Below are my slides from a talk delivered at the 2017 Guelph Accessibility Conference. Much of the talk was a reflection on things we’ve learned working on various projects recently at Inclusive Design Research Centre and as part of the Fluid Project. I am grateful to my colleagues who helped me refine and sharpen my thoughts on this topic.

A few points I made in more detail than are captured in the slides, or that occur to me now:

  • The human tendency to believe others experience the world in the same way that we do is untrue. Testing designs with a broad range of users is vital, as is having people working on the problem with a diverse range of experiences and preferences.

  • In the digital world, we have refined some modalities of interaction or experience at great theoretical and practical length, and neglected others, especially if they are associated with “marginal” people like people with disabilities. Self-reinforcing aspects of the design and software development processes obscure possibilities for radical change or new approaches. Consider how much of our work as designers and software developers revolves around the increasing perfection of paradigms of interaction and experience we can see in their experimental form in the 1968 “Mother of All Demos” video.

  • We don’t know the shape of future user needs - we do not even, if we are honest, know very much of the shape of the present user needs, when the whole uniqueness of people is considered. It is therefore a responsibility of implementations of designs and systems to create space for change and adaptation, and to be made in light of the acknowledgement that both our knowledge and our tools are limited, always under refinement.