Designing for People you Didn't Know Existed

By now we all know we are not the user, it has been drilled in to us enough times. Not all users are going to fit in to the designers view of the world, and we know we need to design for people outside of this. So, how do we design for people we don't know exist? By learning from examples where people, who most certainly do exist, were not considered during design. 

Slide Share available here: 

Gender and Sex are not the same thing

Gender is a social construct of cultural or learned significance while sex is a biological feature – the chromosomes you happen to have in your genome XX or XY. This app is asking for gender because "it is important for establishing calories and nutrient goals". False. Biological sex is important for establishing calories and nutrient goals. If I am genetically female but identify as male, I probably still have higher calcium needs, that this app should tell me. 


There are more than two genders

Following on from that – there are more than 2 genders. People don’t fit into neat little boxes of male or female. Transexual and intersexual people exist and we’re too often not designing for them. 

You might not have known before today that there are more than 2 genders. As a younger designer I had a persona template that said “Gender: Skews female” and I was shot down by the developers and told that there are only 2 genders. Cut to last year, after meeting and becoming friends with a person transitioning, I fought to implement a non-specific gender options in a system which I have passionately written about before here and here.

Also, this image? Hell no. At least male isn’t a blue icon in pants and female a pink dress, but what the damn hell is this iconography? Females wear skimpy undies and dudes don't? No!


People have families different from yours

Not all families have a father and a mother. But in so many interfaces both of these fields are mandatory and people may not be able to answer this. I might not know my father, I might have 2 mothers. I’ve seen versions that say male and female guardian, because apparently same sex couples don’t exist?

Same sex couples have so much trouble with forms that specify mother and father - starting with birth certificates and following on to school enrolments, doctors forms and just about anything they'll come across. Similarly I am my nieces god father because of course the catholic church forms are not gender neutral. 


People have relationships different from yours

Facebook used to not let you be in a relationship with someone who was your relation. Whatever you think of cousins dating cousins, there are many places in the world that this is legal. I know that this constraint has been removed now because while trying to get a better quality screen shot I very awkwardly sent a relationship request to my uncle. We have not spoken since... 

Women can be doctors

So, women can be doctors now, we have been able to since 1849, but apparently no one told the people who made this website - the only valid combination here is Dr & Mrs? Which to be fair could be two women, but I doubt this form which doesn’t include Ms or any female & female titles means that. I believe Messrs can refer to two males, which is fine but multiples miss or mrs ‘ es aren't, apparently. 


People wear things you don’t

How often do you see an avatar with the option to wear a niqab? Or hijab? People wear them, regardless of whether the PM feels threatened by them or not.  If the point of your app included an avatar is to allow the use to represent themselves, let them represent themselves correctly. 

'I' is a valid surname

I have a friend with the surname I. Legally, on his birth certificate. He has to give a fake name on Facebook, which breaks their real name policy but they implemented this. People with spaces or apostrophes in their names often come across systems that wont accept their real and perfectly valid names. 

Joe is also a valid name

And apparently so does Joe. I find it hard to believe that this form was designed by an organization that knew no Joe’s, Sue’s, Tim’s, Pat’s, Tom’s… you get the point.

Deaf people have a language

Deaf people have a language too, other than English, or whatever the native tongue in their country is. In Australia the sign language is called Auslan and there are so many times when you cannot enter it in to systems.  And this is not language preference, obviously you cant set system languages to Auslan, this is showcasing what languages you can speak and it’s not an option. 

People can have > 1 ‘impairment’

What presentation on learning from bad examples would be complete without Melbourne’s infamous Myki. The new myki readers have you touch on on the only screen, which means you obscure the screen. The only feedback is this single light turning orange or green, which of course colour blind people can’t see the difference between, and a beep. So too bad if you are colour blind and deaf, or like so many commuters have your headphones in. 


Okay, you probably knew most of these people existed

Perhaps I should have called my talk Discovering & remembering to design for people outside your umwelt*.

Umwelt being one of those awesome German words that don’t translate in to English, this one meaning the world as it is experience by a particular organism.

So how do we discover & remember to design for people outside your Umwelt, your bubble, your ivory tower?

1. Stop & Think about inclusive design 

Stop and think: do I know these people exist and I just forgot about them? Did I forget about Dre (another three letter name that our form doesn’t think is acceptable). 

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 8.41.57 pm.png

2. Get out there and meet different people

Learn about people you didn’t know existed! By meeting different people I didn’t only learn that transgender people existed but I developed empathy for their struggles in design and became an advocate for them. When you know a same sex couple, a Dr & Dr living together, a deaf person, you notice when your designs aren’t including them. 

3. Pay attention to the hashtags

The hashtags of tweet-avists, that’s twitter activists, who are very vocal about products being exist, gender discriminatory, not support equal rights for the LGBTQ community and probably people I don’t even know about yet.

4. when all else fails – rule 34

Now I’m going to use the PG version of rule 34: “if you can think of it, a sub-reddit already exists for it”. Google is your friend. I was once working on a system that would not accept non-alpha characters in a name field, so I googled it and sure enough there is a guy who has changed his name legally by depol to .Com. 

There's going to be someone out there who exists that breaks your system, so go forth and learn they exist and include them.