User Unfriendly Notes Towards a Queer Web

Miriam Suzanne | @mirisuzanne | @oddbird


User Unfriendly Notes Towards a Queer Web

Agnes Scott College — September 17, 2019

OddBird Faces

OddBird Web Consulting

Custom Apps, Design Systems, Refactors…

I make art & software that celebrate the queer complexity of human experience.

From my website (I googled it)

The World Wide Web

a history

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989

a portrait of this author as a young queer – 1989.

It is required that HTML be a common language between all platforms.

info.cern.ch » Technical » HTML format » Constraints »

worldwideweb.cern.ch/ - Document » Open from full document reference »

WWW parsers should ignore tags which they do not understand, and ignore attributes which they do not understand of tags which they do understand.

The Web is…

Accessible by Design

The Web is…

Contextual by Design

The Web is…

Resilient by Design

The Web is…

Customizable by Design

The Web Model

Is User-Controlled By Design

Open your browser settings, and you can override everything here.

This implies no… control over fonts or colors, for example.

Web for All

Web on Everything

W3C Mission

World Wide Web Consortium formed in 1994

OddBird siblings (Jonny, Carl, and Miriam) in 1994

Web has a Mission Statement

What’s the mission of the printing press?

1996 2000: Cascading Style Sheets

Principle of Least Power

The CSS Zen Garden demonstrates multiple styles over a single HTML document

Performative Turn(s)

Script from Jane/Eyre

Photo from Jane/Eyre

Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1917, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

a.k.a. R Mutt – sent it to Duchamp several days before he “created” it

miriamsuzanne.com (now with a whole new look)

Looks pretty cool, but having the menu and the text rotated like that just makes them super difficult to read

—Dude, Online


What is User Friendly?

Bootstrapping vs Plug-and-play


Augmenting Human Intellect

Douglas Engelbart, The Mother of All Demos (1968) | the mouse, hypertext, view switching, networked computers, early GUI

Providing the means for users to create better tools.

Any barrier that exists between the user and some part of the system will eventually be a barrier to creative expression.

—“Design Principles Behind Smalltalk” (Byte 1981)


It Just Works

Steve Jobs, Apple II (1993)

Identical, Easy-to-Use, Low-Cost Appliance

Intuitive” or “Invisible”?

Open” or “Adaptable”?


It Depends

Users Are All Different

experiences, associations, skills, limitations

Don’t take my word for it, trust Ray Charles

A Queer Theory Primer…

Strange” or “Peculiar

1800’s: becomes a (sexual) insult

1980’s/90’s: Reclaimed

A big tent movement

“We’re all the same

We’re All Different

…but our struggles & identities intersect…

“We’re normal too”

“Normal” is Suspect

Who Defines it? Who Benefits?

“Normal” points to a power-imbalance…

Hat tip @GenderTitle

Othering”, like literally

First Name / Last Name?

(and that name never changes…)

Single “Real” Identity?

(and no code switching ever)

Under an increasing pressure to monetize the data they store, Facebook looks for ways to limit difference across the site.

—Ben Grosser, How the Technological Design of Facebook Homogenizes Identity and Limits Personal Representation

New Republic, August 31, 2017

👨 <- Who Benefits?

No One is an Edge Case


Everyone is an Edge Case

Empathy is Not Enough

Listening > Imagining

No shit, Ev. From Business Insider




Ask Them

Test Stress Cases

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

Users are Experts

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Henry Ford John McNeece (kinda)

Humane By Design Principles

User Expertise:

  1. End Goals
  2. Existing Solutions
  3. Points of Failure

User Blind Spots:

  1. Interface Design

Ask about Problems, not Solutions

works with art feedback as well…

Always Ask Why

look for the root causes

Analyze Patterns

common pain-points, related issues, etc…

Recognize Personal Bias

When the Problem is in Act V, The Solution is Often in Act I

Set Meaningful Goals

click-through rates are not universal success

Jon Tan speaking at An Event Apart

Jon Tan speaking at An Event Apart

Do I want to create work in which everyone feels the same, or everyone feels differently?

—Anne Bogart, A Director Prepares

Know Your Innovation Budget

miriamsuzanne.com (now with a whole new look)

Test & Trust

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your website to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

Jakob Nielsen

“All Websites Look The Same” from NoVolume

The fact we can control a paper page is really a limitation of that medium.

—John Allsopp, A Dao of Web Design (April 07, 2000)

It takes craft to set up the circumstances that are simple and yet contain the ambiguities and the incongruity of human experience.

—Anne Bogart, A Director Prepares

Stay in touch…