Experience Design with a touch of Spice
Mar 17, 2023
I've considered myself a 'Jill of all Trades, Master of Many' for most of my life, and up until recently I've never had a clear understanding as to why. Recently I was given a neurodiverse diagnosis, and all of a sudden it was like everything made sense. Like that missing piece to the puzzle had just been put in place and I had the answer to a question I didn't know I needed.
Funnily enough this is exactly what makes me great at my job as an Experience Designer, or as some people refer to it a User Experience Designer. And it's exactly why I know I have found the career path I know I will both never stray from, as well as fight my hardest to make the biggest impact in.
Now I have had my fair share of challenges, triumphs and different life experiences, and through all of these one thing that has always resonated with me is a sense of justice and a desire to make things better for those around me. I've since learnt that with my love of creative fields, my 'spiderweb-style' of thinking and a need to provide a better experience for those who find things more difficult than others, can be turned into a career, focusing on the importance of user-centred design. Whether this is because of how my own 'spicy' brain sees things a little differently, or from my own past life experiences, being able to understand and empathise with the end-user to create effective and efficient designs is something that cannot be overlooked in todays environment.
Inclusive or Accessible. What's the difference?
There are several design approaches that one can take to ensure that your next product or experience created is something everyone can experience. The main two I'm going to focus on are Inclusive Design and Accessible Design. So what's the difference? Inclusive Design and Accessible Design are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Inclusive Design is an approach to design that considers the needs of all users, regardless of their ability, background, religion, ethnicity, gender, age or preferences. It aims to create designs that are usable by the largest possible audience. Inclusive Design is not just about designing for accessibility, but also about considering the diverse needs of users, including those with disabilities, language barriers, cognitive differences, and cultural differences.
Accessible Design, on the other hand, is focused specifically on designing for users with disabilities. It involves creating designs that can be used by people with disabilities, whether those be permanent (such as those who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, cognitively impaired or have mobility issues), short-term disability (like a broken arm or hand) or situational (like a cracked screen on your phone). Accessible Design is about removing barriers and providing equal access to information.
There is one connecting thread here though, and that is that both Inclusive and Accessible Design is about making it easier for the user to freely access information through whatever means they would normally use eg Assistive Technologies like Screen Readers or Voice Control.
How does all this relate to User Centred Design?
User-centred design is all about understanding and empathising with the end-user. It involves considering the needs, preferences, and goals of the user throughout the design process. Experience Design, Inclusive Design, and Accessible Design are all approaches that are based on the principles of user-centred design.
By focusing on the user experience, this ensures that the end-user is at the forefront of the design process, and therefore empathy to their needs vs a companies wants, which may be blind to the core problem at heart. But don't think that just because by solely focusing on the customer companies are left behind. At the end of the day, if companies are providing an enjoyable, easy and efficient experience for their users, then those users are more likely to remain loyal to that experience. And if they are providing an Inclusive and Accessible experience, that's even better, because the number of companies out there doing that are much less than those who are, never mind the legal ramifications for not being WCAG compliant in this day and age (but that's a discussion for another day).
Harnessing that power for good
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As a neurodiverse individual, I've realised I have a heightened sense of empathy that allows me to understand and empathise with the needs and perspectives of a wide variety of users. This empathy helps me to design products and services that are more intuitive, inclusive, and effective. By putting myself in the shoes of different users, I can design products that are more responsive to their needs and that create a positive emotional connection.
'Spiderweb' thinking is a term that is often used to describe the ability to think laterally and make connections between seemingly disparate concepts. This type of thinking allows me to see patterns and connections that others may overlook, which can lead to innovative and unexpected design solutions. By connecting the dots in new and creative ways, I can come up with designs that are more intuitive, efficient, and engaging.
I believe that by combining my neurodiverse 'superpower' of empathy and 'spiderweb' thinking, I can create designs that are inclusive and accessible, allowing me to create novel solutions to complex design challenges while pushing the boundaries of what design is capable of. By leveraging our strengths and embracing our differences, we can create designs that are more inclusive, engaging, and impactful for everyone. Overall, I believe that neurodiversity brings a unique perspective and skillset to the world of design, something we are going to need more of in the days to come.
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