Designing for Our Future Ability


 We are ruining our future…but we can still fix it.

It’s been roughly 24hrs since Pattie Moore reduced the 2016 UX Australia audience to tears, several times, in her closing keynote in an emotionally cathartic rollercoaster.

Pattie, retold her life journey and beyond, her career in a male dominated industrial design practice, her early fight to understand the prejudices we have against the old, the homeless and the poor, first hand – disguised as an elderly homeless woman. She told us of her deep personal sacrifice for this cause. Her single-handed championing of the causes of those less able, her fight for universal and inclusive design.

This was a massive emotional wake up call for everyone in the room, and you know I think we needed it.

As Dan Szuc said in 2015, we have been asleep, walking like zombies, designing without seeing. With this one talk, I hope Patti has woken up the Australian experience design community to the problems around the future we are building for ourselves.

On a side note, I found this was personally one of the hardest sketchnotes I have ever done, trying to stay emotional stable and detached at the time was an effort of shear will power and emotional redirection. Pushing this welling up of tears and sadness of the injustice into the drawing.

The cause of inclusive design, universal design or its subset for agism is something that has been close to my heart for a long time, you might not think that, going of my recent performance. I haven’t really been banging any drum loudly of late. But that’s another story.

Several things really struck a cord with me from this talk.

Our lens is wrong on inclusive design.

We are looking at inclusive design the wrong way. We have been thinking about designing for the disability, to give access to all.

Now in principle this is good.

However we are going about it the wrong way, it’s a subtle thing. We have been priming of our minds with a bias toward seeing this part of our community as “different”, as “outsiders”, as “over there”, not in our tribe., designing around the element they are excluded from.

What we should be doing is designing for their abilities, just like we design for the abilities of everyone “able”.

In reality if you think about it everyone is “able” it just we use different abilities to produce our ableness.

When we design a website for the blind person, currently we design for a lack of vision. And tailor the experience as required, for no vision. This doesn’t consider the person, it just slaps a band-aid on the situation, it screams, that’ll do, we don’t value you much.  Move on.

For example, I’m writing this in an airline lounge, as I wait for my plane.   Now let’s look closely at the facilities of this lounges, are they really build for people who don’t all have able bodies abilities. Yeah sure there are ramps, tactical flooring, the usual toilets and staff that are very helpful.

While an effort has been made, I really do wonder if the facilities give the same convenience, the experience to “everyone” able or not.   I would love to hear from people who have first hand knowledge or experiences in this area.

We should be looking at what attributes they have supplemented and adapted with to normalise their life. Increased senses are usually the adaptation point here. The experience should be still the same, but it’s like allowing for someone with extra abilities, extra skills, almost like super powers.

But you know that’s not my main take away. Not the one that’s going to kick you out of your laziness.

 We are all going to get old and die.

While we have been busy designing products and services and generally making the experience better for our customers, we really haven’t been focusing on our own futures.   We have been designing for the here and now, the young, the sexy, the cashed up, the literate.

We have allowed a society and culture to grow up around us that has toxic elements to it; promoting and marginalising the older members of our society.

Be this from employment, provision of aged care, giving to products supporting the general day to day reduction of ability physically and cognitive function that happens when you get older. We seem to be instead developing a general viewpoint towards ignoring these people.

We, yes us, the designers, are just as much to blame, we have been conditioning people to focus on the sexy, the young, the fortunate, the healthy. Generally in everything we do and every product we produce it’s about the young and able.

We have been designing for the here and now, the young, the sexy, the cashed up, the literate.

I’m not just talking about the flashy commercial products from agency-land; besides a handful of supportive products everything isn’t really that inclusive.

For example, while we wait in a queue at the shops, we have becoming pre programmed into thinking, “let’s not get stuck behind that old lady getting these groceries, she’s going to take forever at the self checkout”.   Have developed a biases against the aged?   Do we ignore them or just get frustrated?

Ironically, we’re really to blame, we have just made it too hard for people less able, from the depth of the trolley, the height of bench, to the flow of the machine interface.

When we see older people using technology, we automatically think they are going to have problems – they just don’t get it. We step in and help sometimes, but do we fix the core problem, no we patch it.

As experience designers we have dropped the ball and kicked it far away across the crowded park. We are to blame.

The problem can be as simple as in those meetings over the design, when we should have dug in our heals in and been the noise difficult person. Instead we just sat back and designed for the everyday tech literate 30 year old. We took the easy road, that’s okay it’s human nature. Have, we really provided the company a benefit for “all” their customers, I don’t think so.

Don’t believe me, I have a challenge for you. Next time you are out and about, shadow some older people (60+), watch them very closely, I can guarantee they are going have issues with all sorts of situations.   Even better go up to them, help them out and maybe start a conversation, as experience designers you may learn something.   Hopefully you are seeing the problem.

What makes it worse, that is our future, we are training junior designers to be like us and not push the aging members away.

We have a toxic throwaway society.

Sadly it seems like now we have reached a situation that if you are over 50 you are considered washed up and pointless.

Has our society become the dystopic future for the young giving us only 15 seconds of fame, then our life is effectively over.

Now this may have been acceptable when your life expectancy was around 68, and you retired at 65; but with today’s modern medical advances people who are 50 today could be facing a future life expectancy of 100+. That means we are throwing away a chunk of our society at middle age.

God help you if you get to retirement, it’s even worse, unless you are working, that’s another issue.

We just want to shuffle them off to an aged care facility. Now these places are staffed by very caring people, that are completely overworked, and under resourced; they do their best. But really it is society (us) that is to blame. We are just pushing the aged away, away to a place to stagnate and die. If we don’t like a problem, give it to someone else, outsource it.

And you know what makes this very personal – this is the exact situation that I’m in right now. Am I marginalized, washed up?  Is my life over?

I’m putting my hand up, I don’t like or want this future.

Just as we have discrimination for race, sex we are facing a subtle discrimination and marginalization of the aged.   Tell me, how many Experience Design and Service Design firms have practicing staff over 50, besides the founders, I’m curious, anyone out there?

Why do we have this problem, is it fear of replacement, lack of understanding, assumptions on lack of flexibility / adaptability in the workplace, bad leadership, age being an authority figure.

As experience design professionals, we seem to have restricted and blinkered our views, we have reduce our empathy to the silo around us, to just the age and type of people in our tribe. And let’s be frank here it’s mostly people under forty, the old crew like me are small in number.

What can we do about it?

First off, it’s simple, stop, let’s understand it. Then we can fix it. We really do have the skills, techniques, frameworks and methodology to really affect change, so let’s do it. Put aside these pointless app and corporate hack-a-thons let’s try and solve a real complex problem.

We need to look around, really see and listen to the older people around you, do you have a real mix of old and young friends. Do you know the stories of the homeless, the aged, the old guy on the bus, that you pass every day.

Look at what projects are you working on, what job are you doing. Is it just meaninglessly work, polishing a product to increasing a share price. Are you just robotically doing experience design or are you creating experiences that will make a change to society.

Do you ignore this problem, when you encounter it, and just whisper lip service around inclusive design. Have you become that inhuman and non-empathic seeing but not really seeing what is happening around you; just sleepwalking.

We are building this future, our future; and that scares the crap out of me. We are reaping what we sow.

Or are you making a difference, even in small ways, for everyone, the poor, the tech illiterate, the aging and those with different abilities.

If you aren’t, why not, seriously, why not?

I understand, you have to earn a living.  However in most places we as experience design professionals, are in demand. It’s a sellers market in experience design, at the moment.  Most places want our skills, but can’t find the right people. Are you using that to send a strong cultural message to effect some change.

In most businesses the boardroom has given us a seat at the table, we just don’t know it, it’s up to us to take it up and ask those hard questions as to why not.

You know what does make me chuckle on this problem, you and me, we are building this future, our future; and that scares the crap out of me. We are reaping what we sow.

But it doesn’t have to be that way; we have the skills, the power to stop it.

Sure some people aren’t going to like it, but you know most business just following stupid decisions time after time, repeating a poisonous culture and don’t think on the big picture, as experience designers we do, let’s show them how, take them on a journey to a better place, a step at a time.

Let’s design for peoples ability, design for our future, and kill this problem dead.

I really do think we have the possibility to turn this around, if we all just push have one little change at a time, after all the design is the details.

It’s our future, let’s build a better experience for us and bring the world with us.

Let’s fix it.

First published on Linkedin Pulse and Medium August 2016 

Enterprise and Design Ethics


I have worked with a good number of developers, designers and clients over the last 25 years, all having different view points and ways of working. For this I am very grateful, there is nothing like encountering something new to snap you out of your comfort zone, and help you take stock of what you’re doing.

