Why Inclusive Design Matters

When we talk about ‘human-centred’ design or designing for the ‘end-user’ we cannot assume that there is one standard user type.

Design has created the world as we know it today. It influences how we act, think, and feel. Yet to be inclusive, design has to reflect the rich make-up of society and allow people from different backgrounds and worldviews to thrive.

As designers, we have a professional responsibility to address the issue of diversity in everything we design. From how we create things (that is, our design approach), to who we make them with, to who we make them for – our users. Therefore, depending on what we are designing, a user’s abilities, size and shape, gender, education, income, language, cultural understandings, brain function, cognitive ability, vision, coordination etc. will be quite different.

Focus on user outcomes

When I use the term ‘diversity’ it’s about first the acknowledgement that we are all very different and, secondly, there is a fundamental need to address not just the needs of one segment of society – often the dominant section of society – but to take into account all of the diverse needs of a society made up of a plurality of types of people. The decision to include those parts of society that might be disadvantaged by their “differences”.

Another term that is often used with ‘diversity’ is ‘inclusivity’.  Many people use these terms interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the distinction.

Diversity refers to “the composition of different people represented in what you make, and the decision makers on your team” whereas, Inclusivity is about the availability and quality of the experience for that diverse society.

Inclusive Design puts people at the centre stage of the design process. It helps designers understand how to best satisfy human requirements in order to achieve ubiquitous ease of use.

Designing for inclusion brings into light the opportunities designers have to serve people across the board, designing for the differently able is essentially designing for everyone.

It also increases the product’s reach and puts the product and the people simultaneously at the top of the priority chain. Inclusive design, at the end of the day, is also fantastic for business.

“Inclusive design aims to remove the barriers that create undue effort and separation. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities.”

Design Council

It’s important to note, that inclusive design does not mean it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of all.

Instead, inclusivity should guide us to create an appropriate design response by

  • Developing a family of products and derivatives which provide the best possible coverage.
  • Ensuring that each individual product has clear and distinct target users.
  • 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.

The key principles of Inclusive Design

These principles are intended to give anyone involved in the design and development of websites and applications – designers, user experience professionals, developers, product owners, idea makers, innovators, artists and thinkers – a broad approach to inclusive design.

Recognising exclusion

Proactively seek out points of exclusion and use them to generate new ideas and highlight opportunities to create new solutions. Understanding exactly how and why people are excluded can help us establish concrete steps towards being more inclusive.

Identify situational challenges

Exclusion can occur on a situational basis. Consider the context in which your user is interacting with the product and design the experience to be accessible in these daily moments of exclusion.

Recognise personal biases

Involve people from different communities throughout the design process. Not only will users show us what they need, they will help us look beyond our own abilities and biases when creating products.

Offer different ways to engage

Offer people different ways to participate in an experience. With different options, users can choose the method that best serves them in their unique circumstances.

Provide equivalent experiences

When designing different ways for people to engage, ensure that experiences are comparable. Meeting accessibility standards does not necessarily guarantee usability or comparable experience.

Extend the solution to everyone

Designing a solution for one user group can benefit a much broader audience.

Conclusion

Designers should view inclusive design as an opportunity for innovation rather than a peripheral exercise in design.

If designers serve everyone who interacts with the product and give them a sense of belonging, then being different will not feel like being wrong.

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