Jan. 17, 2019

Considering the User

Most folks within the UX and design professions understand that - in most cases - they are not designing for themselves. It is drilled into our heads from the beginning - ‘you are not your end user’. However, I think sometimes it’s easy for us to forget how different the end user might actually be. We are so immersed in our technology we may forget that not all people are tethered to their devices 24/7. And, there are many folks that don’t share in the luxuries we take for granted such as frequently updated computers/devices and almost non-stop access to information via high-speed internet.

In a recent article from the New York Times (Dec 2018), results from a study conducted by Microsoft researchers is shared. The study looked at access to high-speed internet across the US. They found that roughly 162.8 million people do not have access to broadband connections. This is in contrast to data provided by the FCC, claiming that only 24.7 million Americans do not have broadband internet available to them. A quote from the article states:

“In some areas with spotty or no service, children do their homework in Wi-Fi-equipped buses or fast-food restaurants, small businesses drive to internet hot spots to send sales pitches, and medical records are transported by hand on thumb-drive memory sticks.”

Given my day-to-day life as a UX architect at a big 10 university, this quote seems almost unbelievable! But then I think about locations in Indiana that do not have access to good broadband services. And, one can also find numerous areas without adequate cell coverage just miles from Bloomington. Without broadband service and without cell coverage, a lot of rural areas have limited access to the plethora of information many of us take for granted.

Microsoft provided the data they collected along with an interactive map [2].  An image of the Indiana data is shown below but be sure to visit the site and check out your own state. You might be surprised at what you find!

United States Broadband Availability Map

United States Broadband Availability and Usage Analysis

It is a good reminder for us that many folks may not have had as much access and experience with online systems as we assume they do. We need to continue to strive for easy-to-use, intuitive services and make sure we are considering users who may be vastly different than ourselves.

Read the New York Times article - Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says

Additional Resources:
[1] Microsoft: Half the US has no internet at broadband speed
[2] Interactive map showing discrepancies between FCC and Microsoft data for broadband coverage


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