Design is all about putting people first. Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude users. Inclusive design is a methodology about including as many people as possible and delivering an outstanding experience to everyone. This diversity covers aspects like capabilities, needs, aspirations, and understanding the diversity of users which lies within the population and responding to them with inclusive design.
Inclusive design is a design that considers the full range of human diversity that enables and empowers people to operate and make our product accessible to a wider group of people, regardless of experience level, abilities, socioeconomic status, education, ethnicities, race, gender preferences, culture, age, etc. It’s about creating the best possible experience that everyone can participate in.
“Responsive design is adapting design to unknown browsers. Inclusive design is adapting design to unknown users.”
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as: ‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialized design.’
In short, inclusive design can be defined as the accessibility and usability of a product by a broad range of population irrespective of any differences without the need to specially adapt them. When designing for a product there are two broad terms we need to consider:
Who are we designing for?
When we use our biases at the starting point we end up with products designed for people of a specific gender, language, ability, literacy, and physical ability, and access to a specific amount of money, time, and a social network.
Who are we excluding?
We cannot guarantee our users will only be normal people. We also need to consider the people who have a disability of seeing, hearing, speaking, and cognition. We should design interactions where we consider these aspects of the user audience. Ignoring this will definitely decrease the scope of the audience that can use and operate the products we build.
Understanding user diversity
Diversity Is Being Invited to the Party; Inclusion Is Being Asked to Dance
— Vernã Myers
It’s a failure to correctly understand people who can result in products that cause unnecessary frustration and exclusion. For a better understanding of the population, it is important to challenge the polarised separation of ‘abled’ and ‘disabled’ bodies. This can better be modeled using a pyramid model with a full range of ability variation within the population. The pyramid can be separated by various categories of users.
The baseline is users with no difficulties at all, as we go up the pyramid the severity of the difficulties increases. But inclusive design does not suggest that it is always appropriate to design one product to address the needs of the entire population. Instead, we can set guides as an appropriate design response to the diversity of population through:
- Making sure each part of the individual has a clear and distinct target user.
- Developing a family of products and derivatives to provide the best coverage of the population.
- Reducing the level of ability required to use each product, in order to improve the user experience for a broad range of customers, in a variety of situations.
Inclusive Design and Accessibility
These terms sound quite similar to each other. The important thing that differs between these two is accessibility is an attribute, while the inclusive design is a method. And while practicing inclusive design we should make our products more accessible. Ideally, these two often work together to make experiences that are not only compliant with standards, but truly usable and open to all.
Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments that are usable by people with disabilities. While inclusive design goes beyond accessibility concerns, designing for accessibility is an integral part of designing for inclusion. Both of these focus on the idea that disabilities happen at the intersection where people and their environments interact. Inclusive design, in particular, recognizes that solutions that work for people with a disability are likely to also work well for people in diverse circumstances.
There are similarities in these two approaches as well. Both work hand in hand to lower barriers that exclude people from using digital products effectively. By employing inclusive design methodology and empathizing with diverse groups of people, designers can create products that are accessible to all. When we learn from real users using the products we can adapt to the technological barriers in a given context. For example, a person can use text to speech in order to listen to an article when they are not able to read it. With this, either with the situation or a disability designers could provide an audio version of the writings.
“ Good design is not simply about aesthetics or making a product easier to use … it’s an essential part of the business ”
– Tony Blair
Principles of inclusive design
Consider the situation
As designers, we need to adapt our design to any situation that the users operate. Our interface needs to deliver a valuable experience to the people regardless of their circumstances. Situations can be first time users, established users, users at work, users at home, users on the move, and users under pressure all of these can have an impact on interacting with our product. So whatever we make should adapt to those with disabilities or usage of particular difficulty.
Providing comparable experiences
Our users are diverse. We, as designers, need to ensure our interface provides a comparable experience for all so that people can accomplish the task needed without undermining the quality of content. Users might use different tools to read and operate interfaces, what the interface offers each user should be comparable in value, quality, and efficiency.
Our interface should stay consistent and we need to make use of familiar conventions and apply them consistently. A well consistent interface can be used within the interface to reinforce their meaning and purpose. This should be applied to functionality, behavior, editorial, and presentation. Moreover, a consistent page architecture across templates helps people scan and navigate key content.
Users should not be bound to operate and use it in a strict environment. They should be given the freedom to use, access, and interact with content in their preferred way. We must not suppress or disable the ability to change standard browser and platform settings such as orientation, font size, zoom level, and contrast should be allowed to control.
There can be more than a way to complete a task. We cannot assume someone will have a mouse to fill up the form we have designed and created. By providing alternatives for a tab button to navigate or task completion we are offering the choices to users to accomplish their task with their circumstances.
We need to identify the value of the features and how they improve the experience for different users. The features introduced should add value to the user experience by making a way to complete tasks efficiently and make a diverse way to interact with the content. Device features such as voice, geolocation, camera and vibration API’s, and how integration with these connected devices or a second screen could provide users the additional value.
As an interface designer, we should add focus on the tasks, features, and information by prioritizing them within the content and layout. User Interface (UI) which is difficult to understand and the content priority of information needs to be able to provide information and functionality and users should be able to focus one thing at a time. This can be done with progressive enhancement way or progressive disclosure way.
Why Inclusive Design Matters
Adopting an inclusive design mindset is actually worth the effort. This brings in the most people which is good for business. We’ll reach more leads, drive more sales, and increase awareness of your brand. Having more diversity and a culture of inclusivity internally can also enhance our product development with new ideas and perspectives, leading to better offerings for a broader customer base. Eventually, it not only opens up a wider range of people but also reflects on how people really are. Every human is growing, changing, and evolving to the world around them. We as designers want to design to reflect that diversity as well.
The decision we make can lower or raise the barriers to participation in society. It’s our collective responsibility to lower the barriers through inclusive products, services, environments, and experiences.
“More than 60% of organizations believe diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are important drivers of business results.”
–Brandon Hall Group
Adopting an inclusive design mindset is definitely worth the effort. With this methodology we reach a wider range of people which is good for business. We increase leads, drive more sales and increase awareness of our brand. This ultimately removes the barriers that create undue effort and separation and enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities.
What we create as a designer has the potential to impact individual lives and influence the culture around us. The more intention we place on inclusive design, and the more attention we give it in our conversations and design processes. The more usable our products and experiences will become and the greater the impact our work will have. This can be done by following the methods, philosophy and principles of Inclusive design, Accessibility, Usability and Universal design.
Author: Ishan Manandhar. You can reach him out in his twitter handle: ishan02016