Compassion is not coddling. Design for real life.

Compassion is an essential tech skill that needs to be taught as an integral part of tech education.

Source: Get Ready for the Future – JavaScript Scene – Medium

People often mistake compassion for “being nice,” but it’s not. At A List Apart, the editorial team still says no when a submission isn’t a good fit. At MailChimp, Kiefer Lee’s colleagues are still quick to tell spammers, even the unintentional ones, that they can’t send more email.

The point of compassion isn’t to soften bad news or stressful situations with niceties. It’s to come from a place of kindness and understanding, rather than a place of judgment. It’s to tell the truth in such a way that you’re allowing others to tell their truths, too.

Source: Design for Real Life

I recommend the book Design for Real Life to anyone making things for and with other humans. That’s pretty much all of us. Educators, for example, are always designing, particularly forms. Learn how to make compassionate forms that avoid inadvertent cruelty and exclusion.

A big part of compassionate design is recognizing stress cases. To design for inclusion and real life, look to the stress cases. They “put our design and content choices to the test of real life”.

Real life is complicated. It’s full of joy and excitement, sure, but also stress, anxiety, fear, shame, and crisis. We might experience harassment or abuse, lose a loved one, become chronically ill, get into an accident, have a financial emergency, or simply be vulnerable for not fitting into society’s expectations.

None of these circumstances is ideal, but all of them are part of life-and, odds are, your site or product has plenty of users in these moments, whether you’ve ever thought about them or not.

Our industry tends to call these edge cases-things that affect an insignificant number of users. But the term itself is telling, as information designer and programmer Evan Hensleigh puts it: “Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.

That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.

It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Source: Design for Real Life

The products we create can make someone’s day—or leave them feeling alienated, marginalized, hurt, or angry. It’s all depends on whether we design for real life: for people with complex emotions, stressed-out scenarios, or simply identities that are different from our own.

Source: Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Design for Real Life (video)

Design for Real Life and the pathways principle from The End of Average will make you reconsider what you call an edge case.

Normative thinking— the belief there is one normal pathway— has fooled scientists in many fields.

The fact that there is not a single, normal pathway for any type of human development— biological, mental, moral, or professional— forms the basis of the third principle of individuality, the pathways principle. This principle makes two important affirmations. First, in all aspects of our lives and for any given goal, there are many, equally valid ways to reach the same outcome; and, second, the particular pathway that is optimal for you depends on your own individuality.

The first point is rooted in a powerful concept from the mathematics of complex systems called equifinality. According to equifinality, in any multidimensional system that involves changes over time— like a person interacting with the world— there are always multiple ways to get from point A to point B. The second point is derived from the science of the individual, which tells us that, because of the jaggedness and context principles, individuals vary naturally in the pace of their progress, and the sequences they take to reach an outcome. It is in understanding the why that we discover how to leverage the pathways principle to work for us as individuals and as a society.

Source: Rose, Todd. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 129). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Design for Real Life is informed by and compatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and structural ideology. I have more on developing compassion for the perspectives and stress cases of neurodiversity and disability communities in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Social model understanding is essential to every designer’s and maker’s education and work. The social model is essential to informed compassion. When we design from a social model mindset, we build pluralism into the world. When we design for stress cases and the margins, we build better things and benefit everyone.

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