This last year has given us a glimpse of the human need for interdependence while exposing the deep gaps in our cultural, social, and economic systems. It has left many of us wondering about what is important to us in this life, and me with the question, "How can I make a significant and lasting difference in the world?"
In June 2021, I decided to resign from my corporate job to focus on social impact and the intersection of design and technology. In July, we formally announced the launch of ExperienceFutures.org. Modeled after open-source software foundations, we aim to build equity into digital experiences through tools and standards that lay the foundation for a more empowered future.
I am grateful to live in an era with digital tools that equip me to solve many of the tasks and challenges I have in my life. From using digital tools at work to managing my personal finances; from getting specialized tools for my special needs child to helping me find utilities to help me decode my dyslexia. As an executive responsible for creating digital experiences, I understand the design principles used with these tools, allowing me to instinctively use them. However, it's abundantly clear that knowing how to use digital tools fluently is a privilege. This creates inequity for people who don't know how to use them.
We have witnessed exponential digital growth in the past few years, including the accelerated rise of online health solutions, customer service automation, the digitization of personal finances, and remote education. The pandemic has greatly accelerated this growth, and I see how these experiences are designed in ways that continue to privilege the people who already know how they work. Suddenly, the feeling of freedom and empowerment that digital tools provide feels quite different when you see the walls set up between people with different economic backgrounds who don't have the same language abilities or the experience to track changes in apps or websites.
Here are a few examples of how this shows up:
- A study conducted by the NIH found that mobile users over the age of 55 report being unable to use healthcare apps 43% of the time without assistance due to poor design and confusing content.
- In a report published by usafacts.org, 17% of US schoolchildren live in households without laptops or desktop computers, which creates a significant disadvantage in digital and distance learning since most tools are unavailable on mobile devices.
- WebAIM, a nonprofit web accessibility organization, published a report on state-run COVID websites and found accessibility issues on over 90 sites reviewed - challenging senior citizens who were arguably the most critical users.
If creating digital tools to aid some communities means we have no choice but to marginalize disadvantaged ones, then the Internet has become yet one more system of inequity. And we, as digital experience leaders, designers, and developers, are the architects of that system.
ExperienceFutures.org envisions a world where every single person has fair and equitable access to technology and a personalized digital experience that adapts to their individual needs. The path to this reality is being paved by new approaches to design and automation. We will provide tools, certification programs, and technology to help a wide range of organizations create digital experiences that are more equitable and empowering.
If you’ve read this far, then I’m going to consider you a supporter - we need your help. Share this post, tell me who I should be talking to, make introductions, and join us in any way you can. I believe this is vital work that we can only do as a diverse community through radical collaboration in a non-competitive environment.
Read more about our approach, roadmap, and team at ExperienceFutures.org
And finally, THANK YOU to everyone who has helped us get this far - all of the feedback, thinking, writing, research, design, coding, wrangling, and debating. This is truly an effort that shows how people are willing to invest in a better future.
Howard Pyle, Founder - Experience Futures