November 18, 2017

You Are The Expert

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Let me ask an expert…

We attribute expertise to one who has extensive training and experience. It is someone with comprehensive and authoritative knowledge. They have skills gained from years of practice. We defer to them for answers and guidance.

When it comes to universal design, the definition of expert applies to you; you are the expert. Routines repeated around your home over many years have bestowed you with these credentials. What takes you beyond the beyond is a depth of individualized research and a profound familiarity with your subject, you. You’ve been adjusting your environment to work as best as it can; there is hardly another expert out there that knows more than you. How is it that you became this expert?

You unknowingly became an expert by the very attributes that make you unique. What works for you doesn’t always work for someone else. Someone with great physical strength uses force; genius uses intelligence. What emerges is that the variety of human ability is infinite. It is variety that is normal, not some standard that there is a normal. Let’s start with 1000 people and sort out who is normal: If our first filter is average height, we quickly reduce the number of “normal” people in our survey down to a few hundred. Our next filter, average weight, reduces our “normal” people further. Let’s have one more filter, age. Now we have a handful of people that constitute normal based on just three filters! If we build for this “normal” person we are in fact building for a very few people leaving the other 900 to bend lower, reach higher, and in other ways force their bodies to work in ways that don’t feel normal (a few won’t be able function at all).

A normal person doesn’t really exist yet we design as if they do. Primary work stations such as kitchens still have a one size-fits-all approach. This leaves many unable to use parts because they are too high, too low, too dark, too heavy, etc. You adapt your kitchen as best as possible to work for you.

If we shift the focus from an expert over there to the expert in you, your contribution matters greatly, yet, there is no place for your experience to be recorded; there is no place where you and other experts can collectively design a better kitchen. Until that opportunity exists, some guy in front of a computer fishing for statistics will design for a “normal” person hoping to sell as many products as possible at the lowest cost.

Universal Design Resource is developing a new web experience where your collective knowledge is brought into forums, discussions and blogs where the best solutions can emerge and guide those that design and fabricate our products and environments. Our launch is in early 2009.

Konrad Kaletsch