How privilege defines performance

As content strategists, we usually start from where we stand. And that’s a pretty privileged place with a lot of unseen biases. Although we might use various methods and techniques to empathise with users, we will be struggling again and again. At the PerfMatters conference this year, Tatiana Mac shared how she has developed a “plugin” for our brains to create more truly performant, accessible, and inclusive systems for users.

Leverage the power of design

Tatiana Mac has started small, and burned out after some years of agency work. While backpacking through Europe she realised, that she loves to leverage the power of design. But she always wanted to design for good (and not for the commercial purposes like in agencies).

I can absolutely relate to her feeling, that when you work for an agency, you usually design for commercial goals. Somehow you always end up in manipulating users to buy more stuff or services they actually don’t need. For myself, working on the digital marketing side of agencies, I’ve solved parts of this dilemma with the approach of inbound marketing. A more “human” approach to marketing, where you also follow “good goals”.

Privilege blocks & walls

In her talk at the PerfMatters conference in April 2019, Tatiana Mac has pointed out that we usually structure users according to various privilege blocks. These are (subconsciously) implemented in forms, market segments, buyer personas and much more.

Privilege is a special right, advantage or immunity granted to only a particular person or group.

Privilege blocks are nothing bad per se, but they are walls that are somewhat invisible for us. They don’t dictate how hard we work or how far we go, but where we start in the beginning.

Privilege Blocks
Blocks of privilege

As individuals, the privilege we are born with is completely random. But the systems, that we are surrounded with are not. But as long as capitalism determines the market, we will be scared with (virtual) scarcity. We are motivated to work harder in order to make more money to reach higher goals.

Privilege is our responsibility

The first step during the installation of our “privilege plugin” is to acknowledge that privilege is our responsibility. We have to admit, that we are massively biased. When you take a look at the one million most popular websites, these are largely failing on web accessibility. For example 80% even fail on basic contrast.

But how did that come? Because we test for ourselves. And our world view is very narrow. But it’s not just websites, it’s also movies, newspapers, books. It’s everywhere.

Empathy is scam

Tatiana Mac thinks, that empathy is scam. And somehow, I can relate to her. Although we have a huge selection of tools to gain empathy (especially from the world of design thinking), we will never really know how it is to walk some steps in the shoes of our users.

That’s why we should replace empathy with trust. Trust the users and understand that not everything is made for our understanding. Although we can try to empathise with our users, we will not understand some behaviours or choices. And it’s also not our responsibility to understand everything. Trust is more powerful. Share the power – nothing about us, without us!

Put the wall down

When we share the power, the final step of the installation of our “privilege plugin” starts. We dismantle the block and pull the wall of privilege down. That’s the point where we can start with truly inclusive design and the development of accessible solution.

And that’s one of the key takeaways here: Accessibility helps everyone – really everyone. It removes the barrier of privilege – whether it’s sexual orientation, health our or citizenship.

That’s also something I’ve learned during our Accessibility & Multi-Screen Design course
at the Content Strategy Master programme of the FH Joanneum Graz with Eric Eggert. Accessibility helps all humans and machines to access content, to interact and understand digital services. It’s not the same as multi-screen design or performance optimisation, but they are actually very similar things.

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