Byron Buckley

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Designing for Persons with Down Syndrome

Published January 30, 2014

    I began pursuing design education to answer the question "why put that element there"? Why is the search box at the top right, and the menu button at the top left? Why are most navigation menus on the left? I was of the impression that design gurus placed elements on talent, whim and vibe; that the horizontal rule is there because it felt right. While there is a place for intuition in the design process, what I learned was that design decisions should also be based on research. Research may be user and task analysis that you performed, or it may be existing research related to the goals of your audience. Design research in addition to best practices provides a box for me to design in.

    Good design is not about thinking outside the box, It's about finding the right box to think inside. - Aza Raskin

    The Designing for Down Syndrome project was the last piece of course work for my graduate class: Humans, Computers and Cognition (HCC). The project provided me with an excellent opportunity to use research to influence design decisions.

    Tasked with researching and designing a budgeting application for a under-served user group, I selected individuals with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome (DS) is a genetic disorder that manifests itself in disabilities that affect all three major types of capabilities (cognitive, motor, and perceptual). I relied on existing research that targeted the DS audience, this revealed the various constraints for individuals with this malady; it also revealed design heuristics and methods that have been successful with these individuals. These findings provided the aforementioned box to design in; thus allowing decisions to be made on:

    • Target User
    • Hardware modifications
    • Required level of education

    Research also influenced the design approach and application feature set, such as:

    • Aid with distinguishing and understanding (progressive disclosure, reduced interface)
    • Aiding with user interaction (Accelerators)
    • Aid with navigation and finding content

    Details of my findings and resulting prototype are available below: