Written by Eloise Cleary
During my second year of Product Design at university, my course embraced a subject dedicated to research methods. I distinctly remember the shrugs and groans in the lecture hall at the thought of having to do research, meaning we had to conduct user interviews and observations, stakeholder mapping and design ethnography all prior to the design of our products – the fun part.
Flash forward three years after graduating honours, my job is leading research and training other designers how to incorporate effective human-centred design research methods throughout their design process – with the additional inclusive lens of involving Edge Users.
What is an Edge User?
An Edge User is defined by their diverse lived experiences, those who are traditionally considered as marginalised community members. As a result of societal norms, Edge Users are often neglected from traditional target market research. However, by articulating their experiences with barriers in products, systems and services, Edge Users are a rich stakeholder and are essential in creating inclusive designs.
My appreciation for human-centred design took a drastic positive turn during my honours year, where I collaborated with a cohort of female transtibial (below-knee) amputees to reimagine the physical and emotional design of their prosthetic limbs. As I progressed from a university context to working in the industry at Centre for Inclusive Design (CfID), I discovered Inclusive Design, which exercises human-centred design methodology with a focus on the Edge Users.
Developing best practice.
At CfID I was introduced to the three dimensions of Inclusive Design, the second being ‘Inclusive processes and tools’ or ‘Nothing about us, without us’, which aims to enforce diversity of experience reflected in design teams. As part of my role I facilitate participatory design sessions, creating a collaborative environment for stakeholders’ including Edge Users to design inclusive design solutions. As a result of numerous (too many to count) participant sessions, I started to develop an understanding of best practice when working with diverse user groups, especially different disability groups, including; mobility disability, Deaf and hard of hearing, blind and low vision, cognitive and intellectual disability.
My first interactions with blind and low vision users unearthed the world of assistive technologies, including screen readers (software that converts text and image content to a speech or braille output). As a user experience designer, understanding the user’s needs, environment and their varying technologies is paramount to understanding their diverse experiences.
Screen reader fun fact: Did you know some frequent screen reader users can listen up to 22 syllables per second meaning screen reader users can read documents faster than sighted users reading with their eyes. (Maier, 2020)
Learning through experience.
Typically, designers use generalised data to justify their design decisions, this hinders the product or services’ experience for anyone who doesn’t fit the generalised mould. At CfID our co-design methodology inverts this malpractice, and we champion these overlooked voices, highlighting their unique lived experiences. Through our inclusive recruitment processes, we are able to capture a diverse range of perspectives in all our projects. Consider when recruiting participants who are blind or low vision, what might some unexpected barriers be? Personally, I’ve experienced a few shortcomings (I like to call them learning experiences) early on in my career. Picture this, you are preparing for your first session with a blind participant, you have prepared all your material and technology, they arrive on site and you present them with a paper consent form. How was this person meant to consent without an accessible version for them to read? A simple solution to this – design an accessible digital copy and send it to the screen reader user prior to review. Lucky for me, all my learning experiences have not been replicated more than once.
This knowledge emerged into a training workshop, later titled ‘Working with Edge Users’, whereby I share my learning experiences, outlining the benefits of designing with Edge Users, co-design methodologies, terminology considerations, how to set up an inclusive environment, followed by a Q&A with people with lived experience of disability – this is where the real magic happens.
What Inclusive Design means to me.
As a designer of anything and everything we can take part in a design challenge to defy standardised design practices for the betterment of society. What does this mean? In simple terms it means introducing a diversity of perspectives from a range of considerations into our processes including; age, gender, ability, cultural background in order to mitigate unconscious bias.
Personally, my design goal is to empower people by recognising their uniqueness and aim to evoke positive product interactions with a broader market.
To speak to Eloise and find out more about Working with Edge Users and Inclusive Design, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maier, A. (2020, December 14). How screen readers read the web, TopDesk Accessibility. https://techblog.topdesk.com/accessibility/how-screen-reader-users-read-the-web/.