When we design for the “average” person, we design for no one. One of my favorite books, The End of Average, opens with the story of how, during World War II, the US Air Force faced a high death rate — pilots were unable to control their planes, which led to crashes, often fatal. The reasons remained a mystery for years until a young lieutenant named Gilbert Daniels discovered that the core problem was the design of the cockpit. Aircraft designers had been designing cockpits based on the body dimensions of the average man, and guess what? When they set aside their assumptions and actually studied thousands of pilots, it turned out that not a single one fit the average on all 10 dimensions they measured. By designing for the average, they built cockpits that fit no one.
OK, but what’s a designer supposed to do? Design custom cockpits for each pilot? No. The solution is to account for peoples’ different traits in the first place in the design. For example, in the case of fighter planes, think adjustable seats. And in the case of websites, think content that’s available in multiple formats (e.g., visual and auditory) to account for the various ways people form perceptions depending on their sensory abilities — otherwise, they may not be able to perceive what you have to say (or sell) at all.
The lesson here is that people (and the ways they perceive) are different, and if we don’t design for those differences, the consequences can be dire. In the case of fighter planes, they can be deadly. In the case of websites, they can result in companies missing out on benefits such as access to new markets, lower development costs, increased talent retention, reduced risk, and a better experience for all customers.
The way to seize these benefits is to embrace an inclusive design strategy. But most companies — and I speak to many — don’t know how to do this because it’s not easy. It requires that you:
1) Overcome common myths. From the “80/20 rule” to “you’ll uncover almost all usability issues after testing with five users,” companies have fallen victim to ways of thinking that fail to account for how customers’ different traits affect how they form perceptions.
2) Evolve the toolkit. Many companies use personas, but few challenge themselves to ask questions like “What if a customer in this persona is visually impaired?” Or “What if a customer in this persona doesn’t speak English as a first language? How will they perceive this solution?” Seizing the inclusive design opportunity lets us evolve how we use tools like these when designing experiences.
3) Rethink who we include in the design process. From who we recruit for research to the definition of what it means to engage a “multifunctional team” in design sprints, inclusive design challenges companies to be smarter and think differently about who to engage (employees and customers) and how in the design process.
I’ll be keynoting on how to adopt a winning inclusive design strategy (based on the wide variety of ways people form perceptions) at Forrester’s CX SF 2019 Forum, which will be on October 17 and 18 at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. My colleagues and I will be joined by leaders from several innovative companies who will share their stories.
Want to join us, too? Register for CX SF 2019. I hope to see you there!