At its Summit 2022 conference this week, San Jose-based Adobe showed off a preview of its Project Design Decoder. It’s software that, according to the company, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to help make shopping experiences more accessible and inclusive. The tool is designed for people with conditions such as color vision deficiency, colloquially known as color blindness, who have difficulties perceiving patterns. Color blindness affects more than 300 million people worldwide.
Lauren Dest is a senior user experience designer at Adobe who works on AI and ML technologies aimed at e-commerce and marketing products for the enterprise. In a recent interview with me conducted over email, Dest explained the inspiration for Design Decoder came after a brainstorming session with her colleague Michelle Saad, a commerce data scientist. “Michele and I were researching online shoppers who may have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors or experience other challenges that can occur when trying to view products online,” she said. “One obstacle that stood out is the uncertainty or lack of confidence individuals who have difficulty seeing the full range of color may experience when browsing for products online.” Dest told me she and Saad took ideas from pseudoisochromatic plates, a commonly-used color vision assessment tool where color-dotted plates conceal a hidden number or figure in a sort of “vanishing design.” Such imagery can be imperceptible to those with certain color vision deficiencies.
The women then decided to try to translate the color plate concept to their work in e-commerce; in this context, they would apply the same “vanishing design” effect to a picture of a colored piece of clothing. “Given the color combination, a shopper with difficulties perceiving patterns, shapes, or color could buy clothing with logos, writing, or patterns without their knowledge,” Dest said. “We created this feature to help those who perceive color in many different ways experience the benefits online shopping provides.” The initial prototype contained patterns in what Dest called “the three most common forms of color vision deficiency”: protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia. Both she and Saad patented their technology, Dest added.
Following the prototype’s creation, Dest and Saad began recruiting other Adobe colleagues to assist them with building the demo-ready version shown at this week’s conference. Design Decoder is the result of a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary project that Dest told me the company is “really proud of.” Several people across the organization, including inclusive design boss Matt May, contributed to seeing Design Decoder grow steadily from conception to fruition.
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“It was important for us to inform this project with perspectives from different subject matter experts in accessibility and color vision,” Dest said. “Luckily, Adobe has no shortage of people passionate and experienced in these areas.”
At its core, Design Decoder lives because Dest and the rest of her team at Adobe believe deeply in diversity and inclusivity. Equal access to technology is a key component of furthering diversity and inclusion societally; of course, disabled people use the internet to shop too.
“Accessibility and digital inclusion are extremely important, and we believe that these elements should be built into products and development by default. We aim to empower shoppers, including those with color vision deficiencies, so they don’t feel left out of the online shopping experience,” she said. “As our lifestyles continue to shift to the digital world, we must keep inclusivity top of mind when building and enhancing the online shopping experience, so users who perceive color in many different ways can benefit from the convenience and breadth of options that e-commerce provides.”
Dest explained the company hopes the project’s focus on inclusivity through technology will help others appreciate how the experience of online shopping can be made better for everyone. Dest herself is “fascinated by the human experience and how it shapes technology—and vice versa,” she said. Feedback on Design Decoder, she told me, has been positive thus far. Dest said she and her team will continue their work in this space, telling me the conversations they’ve had with people who cope with color blindness will help them in the future as they refine and iterate on Design Decoder. They want to make the tool as accommodating as possible to people’s various needs and tolerances when it comes to color perception when shopping online.
“We want to continue to take Project Design Decoder to the next level,” Dest said.
Adobe has posted a video demoing Project Design Decoder to YouTube.