This article was written in 2017. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.
I learned from Jeremy Keith (who learned it from Cennydd Bowles, who learned it from Jared Spool) that good design principles are reversible. To test if a design principle works, the exact opposite rule should work as well. I decided to put the Paciello Group’s Inclusive Design Principles to the test. What happens if you reverse all these principles? They should result in something that you could name exclusive design principles.
I’ve taken this exercise to the extreme. The philosophy behind inclusive design is that the thing you create works for everybody, no matter the context. The idea behind this experiment in Exclusive Design is that you design something for one specific person, in a controlled environment, in a specific context. Tailor made.
Let’s see what happens when you turn the Inclusive Design Principles on their head. Here they are, the seven Exclusive Design Principles:
1. Provide a unique experience
Optimise you interface to work only for the person you’re designing for, and for the device they will be using. Make sure that it works perfectly well for this single case.
Content how they like it:
If the person you design for likes audio, make sure the player suits their needs perfectly. But if they prefer transcripts, ignore the player, and make sure the transcripts are in the format they prefer, and marked up the way they like it. For instance: they may prefer literal transcripts, or maybe they like extensive summaries better.
2. Ignore situation
You design for one person. Make sure you know the exact situations and contexts they will use your product or service in.
If the person has perfect vision and uses a state of the art monitor in a controlled environment, optimise the contrast for that case. If they use your app in a wide variety of environments, optimise for that.
Teach the person you design for how to use the app, if necessary. Even tailor made things can have a learning curve. Give them a workshop, or make sure they have your phone number to call you if they need help.
3. Be inconsistent/
Only use familiar conventions when you can not come up with a different idea. Make sure the user is surprised at all times.
Original, innovative patterns
Make sure as many aspects of the interface as possible are novel, so people are surprised, and people have to think actively to get things done.
Unique design per section
Whenever possible, don’t use templates. Every page should be designed on its own, since every page has its own unique content. Be innovative.
Existing patterns need a critical approach
It’s true that some patterns are easy to understand because people are used to them. But that doesn’t mean they’re the best possible solution to the specific problem you’re trying to solve.
4. Take control
You are in control. As an expert you know how to use the possibilities, features and attributes of the device and the preferences of the person you design for. Use this knowledge to design the best possible experience.
If the device your client uses is capable of displaying smooth animations, use them.
Know your APIs
Know and understand the possibilities of the device you design for. Make use of all the sensors, input mechanisms and other tech if necessary.
Make it perfect
It should be perfect. If someone uses your device in a suboptimal configuration let them know. You can then either let them use it at their own risk, or decline access.
5. Offer the best possible solution
Optimise for your specific use case. Work with your client and their device to create the single best solution for the problem at hand.
One single way to complete an action
If the best way to complete a task is not clear up front make prototypes to test the best solution with your client. Once you found it, make it perfect.
If there are different ways to layout things test these options until you found the best one.
6. Prioritise identity
Identity is important. People feel connected to things they can identify with. Make sure the design is on brand. Make sure the user’s identity is in the design. And make sure your signature is visible.
Keep the brand visible
Make sure the brand is clear at all times. The logo is invisible once the user starts scrolling. Make sure there are other ways to communicate the brand at all times.
Connect the user’s identity
Let the user feel welcome. If the person you design for is a tough punk rocker they do not feel connected to a My Little Pony look and feel. If they have conservative values, these values should be visible.
Add your signature
Make sure the thing you created is recognisable as your creation. This is good for your portfolio.
7. Add nonsense
Things don’t have to be serious at all time. Make sure to add some lightness to your design.
When people press the letter L lasers should come out of the eyes of people on the pictures. If there are no pictures of people, lasers can get out of other things, like letters.
Add little surprise
People don’t like filling out forms. By adding little surprises, like animations, or appearing or disappearing emoticons, the experience can be enhanced.
Are these principles valid?
The principles do seem pass the test that Jeremy Keith wrote about: I can think of quite a few agencies and brands that work with a few, if not all of these principles. The question is, of course: If we consider inclusive design to be good, are these exclusive design principles bad?
If you use these patterns for spoiled white brats I don’t think you’ll come up with many new insights. But if you use them for people with very special needs some of these principles may become useful.
I plan to investigate this a bit. I invited all the guests of my podcast to join me and a few students for a workshop. In this workshop I will present my guests with some very specific design issues, and ask them to think about solving these issues for one single person. One single person with their own personality, their own habits, needs, and (dis)abilities.
I can’t wait to see what will happen.