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Apps Designed for Everyone, Not Just for You

I’ve had My year in the rearview mirror by Riccardo Mori in my read-list for a while, and I highly recommend it. These pararagraphs in particular resonate with me:

Another area where the age factor is overlooked is in the design of user interfaces. (You thought I couldn’t find a way to talk about user interfaces in this context, didn’t you?) I keep seeing this: user interface elements, targets, designs, paradigms that require users to have perfect vision, flawless reflexes, constant adaptability, and time to waste readjusting their workflows and relearning how to carry out the same stuff they were used to carrying out in an operating system, application, device, 2 or 3 iterations ago. Some designers keep making the same error I think Donald Norman talked about in his book The Design of Everyday Things — the mistake of thinking that their target users are like them. They’re not. Often, they’re people who just need to get things done without losing an entire morning trying to figure out how and why the application(s) they rely on for work have changed after the last update. Or they’re people who really need tooltips in an app’s interface in order to understand what that control with the obscure icon does; who really need obvious interface cues and affordances you’re desperately trying to spirit away because your application or environment doesn’t look clean, trendy, or minimalistic enough.

I’m not saying applications, interfaces, and operating systems shouldn’t change and evolve. Only that they should do so by actually taking into account that end users aren’t this homogeneous mass that moves in perfect sync with your fancy designs and redesigns. But the kind of approach to do things right by many different types of end user involves more work and a generally slower pace of development, which is a big no-no for the stupid breakneck pace technology wants to move — and wants us to move today.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the above, and that any affordances for those who don’t have the same physical attributes or mental capacity as the designers are an afterthought, sometimes even ignoring accessibility features that are part of the operating system the app or site is running on.

Well, the joke will be one them when they get to our age. Comedy is tragedy plus timing, after all.

Perhaps this explains why I’m increasing turning to pen and paper and trying to rely less on the vagaries of technology. It would be a hoot if people turned back en masse to analogue ways and means, in the same way that vinyl records returned. Digital devices and apps that run on them would have to adapt to offer a better option for us, not just for companies. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened these last few years…

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