If you really want to change the world, consider hiring more Autistic UX designers.
Anthony Hopkins. Tim Burton. Woody Allen. Lewis Carrol.
Thomas Jefferson. Emily Dickinson. Charles Darwin.
Albert Einstein. Steve Jobs.
What do all these people have in common?
They were all revolutionaries — highly successful people who were able to touch the hearts and minds of billions.
They were also all diagnosed with autism or said to have had autism by experts who studied their lives after they died.
Interestingly, one of the primary listed qualifications needed for a spectrum diagnosis is “lack of empathy.” Autistic people are notorious for not being able to think about other people’s needs. You may have noticed Steve Jobs on the list above. Autistic people make superb UX designers because they study human behavior as a science, obsessively perfecting things as they go along.
Studying users’ needs as a precise science is what makes a great UX designer. “Empathy” is a great start, but it’s not enough when we don’t have clear-cut processes, data, and scientific curiosity about human behavior.
Dictionary.com defines “creativity” as: “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”
Creativity is crucial for a UX designer throughout the entire design process. Only by studying and understanding the “traditional rules, patterns, and relationships” can we truly learn to transcend them and create those “meaningful new ones.”
Neurodiverse human beings are also supreme problem solvers. In a world still so unaccepting of anyone who thinks and learns differently than the ‘majority,’ people with Autism and ADHD have had to become experts at problem-solving just to survive. Imagine having to access multiple memories and scenarios to figure out in every conversation what the “right thing” to say would be.
In short, becoming a creative problem-solver becomes a necessity for a person with Autism or ADHD. They need to work a lot harder to process and understand how other people think, feel, and respond to things. Then they need to design themselves and their actions accordingly.
I’m going to add a disclaimer here. I have a deep understanding of Autism and ADHD because I grew up in a family with multi-generational members being on all ends of the spectrum. A few of my children are neurodiverse. I’ve spent years researching and working directly with neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and coaches to understand my kids’ needs. This article is a reflection of that research and my own experience listening to and communicating with all the neurodiverse people in my life.
(And yes, I’ve been for a diagnosis myself but was told a few times that I am not on the spectrum.)
Should we treat neurodiverse people differently? My answer would be no, just as it would be no if asked if we need to treat people with physical disabilities or differently-abled people differently.
I will say: We need to treat all of our employees as if they all had “special needs” because we all do.
I have a sister-in-law with Downs Syndrome. My mother in law, who raised 13 children, always said that if we treated every kid like we treat kids with ‘special needs,’ imagine what a different and beautiful world we’d live in. She took this one daughter to educational enrichment programs, music lessons, swimming, exclusive retreats, and camps. All of her teachers smile and encourage her in every step that she takes. Her learning needs are always taken into consideration because you can “see” that she is different…
In short, so much more design education.
What if we treated everyone like that?
In that spirit, I’d like to pause, recognize, and thank the companies that are working hard to consider their employees’ needs, invest in their growth, and in turn, are reaping the benefits of a mutually beneficial relationship.
They are helping us prove that happier employees are more productive, creative, and loyal.
The following three stuck out in my mind at the time of writing this article:
Microsoft “forces” their employees to finish their vacation days by the end of the calendar year. Great for fellow work-a-holics! Microsoft recognizes the need to take a break and recharge. For a list of full employee benefits at Microsoft, visit their site — https://futurefuel.io/employee-benefits/microsoft-careers/
Aha!’s team is 100% remote, allowing their employees to work from wherever they feel comfortable. They make a point to get together and give together one or twice a year to hands-on community projects. Read about career opportunities with AHA by visiting their site — https://www.aha.io/company/careers.
Invision’s team is also 100% remote, and they give you a stipend to set up your home office, as well as a monthly stipend for a gym membership to keep your mind and body healthy.
I’m going to end this article by diving into the idea of treating everyone equally a little further. If we accept and treat all of our employees as if they had ‘special needs’, why can’t we design our products the same way?
People on the spectrum often suffer from sensory overload. They need minimalistic products that are highly intuitive and usable in order not to feel overwhelmed.
I don’t see why that is any different than what we strive to design for the rest of the world daily. So diversity and inclusion are not only concepts that talk about how we, as designers, can “give” and “design for” the “special needs” community. These guidelines are just as pertinent and vital for the rest of us. There are many psychologists today that will argue that we “create” ADHD or like-symptoms with the ‘overuse’ of addictive tech products. Designing more minimalistic products is the most ethical and natural solution to this problem.
And Autistic designers can help us create products like these because that is what they need for themselves.
It’s become somewhat of a cliche for startups and other companies to say they’re looking for, “truly creative, even crazy people.” But I have seen that when it comes down to action, many of them fall short on putting their money where their mouth is. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head with this one.
So — hire more neurodiverse team members! Offer remote work options! You’ll be doing yourself a big favor — maybe even a bigger one than you’ll be doing them.