However I have noticed something recently in the enterprise world that just doesn’t seem right. In fact it had the inner designer in me screaming, leaving a bitter after taste.

Design Experts in the Room.

Now as a designer, or even developers acting as designers, we are seen as the experts in the room in terms of design.

We are the people with the experience, the knowledge. We are the people that the managers and directors are looking to for the nugget of inspiration, for that innovative solution to move things forward. At the end of the day we are the ones that understand the customers and business needs completely, or should be.

I’m not doing to bang on about using a Human Centred Design approach or getting out and doing some customer research, we all know that is a given, right?

What I’m talking about here is the design itself. the quality of that design.

But, you could say, “Hang on, sometimes the client knows the customer better”. – Well yes, maybe they do, and yes, they can contribute to the design.

It is possible that the client understand the views and expectations of their current customers better than the design team. But I can count on one hand when this has occurred in my entire career. Most of the time they have sacrificed that knowledge for a seat at the table and are operating on an outdated baseline. This makes the best designer in the room – the designer.

Rise of the Bobble Heads.

What I’m seeing time and time again is the designer not excising this right and expectation of being the expert in the room. They will sit and agree with management in meetings like a row of bobble heads.

These designers are instead defaulting to what the “manager” wants, or what the “director of finance” wants. They are doing this, knowing full well that the outcome will be completely unusable and not designed at all for inclusivity.

I’m seeing senior to lead designers just do as they are told, like a robotic intern, colouring in the wireframes, providing and approving horrible unreadable interfaces with poor colour contrast, bad layout or the like.

When I gently ask why? They just shrug and say, “It’s what they want. I’m just the designer, it’s their project”.

Now I’m all for letting things fail and iterating, letting a bad design decision go forward to see it fail and be corrected.

But what happens next is the problem. A good deal of the designers just give up. No correction, they don’t even point out the bad design principles, they just let it ride. No speaking up, no rocking the boat, just nodding bobble heads.

The designs are approved and railroaded into production. The designer just moves onto the next project, leaving the customers and stakeholders with an unusable system.

“But, sometimes you can’t win,” you say. Yes, I too have dealt with directors that wanted to help design the product, but there are multiple ways of dealing with this and explaining your design and process and allowing for this senior collaboration. In fact, if done well this can be a benefit to all.

Speaking Up.

I have always considered that as designers we have a moral and ethical duty to stand up and disrupt the room, to say when the “suggested” design needs a little (well a lot of) tweaking. To be the voice of reason, the voice of the customer.

We have a duty of care to our clients and customers to protect them from bad design. Sometimes this means protecting them from themselves.

Instead I’m just seeing nodding bobble heads.

Have we left our sense of morality, our ethics of design behind in the quest to just get the project done, to just push out that user story? Is quality just not a goal we seek anymore?

What has happened, have we as enterprise based designers, become too robotic, too uncaring of our customers to have become the nodding bobble heads, that just do the job?

What do you think, have you encountered this behaviour? Please tell me I have missed something?

First published in Linkedin Pulse and Medium – March 2016

Biases, UX Validation and GOOB


Walk Sign

There is a big movement to support project teams getting out of the building (GOOB) to validate product assumptions and the like.

This is a great thing, the more users and customers project teams talk to the better. After-all something is better than nothing, right?

However I have seen this research done very poorly to the extent it is pointless.

Often the people going out have no experience, have not been taught the basics and haven’t even had a few “dry runs” on their approach or questions.

This can lead to all the information captured being worthless.   In fact it can be worse than that, sometimes it can re-enforces the belief that the team is approaching things the right way, when in fact they are not.

Bias to Watch for.

There are a whole series of tricks that our minds play on us (biases) that we can bring with us, even before we start talking to people.  And even then there are some that can come to light during questioning from the interviewee and interviewer.

Interviewer biases:

  • Confirmation Bias

    This is one of the major ones we always have to look for.  It’s the tendency to interpret information only that confirms your preconceptions.  In a way we force the conformity, by only examining what we think is right.  Often we make assumptions and don’t completely review the facts as they stand due to this bias.   Causality comes into play here.

  • Affective Heuristic

    This is where we make decisions for an outcome based on superficial evaluations, which aren’t relevant to the study at hand.   We look for confirmation by anchoring and diagnosis.

