The Curiosity Project was created to stimulate lifelong learning by all people, no matter the socio-economic status, age, gender, physical/mental status, or any other trait. They were the beneficiary of a substantial endowment so they had the financial means to make a real impact.
One of the ideas they had was to create an app that would stimulate the curiosity of any person. The app would have an artificial intelligence-based algorithm where the user would respond to a series of verbal, written, visual, and auditory cues. The algorithm would then give the user a number of stimuli to see if it energized that person’s curiosity. Once a person found something they were curious about, they would then be provided with information on that topic in the learning format that works best for them.
The app would be given to people who would promise to use it. The only condition on the gift was that the access to it would be withdrawn if it had not been used on some regular basis, to be determined. If the person did not have an electronic device, one would be given to them under the same conditions as the app.
The Curiosity Project asked a number of technology firms to submit bids on the design of the app. There was considerable interest in the app design contract and five finalists were asked to make presentations. Four of the five presentations focused on the technical features of the app with little consideration given to the users of the app. The fifth presentation took a different approach. It focused on the principles of inclusive design as developed by the Institute for Human-Centered Design as shown below.
- Equitable Use: The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users.
- Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple, Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
- Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
- Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
- Size and Space for Approach & Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.(Note: this one was less applicable)
What won the contract competition was not just the principles as outlined, but that the presentation featured several hypothetical stories of people using the app. Included were stories of a homeless shelter, a senior with hearing loss, a runaway teen, a high school dropout, a mother who never completed high school, and a college student on the verge of dropping out.
There is probably no one on Earth who hasn’t complained about a product design. The inclusive design practices work for all of us, even if we don’t have an impairment that may be limiting. What matters is the user’s experience, not the “gee whiz” features of the design team.
* * *
“Every great design begins with an even better story.”- Lorinda Mamo (designer)