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Building accessible apps for everyone: Conversation with UX expert Kim Goodwin

Constant Therapy | Brain health

Need a cure for a cold? Want a how-to video, or want to buy the perfect outfit online? Make your way to the glorious world of apps! Today, there’s an app for almost everything you need, a two-click convenient ticket to just about anything you could want. 

The secret behind the best apps: user experience (or UX)

But among the plethora of apps to choose from, why do we prefer some over others? What makes us remain loyal to certain app brands? A significant reason for this is a user’s experience (UX) with the app or brand; in other words, how does the app make you feel?

As technology has advanced, our expectations from digital interactions have also grown. We prefer apps that feel more “human” or provide us with a meaningful and relevant experience rather than ones that feel like we’re just tapping on a piece of metal. Those that are easy to use, accessible to all abilities, and meet our goals, are more likely to stick on a user’s home screen rather than be flushed away into the junk folder.

In fact, the whole field of professional practice called User Experience (UX) design is dedicated to creating great product and service experiences. It’s not just about how an app works, but even how email, customer support, and other touchpoints can work seamlessly together. 

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To discuss the world of thought leadership that goes into user experience and how elements of accessibility and usability are incorporated, we sat down with renowned UX expert and VP of Product and Design at The Learning Corp, Kim Goodwin.

UX designers are end user advocates

Many tech-based products – like Constant Therapy, a digital therapeutics app for people living with speech, language and cognitive conditions – are rooted in complex AI systems and next-generation engineering. Such products can overemphasize the technology and downplay the human aspect of computer-human interaction. Kim explains how important it is to be grounded in human behavior and derive technology from how people think and act, instead of what is convenient for us to build.  

“The key to creating products for people is to spend time with those people, just listening to their stories, watching how they use not only ours but other products and observing how real therapy happens.” 

A lot of product research in UX involves conducting user interviews, that is, talking to users about their expectations, needs and genuine feedback on the product and its experience. She says, “All this helps us remember how people think. Sometimes that isn’t convenient for the software team, but that’s okay! Because it allows us to fix that technology-centered perspective.” 

User interviews are designed using techniques borrowed from ethnography, the social sciences, and cognitive psychology. A lot of science and planning goes into creating a well-represented and diverse pool of people to interview. The aim is to reach the best solution for the majority of the users. 

But what are the user’s needs? And how do we figure that out?

While preparing for the newest version of the Constant Therapy app, usability and accessibility took top priority. A large population of Constant Therapy’s user base live with speech, language, and cognitive challenges and for that reason, the app is designed to make the experience of completing exercises or monitoring progress simple, direct and encouraging. The app places a strong emphasis on design consistency, clarity of thought and informative feedback as needed so that the users of the app always stay comfortably challenged. 

Kim explains, “Right now, a lot of apps use minimalist visual design that makes it hard to tell what you can interact with on the screen. That’s especially troublesome for people recovering from brain injuries. For example, you’ll notice in the latest version of Constant Therapy, we use 3D treatments on the buttons and cards. Although that’s not very fashionable, we don’t want people to do that extra hard work in figuring out where to tap next.” 

There is also close attention paid to language. The instructions and greetings used in the app follow a consistently warm and conversational voice and are accompanied by multiple auditory and visual aids. If someone is trying to recover their reading and language skills, there are multiple vectors of communication to relay information. “There are things you might do with ordinary consumer apps where the language is really clever or playful, but that can be hard for people who are trying to recover their language skills,” Kim says. “If you’re breaking the rules of grammar, people who are restructuring their learning of grammar can get frustrated with that.” 

UX design evolves as we understand more about how people use technology

Say you’ve understood who your audience is and what they need from a product. Maybe you’ve even created a product following UX best practices, but what now? How well can you predict a user’s interests, needs and behaviors to determine how valuable and relevant your product remains in the future? 

Surprisingly, human behavior involves certain fundamentals that seem to remain consistent. Kim adds, “When you do research, you’ll find that a lot of human needs and behaviors will be pretty consistent even from decade to decade. People tend to overemphasize how much tech impacts behavior.” Advanced technology makes new things possible, Kim explains, but a focus on humans is what makes products valuable. 

“Fundamentally as humans we all want to live our best lives and maintain our dignity and no matter how much the tech world around us revolves, that is always going to be true.” – Kim Goodwin, UX expert

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1 Comment

  1. Renuka Naik

    Wow sana , nicely written covering most of the points… language is simple and easy to understand. Thanx for this write up, hope it will help many people


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