating Natural User Interactions for Emerging Technology” given by three Microsoft designers: Gwynneth Leece, Shana Bryant and Charlene Jeune. When designing, here are three things to keep in mind for a more inclusive product.

1. Recognize Exclusion

According to Leece, as a designer, you may not realize how many people you’re unintentionally excluding. “Exclusion happens when there is a mismatched interaction between the user and technology,” she said. For example, color coded programs exclude those who are color blindness. Women are more likely to get motion sick, and VR headsets are often not designed with women in mind. When designing, try to think of different personas who might use your product. Personas are representations of human characteristics or abilities, and should include people of all genders, races, abilities and more.

2. Learn from diversity

Bryant gave an example of a game she played, where she saw that there was the option to choose a black female character. “I remember thinking to myself, wow, I can choose a black female character in the game? I never get to choose the black female character in the game,” Bryant said. But when she clicked on it, it cost 99 cents. Every other character in the game was free, except the black female character. Clearly, the designers and developers excluded an audience they thought they were being responsive to. “They put a price on her without thinking about how she was the only woman of color in the game,” Bryant said.

That’s why it’s important to learn from diversity. Our experiences and differences shape us and can help make a more inclusive product. When creating a product, we must make sure we expand our thinking so that the user experience doesn’t just benefit our own personas.

3. Solve for one, extend for many

Sometimes products aren’t designed for us, but they benefit us, and we accept them everyday. For example, as I said before, you can easily bike down a curb cut. Actually, curb cuts were designed for people on wheelchairs, but they benefit anyone on wheels, whether they’re on strollers, bikes, skateboards, or more.

On the persona spectrum, there are there categories: permanent, temporary and situational. For example, for the persona of only having one arm to use, a permanent one would be someone who doesn’t have one arm. A temporary one would be someone who injured an arm. And a situational one would be someone who is holding something in one arm.

So how can you create a more inclusive product? And why is this important? As Jeune said, “Human bias can lead to machine bias. This can lead to very serious consequences…Let’s define the future by questioning what ‘s ‘natural.’” Get out of the development bubble and recognize that biased sets are bad data sets. Watch, read and listen to media about groups that are often excluded. Test products with different types of users. Work to increase diversity on teams, but also, don’t assume that one person represents an entire group. With these in mind, you can work to design and develop products with the best user experience for all.


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