More and more, we work in places where continuous development is championed, MVPs are common, pre-release testing is limited, and the pressure is on to constantly redefine features in newer, faster, better ways. Updates happen constantly, without notice, and the way things work shifts under our feet more often than not. This kind of fast-paced, constant change moves the web forward and challenges traditional testing practices. Let’s talk about how testing is changing and how we can build a better, stronger culture of testing.
The Flow Patrol team at Stimpunks continuously dogfoods what we make with our own creaking humanity in mind. Universal design, design questioning, liberatory design, zero-based design, design for real life, neurodiversity, and the social model of disability inform us as we continuously confront what we make as users, as people with lives and backstories, aches and pains, and bad days. Continuous development requires continuous outspoken humanity. We’re designated dissenters, public editors, and ombudsfolk advocating for users.
Here’s how we patrol flow.
Design With, Not For
An important tenet of flow patrol is designing with, not for.
This small group of autistic pupils from a school in Chile reveal the important insights that can be gained from engaging with children and young people directly on how to facilitate their own educational inclusion (Humphrey & Lewis 2008).Perspectives on Educational Inclusion from a Small Sample of Autistic Pupils in Santiago, Chile
The kids in the study were great at improving classroom UX and intuiting their needs. Adults need to listen and act.
Even better than designing for is designing with. Neurodivergent & disabled students are great flow testers. They’ll thoroughly dogfood your school UX. There are great opportunities for project & passion-based learning in giving students agency to audit their context and design something better.
Edge Cases Are Stress Cases
Flow Patrol recognizes that edge cases are stress cases.
Disabled and neurodivergent people are always edge cases, and edge cases are stress cases. The logistics of disability and cognitive difference in an ableist and inaccessible world are exhausting, often impossible. Part of compassion is recognizing the structural realities of marginalized people and rejecting narratives of resentment. Design is tested at the edges. “No one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream.” “By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.” “When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someone’s life does.” “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.” “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.” ‘People who enter services are frequently society’s most vulnerable–people who have experienced extensive trauma, adversity, abuse, and oppression throughout their lives. At the same time, I struggle with the word “trauma” because it signifies some huge, overt event that needs to pass some arbitrary line of “bad enough” to count. I prefer the terms “stress” and “adversity.” … Our brains and bodies don’t know the difference between “trauma” and “adversity”–a stressed fight/flight state is the same regardless of what words you use to describe the external environment. I’m tired of people saying “nothing bad ever happened to me” because they did not experience “trauma.” People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.‘
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.Design for Real Life
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.Design for Real Life
We can’t always predict who will use our products, or what emotional state they’ll be in when they do. But we have the power—and the responsibility—to build compassion into every aspect of our products, and to advocate for experiences that support more of our users, more of the time.Delight 2016: Sara Wachter Boettcher — Design for Real Life – YouTube
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.Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Design for Real Life (video)
Technology companies call these people edge cases, because they live at the margins. They are, by definition, the marginalized.Design’s Lost Generation – Mike Monteiro – Medium
“Edge case” is, to be frank, a phrase that should be banned from all developer conversations (and then tattooed onto the forehead of anyone who continues to use it).
When we say “Edge Case” we mean “Stress Case”. In their book, Design for Real Life, Eric Meyer & Sara Wachter-Boettcher point out that what we glibly call an “edge case” is normally an enormously stressful event for a user.
It often accompanies high emotions, stress, physical problems, financial problems, etc. When we discount and dismiss the “edge case”, we’re actually saying “I don’t care about that particular user’s stressful situation”.Dear Developer, The Web Isn’t About You | sonniesedge.co.uk
Watch, Listen, Learn
See the world through someone else’s eyes for a little while.Tressie McMillan Cottom