A brief case for inclusionary accessibility in design

I was at a local big-box store the other day picking up some hardware for a home improvement project and had the need to visit the men’s room. It is a large store and so has a relatively spacious men’s room, with the sinks just inside the entry followed by a row of four urinals. As I walked in I was struck by the fact that the four urinals appeared to be exactly the same, except for one detail. If you can see the featured image of this post, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

I couldn’t help wondering, “Why didn’t they just install them all that low to the ground?”

Of course, that was a somewhat rhetorical question to myself because I can easily visualize how the design process went.

Based on the size of the store, the building codes require us to have four urinals. Let’s go ahead and put them along this wall here and install them at the standard height. Oh, except for one that needs to be lower because, well, you know, the “rules”. Left or right side? Doesn’t matter, as long as we have a short one.

And as a result only one of the urinals was installed lower to the ground, because that was all that was required.

It would be easy enough to say that “accessibility” was not considered in the design process for this men’s room, or that it wasn’t sufficiently considered. I would argue, however, that this design is very much based on a consideration of accessibility. It’s just that the accessibility considered was exclusionary and not inclusionary.

Here’s what I mean.

Back when modern urinals were first designed to be more than an open depression or slit in the ground that men stood around to, well, you know, the only people who would ever use them would most likely be adult men. There was little or no effort made to make it possible for those with physical handicaps to even get into the building, much less any thought given to how they might use the restroom. So the urinals were designed to be exclusively accessible to adult men who could stand up in front of the urinal. (To be clear, this is just an assumption, my impression based on my understanding of history in general.)

Fast forward to today when we know better and make more effort, at least on paper, to make access to spaces and facilities more inclusively accessible. The exclusionary approach is so ingrained in the culture and in design that making something accessible for the “other” is seen as something separate, something that needs to be done because someone somewhere said it had to be done.

An inclusively accessible design for this men’s room would have, in my mind anyway, had four urinals closer to the ground than the old standard (it should become an old standard, anyway). To take it even further, the design and construction standard (and building codes, to be sure) should be changed to reflect this inclusive design approach.

If one of the urinals is going to be lower to the ground than the “usual”, why not just make them all lower to the ground? In this way you are meeting the needs of all (or at least more) with one simple change.

To be sure, inclusionary accessibility is more difficult in some situations than in others. The urinal example above is relatively straightforward compared, for example, to the challenges software and website developers have. Unlike the physical example of the urinal, which can easily accommodate all users with a single configuration, software developers have to understand and contend with often competing and contrary needs.

A basic example is the user interface of a web site in a web browser. Just take a moment and consider how you use the web browser on your laptop. Now, close your eyes and think about how you would use the web browser on your laptop if you couldn’t see it.

For the person who can see the screen, visual cues are typically sufficient and they would likely not want to hear a description of the screen or the layout read to them as they navigate the page. But for the person who can’t see the screen, the actual visual design of the site is unimportant and, for all intents and purposes, of no value. They need another way with which to navigate and to consume the content.

Which gets us back, once again, to the prevalence of exclusionary accessibility in design.

Blind people aren’t going to use a web browser, how would they see it? So we’ll just design it based on people being able to see what they are doing.

I am encouraged by some recent examples of incorporating accessibility in digital design. WordPress, for example, requires that “all new and updated WordPress code must conform with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at level AA”. The upcoming St. Louis Service Design and UX Conference has accessibility as a focus; I hope that the speakers will at least touch on this idea of inclusionary design. And I am especially encouraged by the growing (slowly growing, but growing) awareness and use of human-centered design principles.

But none of this matters if “accessibility” continues to be seen as something separate from the main design, an add-on for the “others” that can’t use the “real” version.

We need to become inclusionary not just in our design work, but in how we see the world as a whole.

