Calm Tech UX & Inclusive Design Principles at Microsoft

Interruptions are inevitable. Some alerts are helpful and others distract during inopportune moments.

How do we design a system that empathizes with its users and adjusts the way it communicates?

 

Last year, Microsoft Design invited me to Redmond, Washington to consult on their accessibility and inclusivity initiatives.

Millions of users means hundreds of thousands of edge cases, and mobile products only increase temporary, situational and permanent frustrations. The team was interested in Calm Technology because it offered them a new way to address ongoing issues experienced by existing and future customers.

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After a number of interviews and workshops about attention and notification fatigue, I worked with Microsoft to help adapt some of Calm Tech principles into their organization and their inclusivity toolkit.

The guide introduces a reframing of the concept of disability, how user experience intersects with the goals of inclusivity, and an overview of permanent, temporary and situational exclusions.


How do you achieve focus? from Microsoft Design on Vimeo.

1. Increased Mobility of Technology equals Increased Moments of Disability:

Interactions with technology depend heavily on what we can see, hear, say, touch, learn, and remember. Mobile technologies can make situational limitations highly relevant to many people today. Mobile puts in focus questions like: Are we forced to adapt to technology, or is technology adapting to us?

2. Disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and society.

Physical, cognitive, and social exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions. As designers, it’s our responsibility to know how our designs affect these interactions and create mismatches. Points of exclusion help us generate new ideas and inclusive designs. They highlight opportunities to create solutions with utility and elegance for many people.

3. Sometimes exclusion is temporary or situational.

Even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about trying to order a drink at a noisy bar, using your cell phone in direct sunlight, trying to write with a broken arm, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.

As people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.

The toolkit also expands on some Microsoft Inclusive Design Considerations influenced by Principles of Calm Technology:

  • Understand urgency and medium: Can you be more mindful of the relative importance, and design appropriate levels of urgency? If everything looks urgent, nothing is.
  • Adapt to the customer’s behavior: If a customer consistently interacts with one type of notification, and ignores another, can your system react and adapt?
  • Adapt to context: Does your experience change if the sun’s out, or if there’s a crowded room? An isolated environment? Time of day? Can it respect and change in different types of environments or customer contexts?
  • Enable the customer to adapt: Can the customer personalize the experience, so it works better for their particular needs?
  • Reduce mental cost: How can you make your experiences simpler, clearer, and less costly to understand? Are there parts of the journey that are unnecessary or overly complicated?

I’d like to thank Microsoft for their ongoing efforts to make it easier for people to use their technologies, and for taking a step forward in trying to build Calm Technology for the future of our attention! You can read more about Microsoft’s Inclusivity efforts from Doug Kim.

If you want to start designing smarter, more empathetic systems, download the booklet for more questions to guide your thinking. Check out the Microsoft Inclusive Design site for more resources, toolkits and ideas.

Introducing Designing with Sound from O’Reilly Books (Oct 2018)

designing-products-with-sound-oreilly-amber-case-aaron-dayI’m excited to announce that sound designer Aaron Day and I have joined forces to produce a book on sound design for products called Designing With Sound. Why write a book about sound? Sound is part of everyday life, but it is often overlooked. Sound can make or break an experience, but we don’t think about it enough. There are many opportunities for brands and makers to consider sound as a crucial part of experience design. In this book, we explore sound from a number of perspectives, from the buzz of a phone, the distraction of an open office, architectural acoustics, sound and health, and the unexplored opportunities of employing more senses in our lives.

I released Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design in Fall of 2015. Since then, I was approached by a number of different companies looking for ways for products to fit better into a user’s soundscape. I realized that sound was just one part of the equation for experience design, but it deserved a much closer look.

That’s why I was so excited when my colleague Aaron Day asked me what to do with his 18 years of experience designing sound for brands, retail electronics, films, environments, automobiles, healthcare and museums. I told him that I was running into the same kinds of questions. There were designers, product owners and developers out there that needed answers to questions for a new class of connected products. How can we make products that work alongside us, instead of against us? How can we improve the sonic environment? First, we realized we needed to show people how sound affected them, how they could fix it, and then how they could make it better. The outline of a book quickly formed, and we pitched it to O’Reilly. O’Reilly was excited because it’s difficult to find a book that introduced more advanced sound design concepts without getting too technical. This world doesn’t need perfect sound, it just needs “better” sound, and through case studies, patterns and principles, we aim to show you how!

