The 2018 Design in Tech Report from John Maeda is alive and kicking (I’m late to sharing this as it debuted at SxSW in March.) This year’s deck places a strong focus on inclusive design and artificial intelligence.
Computers aren’t good at inclusion. They’re good at exclusion, because they’re only based on past data. The business opportunity for the future-thinking designer is in inclusion. — Fast Company
Speed and connectivity should be considered be a major factor in exclusion. Just ride the BART in San Francisco. 😀
Joking aside, much of the world does not enjoy the wonders of high-speed bandwidth yet. Like William Gibson famously said, “The future is here, but it’s not evenly distributed.” Kansas City Google Fiber gigabit on one end, on the other Tegucigalpa less-than-Edge with wires hanging off a string.
As evidence of the disparity consider the “lite”* apps built by tech giants for markets where they want to drive adoption. The need for a reduced-weight experience in places with low-speed wired broadband and tenuous mobile broadband highlights the case of exclusion. Where large populations are left out of the “modern web” due to connectivity limitations, cost of entry, archaic device types, and many more reasons both cultural and political. (*Side note: what the heck is with that spelling?)
One story I noticed recently that mentioned speed as a leading tech market indicator involved WhatsApp’s growth in India even as Facebook lags behind them, via The Economist, January 27, 2018. Sluggish web app performance is a factor in Facebook’s lack of adoption in India. People who pay by the megabyte or gigabyte prefer to use a service that is leaner, faster, less bloated. They’re voting with their app choices.
In more ways than one, WhatsApp is the opposite of Facebook… whereas Facebook requires a fast connection, WhatsApp is not very data-hungry.
As a result [of this and other reasons], WhatsApp has become a social network to rival Facebook in many places, particularly in poorer countries. Of the service’s more than 1.3bn monthly users, 120m live in Brazil and 200m in India.
Extend the Benefits to Everyone
On the plus side, designing for speed brings about broad improvements to everyone else in the world. People should love the simpler interface with fewer settings and menus, alongside the bandwidth savings and reduced footprint for the app’s data storage needs.
Back to the trend of tech giants creating lighter versions of their apps. When I take a closer look at the apps like “Twitter Lite” and “Facebook Lite” — at first they appear to be primarily designed for speed on slow connections. Yet the changes bring a new and different experience to many people who are mobile-first or non-technical.
The design enhancements resulting in a simpler and more intuitive app extends the benefit to a wide variety of people. For example, better readability from larger text size and the usability win from simpler navigation and clearer labels. That sounds like something the AARP crowd would all buy or click on or subscribe to.
If you’re curious about the “lites” — here’s further reading.
With Facebook Lite, our goal is to provide the best possible Facebook experience to everyone, no matter their device or connection. And we hope that by sharing how we built the app, we can encourage more people to build for the next billion coming online. — via How we built Facebook Lite for every Android phone and network
The next billion coming online! Ambitious.
Is Calypso Fast Yet?
Goal: Calypso is the WordPress Lite.
Calypso designers also pay attention to the user interface, of course — recently we’ve made the text size larger and improved the color contrast for readability. My team at WordPress.com is now digging into label changes and interactions needed for a refreshed, simpler navigation for managing WordPress websites.
For those curious, we track speed improvements in Calypso on this data-rich website: iscalypsofastyet.com. And, we’re hoping to improve both the mobile web performance and the usability of the app even more in 2018.
In a blog post Speed is a key design attribute John Maeda highlights two strong voices in recent web history — speaking out on the value of speed and performance: Marissa Mayer and Lara Hogan. They’ve both been preaching this same topic for years. I’m sure today no one argues the pivotal role of speed in Google’s early success and how it led them to market dominance.
I’ve felt this slowness most times I travel, even in the US — in airports, hotels, taxis, trains. Most definitely when in other countries, because I’m limited by my data plan’s built-in speed limitation. Or, as when I visited a WordCamp in Nicaragua, the slow mobile “broadband” is the reality for everyone living there.
Keeping in mind much of the world now sees the web only through a mobile device. Which brings us to a message from Wapuu: Mind the mobile!
