Watch: Calm Tech UX & Inclusive Design Principles at Microsoft

Last year, Microsoft Design invited me to Redmond, Washington to consult on their accessibility and inclusivity initiatives. Millions of users means hundreds of thousands of edge cases, and mobile products only increase temporary, situational and permanent frustrations. The team was interested in Calm Technology because it offered them a new way to address ongoing issues experienced by existing and future customers.

After a number of interviews and workshops about attention and notification fatigue, I worked with Microsoft to help adapt some of Calm Tech principles into their organization and their awesome inclusivity toolkit. The guide introduces a reframing of the concept of disability, how user experience intersects with the goals of inclusivity, and an overview of permanent, temporary and situational exclusions.

Here are some of my favorite passages from their guide:

Increased Mobility of Technology equals Increased Moments of Disability:
Interactions with technology depend heavily on what we can see, hear, say, touch, learn, and remember. Mobile technologies can make situational limitations highly relevant to many people today. Mobile puts in focus questions like: Are we forced to adapt to technology, or is technology adapting to us?
Disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and society. Physical, cognitive, and social exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions. As designers, it’s our responsibility to know how our designs affect these interactions and create mismatches. Points of exclusion help us generate new ideas and inclusive designs. They highlight opportunities to create solutions with utility and elegance for many people.
Sometimes exclusion is temporary or situational
Even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about trying to order a drink at a noisy bar, using your cell phone in direct sunlight, trying to write with a broken arm, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.
As people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.

The toolkit also expands on some Microsoft Inclusive Design Considerations influenced by Principles of Calm Technology:

  • Understand urgency and medium: Can you be more mindful of the relative importance, and design appropriate levels of urgency? If everything looks urgent, nothing is.
  • Adapt to the customer’s behavior: If a customer consistently interacts with one type of notification, and ignores another, can your system react and adapt?
  • Adapt to context: Does your experience change if the sun’s out, or if there’s a crowded room? An isolated environment? Time of day? Can it respect and change in different types of environments or customer contexts?
  • Enable the customer to adapt: Can the customer personalize the experience, so it works better for their particular needs?
  • Reduce mental cost: How can you make your experiences simpler, clearer, and less costly to understand? Are there parts of the journey that are unnecessary or overly complicated?

I’d like to thank Microsoft for their ongoing efforts to make it easier for people to use their technologies, and for taking a step forward in trying to build Calm Technology for the future of our attention! You can read more about Microsoft’s Inclusivity efforts from Doug Kim.