A story that only appeals to a very narrow subset of readers, and you.
I hadn’t thought much about the bird scooter, until that night. Alone at last, walking the dog, wondering if the kids would go to bed by nine, or make us struggle until 10 like usual; I wondered about my nightly series of unfortunate events as I stared longingly at the scooter, eager to be the kind of person who would fork over a credit card and take off on this instrument of death. I pondered how someone came up with this magnificent idea for easy transportation and there it was perched on the sidewalk, blocking my path, and ostensibly making someone a lot of money. After closer inspection, I simply took away one primary message from this vapid encounter with a scooter: not for me.
A million-and-a-half years ago, I would have taken that bird for a spin and been eager to share the experience with friends. I was the all-or-nothing, free-spirited type who never shied away from a challenge or adventure. My passion was — and still is — user experience research and design. They go together like two birds of a feather, you might say, and I buzzed about in a big city, moonlighting, talking, making, sharing and learning all that the UX community could offer. That was until 3.5 years ago, when I became an “accessorized user” with “accessibility” challenges.
Being a mom to three kids under four, plus a 65-pound Labrador, is wrought with new challenges: “Did I cut the grapes small enough” and “omg catch that runaway grape before the dog gets it” kind of problems…not the sort of banter that highfalutin business-minded folk would bother themselves with. So, here I am, lugging around three hungry, wiggly, noisy accessories and plagued by severe limits on time, memory, and often, physical ability (read: I’ve literally got my hands full). But in my little family, for a small blip of time in our evolution, I make the world go ‘round.
I am not an edge case
If you think this topic is insignificant and designing for inclusivity doesn’t mean designing to include parents, think again. Around 30% of households in Europe and North America have 2 or more children. If you work on products that touch Asia, Latin America, and Africa, upwards of 60–80% of households have more than 3 children. Add to this consideration that parents on the other end matter too; our parents, who often cohabitate with their adult children. In Europe and North America, where people live longer and the general population is older, one-third of households include at least one person over 60 years old.
“In countries of Europe and Northern America, where more than 15 per cent of the total population is aged 60 years or over, a third of the households include at least one older person among their members.” — UN Study on Households
What does it all mean to us? It means family sizes matter to everyone who wants to design for inclusivity and accessibility. We are not islands — we are products of the environments in which we live — and we must account for such dynamics when designing for maximum usability for all. Living in a resource-constrained and “stretched too thin” world is the new normal.
The one-arm bandit
Accessibility challenges are about more than disability. Microsoft’s design team came up with more realistic personas, a sort of anti-persona that aimed for greater inclusivity. The result was a stunning look at how humans actually exist in their environments. It turns out we are not static robots with one set of capabilities forever, no…we are dynamic and multi-faceted, one day hopping on a bird with no limitations and the next day carrying a baby in a sling and pushing a stroller while typing this article on an iPhone. The persona spectrums from Microsoft’s design team take personas a step further to illustrate both temporary and situational impairments that gracefully encapsulate this idea of differently-abled humans.
“We use these spectrums to ideate and iterate in the design process alongside a series of physical, social, economic, temporal, cultural contexts.”
So what’s a concrete example of designing for parents, you may wonder? This is admittedly extreme but my mind is mush and I need a tool to help me function in the world again; a tool that serves as a gentle reminder when I have overlooked something. I would love my phone to remind me when a contact has texted me asking for my address to send me a holiday card and I have peeked at the message (changing its status to read and therefore ignoring it in the future) but have not yet had the chance to respond. I do enjoy that once I start typing “my address is”….the phone brings in my address quickly (one less thing to remember!) but I would have liked an additional poke to say, “hey you forgot to get back to so-and-so two days ago, would you like to reply now?”. That would help me to un-clutter my brain somewhat.
Automation is king
The world has become so automated; I swear “there’s an app for that” is not an overstatement for anything anymore. I’ve got an app to hire a dog walker, a housecleaner, a babysitter, a meal or grocery delivery, and a hundred others, but none of these solutions go far enough to reduce the mental and physical workload of childrearing.
Some integration between these apps would be nice! Zapier, maybe? Or a WiFi connected visual hub that handles my appointments, checklists, contacts, and is voice-activated so I can just yell at it to add something (hey Siri…you there? I need a cheeseburger). And while I’m dreaming, a beautiful physical interface with multiple touch points around the house and car would be nice; something I can hang on the wall (not in my TV, please) so as to not forget about it but that also integrates with my mobile devices.
Plus, my dream solution needs to have facial recognition so I don’t have to touch anything to unlock it and see what’s going on (thanks, kids, for ruining everything that is not locked up). Hands-free everything for the win! And adaptive sound, ’cause the baby is screaming and I can’t hear a thing that was just said. Come to think of it, can I spell words to it instead of saying them aloud, so my 3.5 year old won’t know I am ordering ice cream from DoorDash?
Designing for real life doesn’t have to be hard but it does take thoughtful planning and consideration. I get it, some products are geared toward very narrow use cases and inclusivity is not a main driver (think: people using specific medical devices to treat illnesses). I get it. Products do not have to be designed to include non-user groups, obviously. By the same token, however, we should not disregard “outliers” (like me) when designing for products (that will reach me) perched perilously on the sidewalk, with my dog and my stroller. Until next time, bird.
Siri: set a reminder to refill the dog poop bags on the leash.