  • Diagnosis Bias

    This is our tendency to label people based on our first impressions.   Once we label like this it is very difficult for us to change this preconception.

  • Anchoring

    This is when we rely on one trait or information too heavily to support a finding, decision or hypothesis. We will start to change our perception and discount other traits in favour of one aspect that we are focusing on.   When we anchor we often extrapolate on an aspect of a person and that influences our approach to the subject.

  • Acquiescence Bias

    Avoid asking questions that are basically in a agree or disagree in format will lead to distinct patterning towards one outcome, usually agreeing.   People tend to agree with others as the path of least resistance.

  • Question Order Bias

    There can be a degree of bias from the way you ask the questions.  A rule of thumb is to use this order:  General before Specific, Positive before Negative, Behavioural before Attitude.

Interviewee biases:

  • Consistency Bias

    Some people may try and be consist in their answers.  This means the first answer will influence and taint the following responses, even if they are negative.

  • Memory / Error Bias

    Human memory isn’t that good, we tend to make mistakes and gloss over bad points in our memory or reduce the impact of them.

  • Availability Heuristic

    We can remember or imagine vivid, easy to picture yet uncommon events first. Also recent events are often recalled first over past events. This is the old fading memory trick.

  • Hindsight Bias

    Once we know about something, we find it hard to recall when we didn’t know about it. This does not help with learning from failures.

  • Hostility Bias

    Some people will just be hostile with an interviewer and provide negative responses.   If it gets to short angry replies, let them go.  There may also be prejudicial bias in play as well.

  • Acceptance Bias

    Sometimes people answer questions a certain way just to please the interviewer and to be accepted by them.  They will interpret what they believe they think the interviewer wants to hear, not their own views.

  • Social Acceptance Bias

    Interviewees may only provide information that is socially acceptable within a conservative society.  They will warp the truth or just offer up half-truths.   This is based on people wanting to conform and belong to a group.   Indirect questions usually uncover the real direction.

  • Mood Bias 

    People can be in an extreme emotion state, and you will not know it.   This will be reflected in their answers.  For example executives or medical professionals tend to give short, clipped answers, usually due to stress.

  • Overstatement Bias

    It’s not unusual for people to overstate their opinions on a subject.   This is particularly true with purchasing decisions.  Watch out for this one, combined with acceptance bias and it’s a game changer.

  • Reference / Framing Bias

    Watch for people extending a frame of reference from one question into an unrelated question.  As this will change the outcome, as they will force the replying to the perceived frame of reference.

  • Associative Bias

    People can sometime know the brand or even the company you are from, they may have an opinion on that company.  This association will influence their response and bias it.   It’s better to conduct questioning in an environment devoid of branding.

The Right Questions

Asking the right questions when you “Get out of the Building” is critical.   Usually you only get one chance at this.

You want:

  • Clear and Specific Questions

    Ensure the question is clear with a defined intent on what you are asking about.

  • One Question at a Time

    Only ask on question at a time, this way the interviewee can focus on the question and respond to it fully.

  • Open Questions

     These are questions that allow people to fill in the gaps, they allow people to tell a story or expand on a short answer.  Open questions can’t be answered with a yes or no reply.

  • Neutral Questions

    These are questions that don’t favour or suggest a direction.

  • Deeper Probing Questions

    These allow you to prompt the interviewee for more information.

  • Balanced Questions

    You need to consider non-sexist, non-discriminatory questions. Now I’m not saying that they need to be completely politically correct.  Just watch the way you say things.

You don’t want:

  • No Leading Questions

    These are one of the biggest issues, I have found.  Questions that give people a predirected response and presenting a certain viewpoint.

  • No Emotional Intent

     Ask people if they like or hate an idea or product.   To avoid this ask them instead what they want to achieve with the product.

  • No Jargon Loaded Questions

    Avoid asking questions that are filled with industry jargon, from UX, tech, to business or government speak.   Make it very clear and easy to define everything in a question.

  • No Short Answers

    If the interviewee is giving short answers, let them go, move on, you are just wasting both your time and theirs.

Any questions you prepare should be tested on people outside your team or better your audience before you get out of the building or consider the results valid.

Just treat this as case of micro iterative development, it’s just to ensure the question has no bias to start with, that it makes sense, and is in the language of the customer.