 

 

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Design choices – web browsers

In addition to the many different features implemented in the various Web browsers, there are many  different decisions and choices made in the design of the features common across browsers. Some make sense to me and some don’t. For example…

Right-clicking

Right clicking a link provides several options for interacting with the link, the options being different based on browser features. The most common of these options, listed at the top of the right-click list, are options for opening the link,  typically “Open in new tab” or “Open in new window”. In IE11, however, the top option on right-click is simply “Open”.

rightclickdesign

What decision process went it including the “Open” option on right-click in IE11?  Did the designers think that a lot of people would want the first option on right-click to be exactly the same option as simply left clicking? Indeed, how many people right-click and select “Open” when they could simply left-click and open the link?

Smart card authentication

I use a smart card to authenticate to our organizational websites. Different browsers have a different visual design of the dialog for selecting certificates and entering PINs, which makes sense to match the overall visual design of the browser. But the on-screen location of these dialogs differs in interesting, and significant, ways.

In Chrome, for example, the certificate selection dialog is displayed at the center-top of the browser window while the PIN entry dialog is displayed at the center of the screen. If you have the browser in full screen this is the center of the browser, otherwise not. This can be especially irritating if you have a multi-screen setup and you are using Chrome on the non-default screen: the PIN entry dialog will show up on a completely different screen from the browser in which you are working.

In IE, on the other hand, both the certificate selection and PIN entry dialogs are displayed in the center of the browser window. Not only is this more intuitive (to me, anyway), it provides consistency of location for all actions related to logging in via smart card.

Update: It turns out that IE doesn’t do this universally. When sending a digitally signed email using the smart card in Outlook Web Access, the PIN entry window is displayed in the center of the screen (the default screen if you have more than one). 

Were these conscious design decisions for placement of the smart card related dialogs? Did each of the design teams look at both options (center screen and center window) and simply make a difference decision? If so, what drove that decision? Or perhaps this is just default behavior for these types of actions based on the overall design and code of the browser. Perhaps something to do with the underlying OS (in this case Windows) since smart card authentication requires interaction with the OS?

Intentional or incidental

These are just the two design differences that I notice most frequently, I’m sure there are many many more. I can’t help wondering are these choices intentional or incidental? Is it possible to make an intentional decision about every design element? Is it desirable?

How intentional are you about the design of your products, and how much of the design simply “is”?

From mobile first to mobile native

Now, though, I think we can see an evolution beyond ‘mobile first’. What happens if you just forget about the PC altogether? But also, what happens if you forget about featurephones? What happens if you presume all of the sophistication that a modern smartphone has and a PC does not, and if you also presume that, with 650m iPhones in use and 2.5bn smartphones in total, you can build a big company without thinking about the low end anymore?

Source: From mobile first to mobile native

h/t @rubicon49bc

Microsoft Surface Studio: The engineering beneath floating pixels

“We’re not here to get to show off our work, we’re here to make awesome products,” says Hill. “I think that’s super important.” It’s a belief that’s reflected by Groene, too. “If the work is not good inside, the product cannot be good on the outside,” he says, noting that you’re squeezing a lot of technology into small volumes.

MICROSOFT SURFACE STUDIO: THE ENGINEERING BENEATH FLOATING PIXELS

The Future of Design: When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It | Don Norman

“It is as if we are traveling along a road when we come to a fork with two possible routes forward. One, the traditional role of design as a craft, creates beauty and pleasure in our lives, using the ever increasing powers of technology to create wonderful experiences. The other, that of design thinking, becomes a method of thought and discovery, approaching the major issues of the world with new eyes, addressing the fundamental root causes, not the symptoms, but always with primary focus and attention to the people: human-centered design. No more should the focus be on economic productivity, on monetary measures. Instead, the new design philosophy with its focus upon people puts the long-term health and happiness of people as the major item of concern, which also means addressing the major issues of our time: health, famine, environment, inequity, and education. ”

Source: The Future of Design: When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It | Don Norman | Pulse | LinkedIn

Design Better Forms — uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design

Whether it is a signup flow, a multi-view stepper, or a monotonous data entry interface, forms are one of the most important components of digital product design. This article focuses on the common dos and don’ts of form design. Keep in mind that these are general guideline and there are exceptions to every rule.

Source: Design Better Forms — uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design

h/t @jcantroot