Calm Tech UX & Inclusive Design Principles at Microsoft

Interruptions are inevitable. Some alerts are helpful and others distract during inopportune moments.

How do we design a system that empathizes with its users and adjusts the way it communicates?


Last year, Microsoft Design invited me to Redmond, Washington to consult on their accessibility and inclusivity initiatives.

Millions of users means hundreds of thousands of edge cases, and mobile products only increase temporary, situational and permanent frustrations. The team was interested in Calm Technology because it offered them a new way to address ongoing issues experienced by existing and future customers.


After a number of interviews and workshops about attention and notification fatigue, I worked with Microsoft to help adapt some of Calm Tech principles into their organization and their inclusivity toolkit.

The guide introduces a reframing of the concept of disability, how user experience intersects with the goals of inclusivity, and an overview of permanent, temporary and situational exclusions.

How do you achieve focus? from Microsoft Design on Vimeo.

1. Increased Mobility of Technology equals Increased Moments of Disability:

Interactions with technology depend heavily on what we can see, hear, say, touch, learn, and remember. Mobile technologies can make situational limitations highly relevant to many people today. Mobile puts in focus questions like: Are we forced to adapt to technology, or is technology adapting to us?

2. Disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and society.

Physical, cognitive, and social exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions. As designers, it’s our responsibility to know how our designs affect these interactions and create mismatches. Points of exclusion help us generate new ideas and inclusive designs. They highlight opportunities to create solutions with utility and elegance for many people.

3. Sometimes exclusion is temporary or situational.

Even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about trying to order a drink at a noisy bar, using your cell phone in direct sunlight, trying to write with a broken arm, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.

As people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.

The toolkit also expands on some Microsoft Inclusive Design Considerations influenced by Principles of Calm Technology:

  • Understand urgency and medium: Can you be more mindful of the relative importance, and design appropriate levels of urgency? If everything looks urgent, nothing is.
  • Adapt to the customer’s behavior: If a customer consistently interacts with one type of notification, and ignores another, can your system react and adapt?
  • Adapt to context: Does your experience change if the sun’s out, or if there’s a crowded room? An isolated environment? Time of day? Can it respect and change in different types of environments or customer contexts?
  • Enable the customer to adapt: Can the customer personalize the experience, so it works better for their particular needs?
  • Reduce mental cost: How can you make your experiences simpler, clearer, and less costly to understand? Are there parts of the journey that are unnecessary or overly complicated?

I’d like to thank Microsoft for their ongoing efforts to make it easier for people to use their technologies, and for taking a step forward in trying to build Calm Technology for the future of our attention! You can read more about Microsoft’s Inclusivity efforts from Doug Kim.

If you want to start designing smarter, more empathetic systems, download the booklet for more questions to guide your thinking. Check out the Microsoft Inclusive Design site for more resources, toolkits and ideas.

An Introduction to Ward Cunningham’s Smallest Federated Wiki


Wiki-founder Ward Cunningham shared his idea of a Smallest Federated Wiki SFW during IndieWebCamp this June. In a few short weeks, he brought his idea to life and is inviting others to work with him on it!

What is SFW?

The Smallest Federated Wiki project wants to be small in the “easy to learn powerful ideas” version of small. It wants to be a wiki so that strangers can meet and create works of value together. And it wants to be federated so that the burden of maintaining long-lasting content is shared among those who care.


Project Overview

Source Code


Instance – New Simplest Federated Wiki Install
Live data – Try dragging around the sections to re-order them!
Live data rendered from JSON in JavaScript

Smallest Federated Wiki Collaboration Session

Come to PIE for a short hack session on smallest federated wikis. Max Ogden will also be joining us from San Francisco!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011 from 6–8pm


PIE: Portland Incubator Experiment
1227 NW Davis Street
Portland, OR 97209


The It Getters

I met Rand Fishkin of for the first time at Portland’s SearchFest 2008 in February. I’d crashed my bike the weekend before, and I arrived at the conference late, missing his keynote.

He’s an amazing guy. His speeches are some of the best in the industry. They’re rapid-fire, hilarious, and terrifyingly engaging. They are prime examples of structured and engaging learning experiences for large groups. In person, he’s charismatic, kind, and entertaining.

His blog is always a great read, but an old article about “It Getters”, struck a great chord with me.

In the article, Rand examines the problem that happens when “companies get big, add staff and eventually, the hiring gets a bit sloppy.” “Thus,” he points out, “you can accidentally add lots of “doesn’t get it” and “causes others to lose it” to your organization, sucking away the ability of others to produce more amazing times”.

This handy chart might explain things more easily:

Rand Fishkin's 'It-Getting' Scale

Rand thus proposes “a short and extremely simple set of recommendations for anyone running a company, starting a company, managing a team, or planning their professional life:

  • Discover what “it” is that you get
  • Apply yourself ruthlessly to “it”
  • Become competent at identifying “it” getters in your areas of weakness
  • Surround yourself with them”

The It Getters” originally posted on the Seomoz blog on August 7th, 2008

Bram Pitoyo reviews Coda – a one window web development tool

In this video, Bram Pitoyo will show you how why he likes to use Coda, a one-window web development tool for Mac OSX created by Panic Software (a local Portland Company!). Along the way, he’ll demonstrate a few different features of Coda, as well as some of the more efficient ways to use it.

If you haven’t tried Coda before, you can get the software from the Panic Website.

About Bram

Bram Pitoyo is a major typography nerd and designer. You can follow him online at @brampitoyo.

Other Videos by Bram Pitoyo:

Typography Video Series Part III – A History of Sans Serif Typefaces

Join Bram Pitoyo as he takes you through the abbreviated history of sans serif typefaces, from its origin in William Caslon Jr.’s specimen as “Two-Lines English Egyptian” to the most well-known faces like Helvetica, Futura and Gill Sans.

This is the third and last video in a three-part video series on Typography by Bram Pitoyo.

Typography Series by Bram Pitoyo: