18.1 Inclusive Design and the Persona Spectrum

Solve for one, extend to many

Everyone has abilities, and limits to those abilities. Designing for people with permanent disabilities actually results in designs that benefit people universally. Constraints are a beautiful thing.

Inclusive Design Principles, Microsoft

While further investigating some of the projects Richard Banks discussed with us earlier this week, I came across Microsoft’s inclusive design methodology and toolkit. At the heart of this methodology is the study of human diversity in order to understand how individuals and groups are excluded from certain activities or services. Microsoft propose that disability arises ‘at the points of interaction between a person and society’ causing ‘mismatched interactions’ which result in ‘physical, cognitive and social exclusion’, and that exploring these ‘points of exclusion’ is the key not only to generating a solution for someone who is physically disabled but also for many who may be situationally disabled; for example, a design which is accessible to an amputee with one functional hand is likely also suitable for a new mother struggling to complete a task one handed while holding her baby with the other arm.

The toolkit contains an exercise to generate a persona spectrum which maps a permanent disability to temporary and situational impairments, reflecting the wide range of people a solution originally proposed to assist a person with a permanent limitation could potentially benefit.


For this project, the persona spectrum extends beyond the intended audience of visually impaired people, to groups who would have difficulty reading text under certain circumstances, such as exchange students playing games in languages other than their own native tongue; to people who are capable of understanding the concepts of a game, but not the terms in which they are described, such as less well-educated people who may not have previously encountered some of the archaic language used in games with a fantasy or historical setting, or those of a different culture or generation from that of the designers. It is also potentially useful for players of customizable card games, such as Magic: The Gathering, as a means of identifying foreign language cards which are often obtained by players buying cards in bulk on the secondary market, and frequently found for sale in games stores.

Persona Spectrum, updated March 11th 2017, in light of conversation with Michael Heron, to include people with cognitive impairments, who can see but not interpret the information on a game card.


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