For day 14 of 15 of inclusive design, I’ll share behind-the-scenes details of the work Automattic designers put into our inclusive guide and checklist.
About this Inclusive Design series —In 2 days 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 13 of 15. Read more about the series.
Inclusive design is our passion. We’re inspired by the work of Kat Holmes and her clear articulation of design as needing to be increasingly inclusive — especially in the technology world. Our journey to understand how to best empower inclusive design in products began in 2016 with John Maeda joining Automattic as head of design and inclusion. — Automattic,Design From Anywhere
For day 1 of 15 for the short series on inclusive design, I’d like to introduce John Maeda and Kat Holmes, two strong and clear voices in the conversation about bringing diversity to our product and design practices.
Without these two people speaking the truth about inclusion, I wouldn’t be writing these words.
My journey to discover inclusive design began in August 2016 when John joined Automattic, bringing a much-needed infusion of fresh ideas, able leadership, and organizational energy. Not to mention a burning desire to modernize the craft and process of design for Automattic and WordPress.
As I heard often from John and other coworkers about the value of diversity and inclusion, I mostly watched from the sidelines, even though the concepts made sense to me. It struck me as logical for a strong voice to guide an evolution in our product experience — combining the disciplines of design + technology + business — into a new era of awareness. Building up consciousness, empathy, and candor. Yet somehow I still wasn’t fully grasping how it would change my own practices and thinking.
John’s arrival forced an immediate, honest assessment of how Automattic presented itself as a company, as a culture, in our industry. Within WordPress as a broader community, too, how we would live up to our mission to bring freedom and livelihood to everyone in the world. If we didn’t get serious about inclusion, we’d never reach a broader audience to grow our company and our cause.
Later in 2016 Matt Mullenweg highlighted Kat Holmes in the 2016 “State of the Word” at WordCamp US in Philadelphia. Watch this clip (at the 23 min 30 sec mark) to hear Matt quote Kat’s brilliant essay for design.blog titled “Who Gets To Play.”
Fast forward to August 2017. I attended a session organized by John, where I met Kat Holmes via a video chat as she shared an introduction to her work to a group at Automattic. Kat then presented a longer, in-person version at our in September 2017 Grand Meetup — the annual company offsite.
Kat spoke to us from her heart, how inclusive design turned her thinking about diversity on its head. Why was accessibility and diversity always last on the list? Inclusion for her means viewing all human ability as an overarching theme.
Kat had recently left Microsoft where she was Director of Inclusive Design, and is now taking it to the world with her own consulting and writing.
Her research highlighted how the products, services, and tools we create can change how people contribute to society. Rather than solving one small problem, inclusive products adapt to create many paths to get to the same goal.
During the discussion period of Kat’s presentation, an insight arrived. When I think of the products I create — I don’t think of “normal” people having any trouble, I tend to think only about people with disabilities. When I consider that there are many pathways to success in WordPress, there must also be many obstacles.
The choices we make could exclude people who assume they are “doing it wrong” and don’t want to be ashamed to find out they are “stupid” and not advanced enough to make a post, create a menu, place a widget in a sidebar. Who even knows what a “widget” is in the first place!
Without even trying, my work could exclude people who can’t describe their problem in the right words, people who say, “I’m not a computer person.”
This introduction hit home for me. I finally got it. I understood how my work and thought patterns are influenced by my background and biases. How I’d minimized accessibility — access as part of inclusion — into a corner case affecting a small number of people. Of course there’s much more to being inclusive, yet I now had an insight into where my product work and the values of inclusion line up.
Listening to John and Kat’s voices I’ve started thinking more broadly, more openly. Inclusive design means design for everyone. People like me, people like you. Inclusive design connects us.
For Day 2 of 15 of inclusive design I’ll share about building empathy.
About this series — In 15 days 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.
You could say WordCamps serve as models of inclusion based on their affordable price tag. Typically around $40 for two full days of talks, workshops with experts, lunch and snacks, cool swag, networking, and a fun after-party. Bargain-tastic, don’t you think?
I hope you’ll follow along, dive in, and learn with me. I welcome your comments and back-links to share your stories and resources, so I can discover what inclusive design means to you.