A Book Review: Design For Real Life

June 15, 2016 | Sam Armacost

book on a table next to a cup of coffee and laptopWhen crafting websites, we must consider numerous factors, from accessibility to zippy page speed, for a well-rounded product. Many of these aspects have been hotly debated—the topic of many blog posts and entire conferences. But one of life’s more basic considerations, that of kindness, remained relatively unsung in the Web development sphere. Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Design for Real Life sheds light on how unkind our digital products can be and deftly provides suggestions on how to bring compassion to the forefront of our processes.

Design For Real Life is a collaborative effort inspired by the experiences of Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher. The two have previously discussed personal, uncomfortable, and heart-wrenching incidents. This book encapsulates these and other unnecessarily traumatic digital interactions. A key element of their effort suggests renaming how we discuss these situations. The terms “edge” or “fringe” case frames issues as far from average, whereas “stress case” implies testing for a stronger system while helping our fellow humans experiencing that stressful situation.

Often the stress created by our products is unintentional. One of the most ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous elements of the Web, the form, can cause undue strain on users. Answering what seems to be simple a question could force an individual to relive a traumatic experience. “How many siblings do you have?” may incite the painful memory of childhood experiences as described by Wachter-Boettcher. Rejecting a name due to insufficient characters, or a seemingly fake moniker unnecessarily puts the burden of proof on these individuals. Site structure and content can also exacerbate a taxing situation. As experienced by Meyer, when rushing to a hospital, users in an emergency may not be thinking clearly, be unfamiliar with the hospital and its website, and need specific information.

When addressing these examples, the authors describe how collaborating through the lens of compassion can remedy these issues and simultaneously provide better solutions for all users and the organization. Strict or unnecessary input field requirements may cause users to abandon a form, which results in fewer leads. In working with stakeholders to determine the minimum necessary fields and including details regarding how that information will be used, we can ease personal discomfort and increase the form’s conversion rate. Considering the persona of someone undergoing a stressful situation while curating content, designing, and organizing your website will ultimately benefit all site visitors. Insensitive design decisions are unintentional but can be fought with the group effort of empathy.

With multitasking on mobile devices on the rise, especially in more diverse populations, our websites and apps are increasingly viewed by many who are under duress or those who may not be the target demographic. In developing with those “stress cases” in mind, we create a more resilient product. At TBG, we always keep in mind that it’s important to simplify the navigation, user interface, and overall look-and-feel of a website to optimize the UX for the site’s specific demographic of visitors. Despite its brevity, Design For Real Life is an essential reading for anyone who is involved in the creation of interfaces for human consumption.

About the Author

Sam Armacost

I'm a Front-end Developer. When I'm not thinking about and working on websites (which is 24/7), I like to bake, garden, and hang with my cat Cornbeef.

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