Probing Questions

Often the first response to question no matter how open can be limited.  It’s then that you need consider finding more depth by probing questions such as:

  • What did you do then?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Tell me how you did that?
  • Tell me more about that?
  • Why is this important to you?

Appearance and Body Language

Your appearance, and body language can severely influence the outcome of any questioning.

What you wear can be critical, in some ways you need to mirror the dress codes of the people you are questioning.

The tone of your voice, mannerisms, facial expressions, style of speech all influence people.    Also consider age, gender, race, and social status, like it or not these also can change peoples perceptions.

Body language is a big aspect of this, you need to practice non-aggressive, neutralising gestures and be very aware of the limits of peoples personal space as you approach them.

If you can control some of these aspect do so, as that first impression people get of you will set the level of bias you will encounter.

Don’t go Alone

I would recommend doing everything in pairs, anything bigger is a group and frankly a little intimidating to some people.

By doing research with someone else is of great benefit.  You will be able to have one person focus on the questions, and another focus on collecting the response, including any body language cues.   It’s these other cues that are often more important that what is said.

You will both notice different things at different times, so remember to debrief.

Beyond the Questions

General research such as face-to-face interviewing, surveying and questioning is great but there will be times that you need to consider more intense methods to validate your assumptions such as:

  • A day in the life studies
  • Ethnographic studies
  • Contextual enquiries
  • Shadowing

Don’t let this all stop you getting out of the building, just consider that maybe you need a little assistance in doing so,  after all you want to maximise your outcomes from your research.

Group Voting – Watch the Bias


Melbourne Street Art 2011

Recently I have been noticing a heavy group biasing effect with internal teams. This seems to be occurring a great deal around any visible voting system such as Dot Voting.

This has been to the extent that people are voting down the real intent and privately desired outcomes in favour of a conservative group safe outcome. Which is usually not what is wanted.

Dot Voting

Currently dot voting is achieved by handing out a nominated number of dots (votes) and these are placed in full view of  group members on the nominated items, with the previous votes visible at the same time.

This type of voting process usually occurs when we have a limited number of selections, like after a brainstorming session, affinity or any decision making process.  The selection at this point is usually just to allow for filtering of ideas that move forward.

As you can see this means that the complete group dynamics of dominate personalities, internal relationships and the like will come to into effect and change or direct outcomes.

For example, if a participant doesn’t like the way a manager voted they may vote the other way just to counter their vote.

This means that we are not going to get a really true indicator of what people are thinking and how they are evaluating the items without running into the groupthink bias.

Not something we really want, sure it can’t be helped, but we can try and minimise the manipulation of the results.

 What We Need

What we need is a process that can just simply help to remove the bias.

Ideally we want to allow people to:

  • Vote quickly
  • Vote without scrutiny
  • Vote in private
  • Vote without reference of the current results

This means that we may have to consider taking the process off the wall.

Even so we still we need the process to be:

  • Logistically easy to do.
  • Easy to implement.
  • Easy to tally results.

Ideally why not just take the post-its for the items concerned off the wall and vote privately.  This would be good, but you know there would be biasing on some people recognising the handwriting and voting accordingly.  Also the major negative would be in  managing the volume of large research discovery processes with hundreds of items.

This leaves us with a separate quickly transcribing a handwritten list showing the relevant items.   However that doesn’t allow people to see the context of the information that makes up a category for instance.  This would also slow the process down as the list is compiled.

During the voting process you basically want to hide the votes and yet also not allow any hint that there is a preference for one item over another.

Alternative System

Now if we considering that we just want to use the resources we have on hand, dots, postits and sharpies, then any process change has to be simple.

Let’s consider this:.

  1. Hand out the dots as normal.
  2. Hand out postits.
  3. Allocated a unique number to each participant.
  4. Each participant writes their unique number on the front of their postits.
  5. Approach the wall, for the first item.
  6. Vote on the back (the sticky side) of the postit with the dots.
  7. Each participant then places the voted postit on the wall, number visible.
  8. No vote, then just place a numbered postit on the wall.
  9. Move onto the next item.

Write Number, Vote, Place on wall.

This way the votes are hidden, but can be amended, as a participant knows which are their votes.  Tallying is easy.    You can’t tell really who voted for what.  A downside maybe the number of extra postits on the wall.

Okay it’s a bit of a process, but not much really.   Now if you suspect you are getting groupthink happening this maybe a way around it.