Years ago there was an outcry regarding a “racist soap dispenser”: a motion-sensing soap dispenser only worked for people with light-colored skin. This was a major, glaring, and likely embarrassing mistake. It’s hard to imagine that the designers set out to create a solution that failed so many, but they did.
Today, COVID has jump-started a race to build even more touchless interactions into our everyday lives, and I see versions of this mistake being repeated. Designers, presumably trying to create better, safer, and more enjoyable interfaces, are failing to consider even basic accessibility requirements. The reason? When designers think of themselves as the default human, they design for and only test on themselves. We need to do better. We can’t keep filling the world with more racist soap dispensers.
At Bluecadet, we try to avoid the designer-as-default-human pitfall by taking a more user-centric approach to innovation, something exemplified by how we think about accessibility. Our studio’s recent R&D experiments with gesture-based touchless design have been a lesson in how centering accessibility early in the prototyping phase can lead to better final results. By taking accessibility into account from the earliest experiments, we learned quickly, fixed mistakes, and built better interfaces.