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How academic thought leadership paves the way for industry: Apple accessibility UI

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

I’d like to start the article with one of the Good Design principles from the famous German designer Dieter Rams.

Good Design is unobtrusive.

Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Dieter Rams

During one of my research projects back at Technological University Dublin (2017) we came across the results highlighted from different research [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] about the stress and anxiety that some user groups with different skills or abilities were experiencing when adopting a new device or technology.

We found that the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of different digital devices could be one of the key factors that might discourage users from properly learning how to use those devices. Taking a picture with a smartphone, sending an email, and using certain apps are nowadays simple tasks for most users, however, certain people, such as older adults, or people with different learning skills or abilities, have a tough time learning how to use new devices.

We then started investigating this challenge more in-depth and, through a series of qualitative and quantitative (case study analysis, observation, focus group, and structured surveys) research, that you can find published under my publications section, we found that there are some devices specifically designed for targeted user groups that could help them in better performing certain instrumental activities of daily living.

However, those devices, as they are not widely adopted and are sometimes clunky, often make those users feel stigmatized and discriminated against for not being able to adopt mainstream solutions such as popular smartphones or tablets.

With our research [8], we found that developing inclusive learning experiences can positively influence the confidence different people have when learning how to use a device.

Up so far you may think: great, this is a great piece of academic research, however, how can this be applicable to the consumer market?

Well, we didn’t stop here.

To make sure companies could understand the value of academic research, back at the time I developed a design concept of an inclusive and simplified Operating System (OS) Graphical User Interface to improve the User Learning experience for Android and Apple smartphone users.

A link to the video showing the mock-up of the Inclusive Graphical User Interface (IGUI).

Following the principle from Dieter Rams, Good Design is unobtrusive, my goal was to develop a user interface, which was called IGUI (Inclusive Graphical User Interface), that was not just easy but was simple to use.

A mock-up of the Inclusive Graphical User Interface (IGUI).

How it works:

Under settings, a simple toggle switches the GUI (Graphical User Interface) from ‘original’ to ‘simplified’ mode where selected apps and features - based on customer research - are embedded in one screen, with increased visual contrast, bigger icons, and larger font.

After developing that mock-up, I shared it on socials, presented at conferences, workshops, applied for jobs, and also wrote to Apple about this.

My job application to the Apple Design team, back in 2020.

Why am I telling you this old story?

Well, I recently came across this fantastic article: where it shows that finally Apple released the iOS 16.2 version, a beta version for developers with a new Custom Accessibility Mode that will provide a streamlined experience for iPhone and iPad users.

What does that mean?

This new feature called apparently Clarity UI allows a new set of simplified modes for Apple iOS and will allow users to navigate through the system with a better learning experience. Once the Clarity UI mode (or Custom Accessibility Mode interface) is activated, the interface of the apps becomes extremely simplified and with larger elements, you can see in the home screen giant icons by eliminating almost every aspect of the regular interface in favor of focusing on important and large elements, fostering a better learning experience.

Picture from:

This might be looking like a great example of how fore-front academic research – whether or not was actually captured by Apple’s radar – could influence the design of a new feature or product, like the Apple iPhone that is currently used by approximately 1.2 B users in the world.

This story might tell us a message: sharing research through published academic articles, and mock-ups and amplifying the message through social media, talks, workshops, and lectures, can inspire, influence, and maybe foster the development of products and features that aim to empower people with different abilities all across the world.

Great job Apple!

We (the people) are proud of you!

This article was not written with any AI system, but only with the passion of the writer, Matteo.

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