Designing with Sound will hit the shelves Oct 2018. Until then, you’re free to pro-order them. I’ll be starting to speak about various aspects of sound design starting May 2017 at The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam.

Thanks so much for your support and feedback while we work on this book! It’s been great to be able to reach out to so many people already with their stories and relationship with sound. See you in October!

Designing Products with Sound: Principles and Patterns for Mixed Environments

designing-products-with-sound-oreilly-amber-case-aaron-dayOrder from Amazon | Order from O’Reilly

By Amber Case and Aaron Day. O’Reilly Books, October 2018 (est.). 300 pages.

Sound is one of the most commonly overlooked components in product design, even though it’s often the first way people interact with many products. When designers don’t pay enough attention sound elements, customers are frequently left with annoying and interruptive results. This practical book covers several methods that product designers and managers can use to improve everyday interactions through an understanding and application of sound design.

  • Understand the place of sound in design, and how it can make a difference in your product
  • Learn key concepts in sound design, with patterns and principles you can use to improve user experience
  • Learn how to integrate sound design into a project
  • Use exercises to help evaluate sound design

Upcoming Speech: Design Week Portland 2016

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at this year’s Design Week Portland! Even better, I’ll be introducing one of my idols, anthropologist Genevieve Bell from Intel! She’ll be talking about the Internet of Beings! The internet of animals is more than just Keyboard Cat and animated gifs. Intel’s in-house Anthropologist will explore what we learn from data mining animals.

What is Design Week Portland?
Short answer: it’s amazing and you should definetely participate!

Longer answer: Design Week Portland is a week-long, city-wide series of programs exploring the process, craft, and practice of design across all disciplines. Our mission is to increase appreciation and awareness about design and its far-reaching effects on matters of cultural and social relevance, including community development, education systems, and the economy.

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Schedule

Main Stage: April 15-16, 2016
Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
Two days of core programming before the festival kicks into independently organized Events and Open Houses. Register for the Main Stage!

Independent Events
The heart and soul of Design Week Portland is in these events, conceived and hosted by the creative community of an entire city. Most are free or low cost to make design accessible to all. Register for each event separately – there is no central pass. See Portland Design Week Independent Events.

Open Houses
Studios and offices around the city will open their doors to us to show what they’re working on! I’d highly suggest visiting as many as you can!
https://2016.designweekportland.com/openhouses

Want to learn more?
Read more about Design Week from Portland’s must-follow startup and tech blog, SiliconFlorist!

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Invisible Design at Portland Design Museum’s Story Hour

invisible-design-talk-design-museum-portland On July 15th I gave a short talk on invisible design at Portland Design Museum’s Story Hour. Story Hour is a recurring live podcast series hosted at various locations around Portland, Oregon.

This week’s event was the second in the series. Story Hour opened to the design community on July 15, 2015 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, and the rooftop deck at OnDeck Sports bar was completely packed with people!

Story Hour: Invisible Design Storytellers

  • Grace Andrews, Co-Founder of Lurébel
  • Matthew Bietz, Founder & Creative Director, Quarter Twenty
  • Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist, Calmtechnology.com
  • Pete Cole, CEO, Gamblin Colors
  • Kristen Gallagher, Founder, Edify Education Design
  • Pinky Gonzalez, CEO, SightWorks
  • Nick Parish, President, Americas, Contagious
  • Melody Rowell, MFA Collaborative Design 2015, PNCA, Founder & CEO, Project COMIC
  • Ken Tomita, Founder & Sean Kelly, Product Designer, Grovemade
  • Kenneth Weigelt, Associate Creative Director, INDUSTRY
  • Jennifer Woodward, Founder, Pulp & Deckle

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About Story Hour
Design Museum Portland’s Story Hour offers the opportunity to share tales of creativity and exploration, live and onstage. It begins with a theme and a group of storytellers, each story is unique, drawing from the tellers interpretation and experience. Whether it’s a student’s first forays or an established professional’s years of practice, their range of perspectives offer an audience inspiration, commonality, and good fun. Each Story Hour is crafted into a subsequent podcast where the stories live on.

Invisible Design
Design doesn’t just make things beautiful, it makes them usable. And successful design has often been described as, at its best, invisible, seamlessly weaving its way into our everyday lives.