Inclusive Design, Day 3/15: Mismatched Conditions

This is day 3 of 15 in a short series on inclusive design. If you missed it, start with day 1 here.

Kat Holmes’s work with the Microsoft Design’s inclusive toolkit illustrates the inclusive design principle of mismatched conditions.

First introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011, this concept speaks to the mismatch between humans and their environment. It reveals how we must look beyond the lack of ability as the only cause of the mismatch.

A mismatched interaction between a person and their environment is a function of design. Change the environment, not the body. For people who design and develop technology, every choice we make either raises or lowers these barriers. — Kat Holmes

Screenshot from Microsoft Design’s inclusive toolkit about disability as a mismatched human interaction. “Diversity is not a personal health condition; it’s a set of mismatched human interactions.”

Design decisions impact people beyond those with a permanent disability. Designs that cover temporary or situational situations solve similar problems for a larger range of people and contexts.

Recognizing yourself in the other person might come more naturally when can imagine yourself in the same mismatched situation.

With this in mind, I realize I’m not that far removed from direct experience because I know I arrive in the same situation sometimes, even if it’s not permanent.

For example, the people in this video (courtesy of John Maeda) could represent anyone “temporarily disabled” when reaching for a doorknob while holding something in their hands.

Here’s how Microsoft Design explains the possible mismatched conditions:

Sometimes exclusion is temporary. Even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about looking into a bright light, wearing a cast, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.

Sometimes exclusion is situational. As people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.

— Excerpted from Microsoft Design’s inclusive toolkit

Microsoft calls this range of conditions “the persona spectrum.” Imagine a device designed for use with one arm — and even if conceived for someone with a missing limb, could also serve other temporary conditions.

Screenshot from the same inclusive toolkit, illustrating “Different people benefit.”

This brings me to an important insight, something I’d never considered before hearing about mismatched conditions:

Inclusion isn’t just about the edge cases, the permanent lack of ability, or people different from me. Inclusive design is the starting point. The foundation that every organization needs to build an accurate representation of how humans interact with their work.

To learn more about mismatched conditions I recommend reading Kat’s in-depth piece, Who Gets to Play? from October 2016. She explains the evolving design practice of recognizing disability as a set of mismatched conditions in the context of children’s playgrounds.

Screenshot from Kat Holmes’s “Who Gets to Play?” — an inclusive design article on

For day 4 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll consider the idea of “normal” and “average” — how “defaults” often don’t represent anyone.

About this Inclusive Design series In two weeks I’ll give a talk on inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018. Leading up to the conference I’m publishing notes on voices, stories, products, and other resources: everything I’m learning about this emerging practice. This is day 3 of 15. Read more about the series.

Published by

Lance Willett

My name is Lance, I am a blogger, product manager, software developer, and business executive creating high-quality, engaging, and customer-centered experiences for people online. México-born.

3 thoughts on “Inclusive Design, Day 3/15: Mismatched Conditions”

  1. A very good concept about inclusive design, As we know, every person has the rights to enjoy every technology and new software. We have to consider about human diversity. I knew you are aware of disability. My concern is are you thinking about the accessible design for persons with developmental disability too? What is your opinion about “easy to read and pictorial ” informational, will be more accessible for intellectual & developmental disability? Hope you will research more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi and thanks for your insightful question. Yes, learning ability is an important consideration. Especially in terms of visual cognition, such as dyslexia. See day 4/15 for the example from Microsoft’s OneNote product, built for this specific audience.

      Liked by 1 person

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