An Event Apart: “Extreme Design”

Derek Featherstone speaking at An Event Apart Orlando 2016 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World on October 4, 2016.

How can we be sure we’re creating the best design experiences possible? It turns out that creating great experiences for a particular subset of our users—people with disabilities—results in better designs for everyone. Focusing relentlessly on accessibility helps us think of extreme scenarios and ask questions like “how can we make this work eyes free?” and “how can we make this work with the least amount of typing?” Explore multiple methods of extremifying your designs—stressing them in ways they haven’t been stressed before—to illuminate opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and excellence that lead to great designs for everyone.


  • Group closely related items
  • Layout: consider proximity, pattern of use for low vision
  • Use layout to create the right chunks; use pattern of use to lead the eye to action
  • Use the straw test to find layout and design challenges for people with low vision
  • Extreme Design—Cover extremes at both ends and you should cover most people in between
  • IDEO: The Deep Dive
  • “By examining the extreme ends of a set of phenomena in depth, the entire universe of relationships can be illuminated since other instances will fall somewhere between on the map of relations and links.”
  • The spectrum
  • Improving accessibility of a website actually leads to a better design in general
  • Extreme: Cannot see a critical visual
    • Example: a map describing an area of land
  • Extreme: Limited view of the screen
    • Example: a large table that doesn’t fit the user’s screen
    • Example: video player controls (need to be able to re-position them)
  • Pick the most critical element on your page and ask what would happen if a user could not see it
  • Extreme: Design for Dory (people with short memory)
    • People forget things
    • Placeholder disappears when you click in a form field
    • Error messaging: make it global and local
  • Extreme: Design for moving in one direction
    • Moving items multiple directions by voice can be difficult/impossible
  • Extreme: Design for Andre (or Fezzik)
    • People with large hands and fingers
    • How easily could Andre the Giant use your site?
  • Extreme: Design for hands free operation
    • Focus on the problem, not the solution
    • Use voice recognition
    • Enable hands-free usage
  • Minimum viable interaction: The smallest amount of information and functionality needed to complete an interaction
    • What if someone only reads the headings?
    • What if someone only reads the links?
    • What if someone can only interact with form fields?
  • Extreme: Form field-only interaction
    • When using form sliders, enable access to a field with values as well
  • Extreme: Headings-only consumption
    • Can we make this work well for someone that only reads headings?
  • Create the minimum viable interaction by providing the most valuable piece of information for decision-making as early as possible
  • Extreme: Transform digital to physical
    • Lots of red (error messages) in a form can overwhelm the user, making them feel stupid
    • Level up
  • Project an extreme onto a design problem. Solve that problem. Improve the interface for everyone.

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