In the world of web development, we strive to create experiences that cater to the needs of our users. We segment them into different categories, define personas, and make assumptions about what we consider “normal.” However, the truth is that “normal” doesn’t really exist when it comes to web users. The vast array of operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions, assistive technologies, and disabilities makes it impossible to conform to a single standard. The only logical approach is to use Universal Design, which acknowledges the diversity of users and promotes inclusivity for all.
Defying the Assumption of Normalcy
As web developers, we typically claim to support popular platforms like Chrome, Edge, Safari, and Firefox. We might even have personas that represent specific user types. But in reality, we are merely defining our own version of “normal.” For instance, when using Google Analytics, we often rely on three broad categories: “Desktop,” “Mobile Phone,” and “Tablet.” This oversimplification fails to capture the true diversity of devices and platforms out there.
The Complexity of Combinations
Let’s take a closer look at the complexity of possible combinations. On desktop alone, we have seven major browsers, such as Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. When we consider different operating systems like Windows, MacOS, Linux, and ChromeOS, the number of potential combinations increases to 32. Turning our attention to mobile devices, with iOS and Android as the primary operating systems, we encounter an additional 37 combinations and we haven’t even factored in screen resolutions yet.
The Impact of Screen Resolution
Screen resolution further complicates the landscape. While many developers work with a few responsive breakpoints, the reality is that there are countless screen resolutions in use. Analyzing my own website’s traffic reveals 12 distinct viewports in use by most users, but this represents only a fraction of the possible combinations. In total, we reach approximately 420 combinations of platforms, operating systems, browsers, and screen resolutions.
Now, let’s bring disabilities into the equation. Approximately 27% of people in the US have a disability. Various types of disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, motor impairments, and cognitive impairments, require us to adapt our designs accordingly.
For visual impairments alone, there are eight subcategories, including blindness, low vision, and color perception issues. Considering screen readers, we encounter multiple combinations depending on the device and operating system. Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS, iOS, and Android all have specific screen reader options. Combining all these variables, we arrive at a staggering 672 possible combinations of device type, operating system, browser, screen reader, and resolution.
Embracing Universal Design
When we factor in all the possible combinations of platforms, operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions, and disabilities, we arrive at a mind-boggling number of permutations. It becomes clear that designing for a single “normal” user is an exercise in futility.
The logical and inclusive approach is Universal Design, which aims to create products and experiences that can be accessed, understood, and used by all individuals, regardless of their abilities or preferences. By adopting Universal Design principles, we ensure that our websites and applications are accessible and usable by the widest possible audience.
In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, there’s no such thing as a “normal” user. The wide array of operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions, assistive technologies, and disabilities make it impossible to conform to a single standard. Embracing Universal Design is the only logical approach to cater to the diverse needs of users.
By prioritizing inclusivity and accessibility, we can create web experiences that are truly user-centric and provide equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their circumstances. Remember, it’s essential to understand that our users are not homogenous but rather a diverse group with unique needs and preferences. By designing with inclusivity in mind, we can make the web a more welcoming and accessible place for everyone.