06 Jun Product Camp 2019

This year's Product Camp took place at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, on Saturday, June 15. Product Camp is the East Coast’s premier event on all things product marketing and product management. Product Camp assembles Boston’s best and brightest in a collaborative setting, where the talks are voted upon by the attendees, which also makes it an “un” conference. The lineup of talks and “birds of a feather” gatherings makes it difficult to choose just one presentation. What’s great about this conference is that attendees are free to flow through presentations, and each presenter posts slides for all at the end of the conference. It’s also great for networking and career information. Sessions covered the gamut from UX research to A-B testing, from pricing to product visioning. Career topics covered transitions to interview success.

Christina Inge, CEO and founder of Thoughtlight presented at 3 PM, much later in the day, which gave her plenty of time to attend other talks as well as enjoy a delightful sandwich for lunch. This year, she gave her talk with colleague Marah Rosenberg, an expert in online learning technologies.

The idea to give a talk about inclusive design came from her own recent experiences in having a wheelchair ramp installed in her home for her mother. When the big day finally came, the family was very excited by this latest installation to the external landscape design. What happened instead was a classic #epicfail. The contractors had been so busy delivering a ramp based on the exact specifications that they failed to see its practical and spectacular “big picture.” If anyone were to use the ramp they would unceremoniously be dumped into the yard, not merging smoothly onto the sidewalk as one would hope.

Which brings us to the subject of Christina Inge’s and Marah Rosenberg’s talk: Getting Started with Inclusive Design. Inclusive design has become more critical as there is growing recognition that many more Americans are living with one or more disabilities. Therefore, designing for the majority can feel very exclusive to what is commonly called the minority, but actually represents all of us at one point in our lives. Most Americans will at some point experience limitations in mobility, vision, hearing, cognition, or sensory processing.

Inclusive design is not just about disability, however. It also means bringing as many perspectives into the design, marketing, and communities around products.

Inclusive design doesn’t mean pandering to certain demographics. Examples that come immediately to mind are creating “pink tools” for female customers or listing every possible salutation in a drop down list.

It’s important to start with universal, empathy-driven design from the beginning, and it starts with the recruitment process during customer discovery. This means being thoughtful about the recruitment process, avoiding our own unconscious biases. Sometimes biased stereotyping can creep in where none was intended and exclude wanted results. When surveys are created with a “default” option, the recipient will unconsciously veer towards that selection. Be sure to recruit respondents for customer discovery from as broad a community as possible. A more universal design will also be more appealing to more markets.

Christina and her co-presenter then reviewed an example of User Experience Design (UX) for mobile devices. Both the conventionally-abled and those with limitations can benefit from empathy-driven design when it comes to mobile. Mobile UX presents some new and interesting challenges such as end users attempting to use the device with only one hand, button sizes, and text font color and readability. Real world testing becomes very critical as does ensuring that all use cases are represented. What works for “most of us” ends up being exclusionary and minimizing the experience of some users. Another example that was shared is the need for empathy-driven image alt text. Alt-text that is plain and non-descriptive detracts from everyone’s user experience.

The great takeaway from the presentation was the toolkit of solutions: The Center for Excellence in Universal Design is a national disability authority and offers great resources for both developers and designers: http://universaldesign.ie. Finally, once a product has been finalized enough for a release, the opportunities to be more inclusive are just starting. The marketing program, from giveaways to advertising, can serve as the vehicle to inclusivity for all.

After the conference, it was great to see everyone pitch in to clean up the meeting rooms and bring back supplies for the next ProductCamp. The conference concluded with a get together and networking at a nearby venue. As always, ProductCamp Boston was a productive day of learning for all.

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