What you need to know about inclusive design
Let’s jump right in. Inclusive design challenges us all to reimagine how we approach our work. No designer consciously sets out to exclude people from digital products. We just need to get better. As Infosys reported, there are an estimated 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities, but only 10% have access to products designed for them. We’re working hard to eliminate errors and dismantle barriers and eliminate bias, one design at a time. There’s way more we can do.
Making products accessible is the lowest hurdle to clear on the path to inclusivity. Accessibility is a core element and important outcome. But following World Wide Web Consortium guidelines doesn’t make your design inclusive. It goes further than universal design which just means you take a best-fit-for-all approach. Don’t stop there.
Being inclusive means your are designing with diversity. It’s a process to make your products accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible. Inclusive design is about putting people at the centre of our design process. By understanding diverse needs, abilities, and perspectives, we can create solutions that empower and include everyone.
Making your design inclusive is the right thing to do morally. Obviously there are legal and commercial implications. It provides parity in experience. It expands your potential market. It keeps you on the right side of the law. Your reputation is protected.
Here’s what you need to know.
We’re going nowhere without commitment from the top
Changing your approach is tough without top down commitment to drive that change. Look at the numbers on accessibility. Forrester’s Global State Of Design Teams Survey found that only 36% of respondents had ‘a top-down commitment to accessibility’. The good news though is most of these businesses follow through on that commitment. Your senior leaders needs to be on board to sponsor the change. This includes factoring in diversity and inclusion (D&I) in your recruitment strategy. D&I teams design more inclusive products. More on the reasons why in a moment.
What to think about
Everything starts with your users. It always does.
Design with empathy – people still create products for people. Consider the full range of human diversity: ability, age, race, gender identity, culture, sexual orientation, education and cultural background. Think about how people with different experiences and abilities need to use your products. Use your data to create diverse personas which move away from stereotypes and assumptions. Design products that meet their needs.
Be open to feedback – include people with disabilities and those from diverse groups in usability tests. Ask participant groups about how the feel excluded from your technology. What would transform their experience? But remember, what they ask for, might not be what they need.
Test, test and test again – prototype and test with users then iterate based on continuous feedback.
- Equity – access to your digital products should be equal. All users should be able to use the product and complete tasks with ease. Who designs those products is crucial. Do your designers have diverse perspectives and the same lived experiences as your users? If they haven’t, they could be inadvertently, or subconsciously, designing based on their own abilities, or coding bias into products that excludes, or negatively impacts, swathes of your market.
- Flexibility – inclusive design prioritises choice and options for users. Accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple and intuitive use – your design should be easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration levels.
- Perceptible information – inclusive design provides information in a way that is easy to perceive for all users, including those with sensory limitations.
- Tolerance for error – your design should minimise hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions, accommodating a wide range of user abilities and experience levels.
Each of these elements make for an inclusive user experience, opening up your product to more users. Getting it right first time also reduces the time you need to spend on reworking designs. Bad design costs. Mature products are less pliable. Optimise your workflow by accounting for more issues early.
There are AI-powered tools, for example, which can detect and combat bias in technology. But there aren’t tools to tell you whether you offer a diverse, inclusive experience. This you have to work out for yourselves.
Building a diverse, inclusive design team
As discussed earlier, does your design team reflect the people who want to use your products? Do they bring diverse experiences, abilities, and viewpoints to help you develop more inclusive products and services?
If your business doesn’t have an established D&I programme, you’re probably struggling to understand how to create and manage teams that are formed around D&I values. Would an outside perspective help? Should you schedule unbias training for your team?
Think about your recruitment process. How can you show applicants your commitment to D&I. Ask applicants what it means to them.
Diverse, inclusive work environments are important for attracting and keeping your talent. You don’t need us to tell you just how tough it is to find the right designers.
How do design leaders approach all of this?
Forbes asked 17 design leaders about their approach to building and managing a diverse and inclusive design team. There were four common approaches.
- Continuously advance equity – reduce hiring bias, make pay equal and level up the design team, removing unhealthy power dynamics.
- Create a diverse team – design leaders look beyond inherent characteristics to other forms of diversity, such as cultural background, education, and work experience.
- Building an inclusive team culture – hear, share and value diverse perspectives.
- Apply an inclusive design process – identify and eliminate exclusion early. Infuse diverse perspectives into research, ideation and validation.
Read more here.
That’s plenty to think about for now.
On every project we strive to open up digital products and services to as many users as possible. Learn more about the work we did with the NHS here.