A Matter of Priority

Google, a company often revered for its ability to lead design trends, has been vocal recently about the importance of what it calls “designing with empathy.” Put another way, this means keeping in mind the World Health Organization’s estimate that over one billion people suffer from some kind of disability.

Discussing the issue at the company’s recent I/O Conference in San Francisco, accessibility experts Astrid Weber and Jen Devins listed a number of things which empathetic design ought to encompass. And while many are somewhat specific to technological design—such as interfaces which account for color blindness—there are still many salient overlaps between their charges to the design world and our work.

Perhaps the greatest philosophical point made at the conference relates to sequence, and the importance of making empathy a design driver rather than a design add-on. As consumers well know, features incorporated at the last minute are unlikely to feel true to the spirit of the product, no matter what it is.

Although we may not always use the word, empathy is very much at the heart of our mission and our process. An attentive view to the wide-ranging needs of our users forms the foundation of our products, and it is one of the great joys and great challenges of our work to understand the nuance of those whose experience may differ from our own.

Though we don’t like to rely on external validation, it never hurts to hear that other companies are thinking along similar lines. And when one of those companies is Google, all the better.

Hal Ebbott