We Can Do Better Than Usability
Let’s look beyond basic accessibility and make design truly empowering
Our consultancy, PH1, specializes in generative research to help innovate the UX and CX of our clients. We help them answer tough questions — like “Do people really need this?” and “How do we get people to use this?” — in a way that enables them to positively impact people’s lives.
It can be a challenging space because the bar has been set quite low for UX. Too often, prospective clients want interfaces that are merely usable, rather than impactful; they want services that offer accessibility, rather than universality.
That last point is an important one: In our work on public health projects in particular, we have found that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are wildly insufficient to make designs inclusive of the diverse needs of people. For example, WCAG may enable UX teams to address the nature of visual impairments, but it does not account for circumstances that can mimic visual impairment, like visual fatigue, low icon literacy, or atypical navigation preferences.
This article is intended to help UX strategists, designers, and researchers understand why we need to set the bar higher than usability and accessibility.
Usability is the very least you can do to help people
In 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced a paper that would change the world. “A Theory of Human Motivation” was aimed at understanding the psychological trajectory of happy individuals. Maslow’s ultimate goal was to prove that human nature is good and that anyone can find happiness.
He illustrated his findings as a hierarchy to demonstrate that all humans crave higher-level interactions once their lower needs are met; that we want a deeper connection with ourselves and others. In the end, he did make people happier — in the form of a slew of “Maslow hierarchy of needs” memes.
The joke, of course, is that our definition of “basic needs” keeps sinking lower, with Wi-Fi and battery power now forming the…