As UX / UI designers we all would like to reach the widest possible audience and provide them with inclusive experiences, taking into account their individual features or characteristics. Usually, it’s quite a big challenge because we, as human beings, tend to approach design and solve design problems through the lens of our own perspective. Hence it is not so intuitive to consider the broad spectrum of peoples’ different needs, beliefs, or preferences and create possibly the most accessible design. Although, we as designers should aspire to contribute to a more empathetic and inclusive digital world adjusted to a wide range of people. Inclusive design is a process that draws from human diversity. It’s not limited only to interfaces and technologies. What’s more crucial, it includes the design of different products, perspectives, and learning from it how to adjust specific solutions and make the right design decisions.
How in that case can we strive to design more adaptable, scalable, and accessible digital products? Below you’ll find a few design principles that will help you to design more inclusively and create a better user experience.
Inclusive Design vs. Universal Design
In order to better understand what inclusive design is, let’s clarify what universal design focuses on at first. Contrary to inclusive design, the universal design aims at one common experience, accessible to the greatest possible number of recipients. It concentrates on a single solution that wouldn’t require any adaptations or adjustments in a design process. Oppositely to this approach, inclusive design takes into account various design alternatives and embraces them. There are a lot of inclusive design principles and suggestions that help to make web design and products accessible. Inclusive design aims to create products for a very differentiated target group, including people with permanent or temporary disabilities, for example, those hard of hearing or with arm injuries. To make digital products accessible, you have to stick to some accessibility guidelines and work on your inclusive design process. To create better relationships with your audience, organize a truly inclusive ground for them to interact with your product.
Start with recognizing exclusion
When it comes to human nature, there’s no such thing as “normality”. The connections we design between people and technology are mostly based on our senses, behaviors, or beliefs – what we hear, see, touch, say, believe, etc. Although, our mistake is that we usually assume that these senses always work for everyone and that they work exactly the same way. Unfortunately, it creates a perfect environment for exclusion and ignorance. What we should do is to change the way of thinking that everyone’s the same or similar to us, meet different people with various abilities, disabilities, characters, features, and personalities. After that, we should try to adapt our work to as many different perspectives as it’s possible. According to WHO’s definition, “In the context of health experience, a disability is any restriction or lack of ability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.” Disability is a kind of mismatch that arises at the moment of the intersection of an individual person and society.
Our role is to include and minimize the discrepancy between the individuals and their environments, circumstances, and society as a whole. We should also be aware of how our design influences these interactions and feel responsible for that. Points of exclusion bring us fresh perspectives and ideas. Let’s treat them as opportunities rather than obstacles.
Products built by everyone, not for everyone
The first step in the design process and human-centered product development is a better understanding of your target users and their communities, needs, and challenges. Creating reachable experiences for people with different life backgrounds, identities and circumstances is not an easy task at all because you’re never able to truly experience what somebody’s going through unless you get in their shoes. All we can do in that case is to rely on compassion, empathy, talk to and trust people who are part of the excluded community that is also your target audience. In a perfect case scenario, a product developed with such a process should enable users to engage with it in a flexible way. Moreover, it would be great to keep it customizable, even after it’s launched. A great example of this is a built-in feature of Apple’s – VoiceOver. It takes into consideration people with different abilities, including those with low vision, and enables them to easily navigate the platform. In this case, through the audio narration and Braille output.
Examples of inclusive design
Include diversion in graphic and illustration design
Remember that the way you picture people on your graphics tells users not only about the characters from your illustration but also reflects your company’s attitude towards people and their diversity. People are more willing to use the product they can identify with. When you’re designing a graphic that requires showing people, make them differentiated – diverse skin tones, sizes, genders, ages, styles, and haircuts or present them with some characteristic religious attributes. Adopting diversification in designing images and illustration is a big step toward creating an inclusive culture and product experience.
Text clarity and readability for older users
One example of inclusive design practices is providing legible and possibly simple texts so that the older users could easily understand and navigate our product. Seniors usually no longer have the same keen sense of sight as young people hence the small types and font sizes are often troublesome for them. To provide them with facilities, designers should use reasonably large font sizes, introduce high contrast between characters and use a clean typeface. A good compromise solution between targeting young and old audiences is to offer a button enabling enlargement of the font. Another good practice is implementing a dark-mode option. Older users and people suffering from cataracts often have issues with processing interfaces in light mode. Remember though that it should rather be an option than a constant mode. Let the users make a choice for themselves.
Design for people with disabilities
When we design for one set of users, we solve for many. A common case confirming this principle is the experience of using products by right vs. left-handed people. It is estimated that about 10% of internet users are left-handed. If we’re able to help them, we will also increase the quality of experience for people who lost their arm or have a temporary arm disability. In order to do that, we can provide the option of customizing the placement of some relevant features in settings (such as liking a post for instance). Alternatively, you can place them in a neutral position so that the users can choose where to tap and still feel comfortable with it.
Inclusive filters and patterns
To be even closer to your target group you can dig deeper into their needs and fulfill them in some enjoyable ways. A good example of such practice is a freshly released feature used by Pinterest – an image-sharing app. The feature enables users to filter based on some unconventional options like for example hair patterns – curly, straight, etc. Although it doesn’t seem like a fundamental element, it’s an important step, showing the empathic approach of the creators of an inclusive browsing experience. Another good example of inclusivity and accessibility in the design is the new filters introduced by Sephora. They allow users to search products by Ingredients Preferences (Vegan, Silicone Free, Cruelty-Free, etc.) depending on their needs and choices, and the Age Range filter allows personalizing your search depending on your age and age-specific concerns. They make it easier to navigate the website and at the same time encourage a wide variety of recipients to use it.
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Support inclusivity with your product design
A few principles of inclusive design we mentioned above will help you make the products more accessible and take into account a wide range of human diversity. Remember that an inclusive design goes hand in hand with the design principle of “solve for one, extend to many”. Take into consideration people’s diverse experiences and stick to accessibility standards. Creating inclusive digital products is quite a challenge – especially if it’s something new for you. Although it’s an important and necessary move forward in the field of design and development and a more inclusive world.