Built for You

A green wooden chair alone in an all white room.
Photo by Paula Schmidt from Pexels
October 28, 2020
Robin Eastman

If you are anything like me, you use something everyday that isn’t built for you. For me, right now it's a chair. I’m average height for a woman in America, but most of my height is in my torso. This means that every chair I sit on is designed for someone with longer legs than I have. I can’t sit with my feet on the floor without it digging into my hamstrings uncomfortably. I usually end up sitting cross legged until my legs fall asleep. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not just one chair, it’s all the chairs. Even adjustable chairs don’t usually go low enough, and the only non-adjustable chair I've sat in built for my leg length is my mom’s chair. She loves that chair. It feels like it was made for her. It feels like home.

Uncomfortable chairs have consequences: back and hip pain is real. But there are other examples with even bigger consequences. Take cars - seat belts and other safety features aren’t designed for people with breasts, as I’m reminded every time I sit in a car. But it’s more than an annoyance. Women who are wearing their seat belts are 17% more likely to die in car crashes than men, when controlling for a variety of factors. Designing exclusively for men kills women. It’s not great for men who don’t fit the mold of a 171-pound, 5-foot-9-inch crash-test dummy that hasn’t been redesigned since the 1970s either.  

This isn’t just a problem about gender, as any Black person who has tried to buy a bandaid or makeup can tell you. It’s a problem for everyone who doesn’t fit “normal.” Which, quite honestly, is everyone, though some of us experience it more often than others. It’s easy to be too tall, or too wide, or too dyslexic, or too dark, or too depressed, or too anything for whatever tool we are trying to use. There doesn’t have to be any malice on the designer’s part, they just had to have someone else in mind. We make do. We contort. We adjust the seat belt one more time.

But the problem isn’t us. It’s the approach to design. If you start by trying to design for a “typical” user, you will design poorly for most people.

We are currently building our beta product. As we do that, we are looking at design differently. We are designing for people who are usually ignored. If we design well for our most diverse and varied customers, the ones who are most often expected to fit themselves into someone else's mold, we believe we will design well for everyone. We will also be set up to expand and change our design, as well learn more about who our users are and what their needs are. These concepts aren't new. Check out the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design to learn more about how to apply this kind of thinking to whatever you are building.

Right now, our product is new, so it’s missing a lot of the features you need to make your event great. Here’s what it doesn’t have: dependency on features built without considering your needs. We are designing for autonomy, accessibility, and inclusion. We are designing for you. We hope you'll love it the way my mom loves her chair.

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