Just a short post about 3 professional biases in user research that prevent making accessible or inclusive products and services. These are some basic ideas of the normal, on what it is to be human, and how such definitions of being human exclude so many people.
I am not saying do not use them. I am saying be aware of how you use them and involve people with different ideas and viewpoints on them. Normal is a comforting place to view problems from but it is not the right place.
I work as a Sensory Design Consultant and how people presume a very tight ideal of how humans sense and perceive is a problem.
There are a couple of major questions.
- Do you consider sensory hierarchies and preferences different to your own?
- Do you specify perceptual meanings in the use of product or services that are locked to your sensory preferences?
The first question is about Accessibility. If you do not design for the wide range of sensory capacities (and impairments) of people then you exclude many from being able to use your design.
The second question is about respect and person-centred design. If you centre your design around your preferences (let us say visual design with lots of colours and text mixed in) then you exclude people from feeling it is their space, their product or their service.
Perception is a mix of senses, cognition and mental models. How vast this space is important to recognise. Not just in the sense of offering options to people with specific impairments but in designing products that meet tge extraordinary capacties of people across the globe.
The second Per is Perspective. This is the one that concerns me most.
One definition of Sentience is intelligence, perspective and opinion. Having a personal perspective is founded in our embodied presence in the world. You are in a place, a time and in a body.
Perspective matters but, as with perception, you need to recognise the inherent egotism of having a personal viewpoint. This sense of where you are and how you look around you.
Perception makes you feel your way of sensing is the right one. Perspective makes you feel your viewpoint is the right one.
The biggest danger here is the creation of Edge Users. If where you stand is the normal perspective then people who do not share it are in the ‘wrong’ place. You start mapmaking and creating boundaries. You are HERE. They are THERE. If here is normal then over there cannot be. You make edges and place people on them.
Being able to shift perspectives is a good thing but, more importantly, employing and invloving people with a diversity of perspectives is necessary. Diversity as strategic thinking.
Finally, the Per of Percentage. That sense of using categories and analysis to judge who is valid and who is worth designing a product or service for.
Allocating percentage marks to pupils by grading to the (normal) curve is typical for schools and colleges and this pattern continues as we live the rest of our lives. We collect figures to judge value and then analyse them to judge worth. We fragment people into demographic categories and then draw lines to define In groups and Out groups. Who is valid enough to receive a service. Who is worth enough to design a usable product for them.
Business cases and business models are founded in percentage. Excel spreadsheets are used to calculate and prove validity and worth.
Again, it is not that this is necessary wrong (though the massive levels of exclusion created by such ‘rational’ calculations is deeply concerning) but knowing that the tools are not acting independently of personal and political biases matters. How we collect and analyse data has serious consequences. Automating those judgements does not mean we lose responsibility for those consequences.
This is only a quick post about 3 things that bias research and analysis. Just be aware of them when working. Shift how you approach them and, most importantly, involve and employ more people with diverse and divergent life experiences and opinions.