Design with Empathy. Develop for Inclusion.

The creation of digital properties (web sites, apps, online communities, interactive multimedia, etc.) has come a long way. Its no longer just about the information. Its no longer just about the presentation. It’s become a study of the users. We seek to know them. We seek to categorize them. We look to understand their motivations. We want to imerse ourselves in their culture(s). We want to understand their biases. We want to know if they enjoy long walks on the beach. Most importantly we usually want to sell them the latest, best-in-breed, new and improved, greatest thing since sliced bread.

Based on all we know about our users we infer a certain amount of expertise over how what we create will register with them. We infer. We test. We validate or disprove. We adjust. We pivot. Sometimes we throw everything out and start again on a blank sheet of paper.

For the most part what I’ve described takes place before we have in fact considered all of our users. We’ve sought to understand those that we can best understand. We tailored our experiences to individuals for whom we can (with varying levels of success) empathisize with.

Too often all of this takes place before we have even begun to think about those who would benefit most from this level of attention. We haven’t figured out why our very well thought out navigation system isn’t immediately obvious to individuals who are blind. Similarly we maybe haven’t thought about how the visual design of our systems may imply a very different experience than what sighted users with motor impairments are experiencing through their keyboards.

The next big skill in design and development isn’t a new coding language. It isn’t the next big content management system or JavaScript Framework. It isn’t the tool we are all going to be using to do rapid prototyping. It isn’t agile. It isn’t User Centered Design (at least in the way it is traditionally thought of).

The next big skill in design and development is empathy. Empathy to understand that great design is designed (and developed) without barriers. Barriers that deny those with different abilities access to systems they desperately need. Barriers that deny individuals their economic independence. Barriers that too many are impacted by, yet too few learn how to prevent.

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