Two birds talking

Designing for the most under-represented user group: Animals

Take a trip with me back to 1996. It was the Wild, Wild Web, and the only thing designers cared about were pixels on a screen. There was very little we could do to begin with, so no one could afford to consider a wide range of user accessibility needs. We were too busy designing for the two competing browsers, Netscape and AOL, to even think about variation in screen sizes. How blissfully ignorant we were, and unfortunately, little has changed. Today, there is an enormous void in our designs—one that responsible designers must begin to fill.

There is an under-represented user group all around us. According to some research, 62% of American households include this user group, and that doesn’t even include the surrounding areas. I’m talking about the Animal Kingdom—dogs, cats, fish, squirrels, and more. If we believe in a truly world-wide web, should we not accommodate them? Increasingly, more and more people think we should.

“What we need to do to design is to look at the extremes. The middle will take care of itself.” – Dan Formosa

What can we do?

Awareness is always the first step. Some developers are already making ground into cross-species interface design, but our early efforts are pandering at best. How do we deliver relevant content to non-humans in accessible ways? Here are some suggestions.

Designing for no thumbs

The old way was to design for “one-thumb,” but that’s a homocentric design philosophy that won’t last in a world where there is only one user group with opposable thumbs. Consider using HTML5 APIs to make your site respond to being shouted at or being thrown into water.

Avoid mouse-biased UI designs

Not every animal interacting with your website will be small like a mouse. Think about animals with large appendages, such as elephants.

Copy writing

Useful apps have helped us to write in such a way that a 6th grader could read it. But now we need to write copy so clear and concise that even someone who cannot read can read it. You’ll probably need to host a very expensive speaker to do a workshop about content strategy for non-linguals.

But I’m still trying to convince my boss to do responsive design—now animals?

Yes. Convincing higher-ups about important issues is always a challenge for designers. Don’t be a chicken, speak for the chickens. Consider using words like “disruption” to get your point across.  Also, make sure to point out how this is a completely untapped market for growth.

“The important thing is that other designers have a good reason to feel like shit about their until-today-cutting-edge site they just spent a year developing.”