Inclusive design is good design and good business
Connected technologies are now a requirement for work and school, and, yet, our digital landscape is not always designed or built to support everyone’s needs.
Advocacy groups and advancements in technology helped to form accessibility standards, and industries like government and healthcare have set strong examples of what’s possible. However, most other industries and organizations have been late to the game and only forced to move because of litigation. Despite a continual rise in lawsuits, many companies have not taken accessibility seriously as a business priority for their digital experiences.
Although accessibility has seen many years of slow progress within digital, a more universal approach has overtaken it–Inclusive Design.
Inclusive design is an approach that aims to include all people in the design process and outcomes. It acknowledges the historical exclusion of people, how they really are, and how the world around them has been designed. It is universal, recognizing that designing for each person’s capabilities actually benefits everyone. It starts and ends with diverse people–it’s not something you only do at a specific point in the process or add on later. It forces everyone to learn and adapt.
Inclusive design is not just limited to the digital space. Inspiration can be found in the way that architects are leveraging it to create more accommodating living spaces, and fashion designers and retailers like Tommy Hilfiger and Target are using it to introduce adaptive clothing lines.
As strategists, designers and technologists, we’re always thinking about our users and their user experience, but we recognize that any one of us can’t speak for everyone. We need help. That’s why the diversity of our teams, the people we collaborate with and those we seek input and feedback from must continually be evaluated and updated. Participation is representation.
For example: Can a group of 20-somethings design an iPad app for retirees? Yes, but they can’t do it alone. They will need to carefully consider their process, invite the right people to the table, and have a keen awareness for who is not present.
Inclusive design paves the way for topics like socioeconomics, politics, society, culture and discrimination to be part of the conversation. Internet connectivity and device configuration comprise a large swath of considerations. How does a student with limited internet access attend class remotely? Are the devices people have secure enough to manage digital currencies safely? The basics of our economy and society now depend on factors that many of our digital-native designers and technologists take for granted.
Context also matters. Where is your user? What are they doing? What’s the lighting like where they are? How acute is their eyesight? Are they in a moving vehicle, making it hard to precisely tap a touch screen? Do they have hand tremors? What language do they speak? Are they using a screen reader? Can they trust the content they’re reading?
The design process always introduces more questions than answers. Teams may not be able to solve for every use or edge case, but awareness is the first step to understanding how to do better next time.
Remaining authentic and accountable
Over the last year, we’ve seen companies ramp up their Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. The shift towards inclusive design has been accelerated by this renewed attention to social values. We’re moving from a mindset of compliance around digital accessibility to a mindset of authenticity and digital inclusion.
If your brand commits to inclusivity, so too should its digital experiences. You can’t say you’re for social equality and have a website experience that doesn’t mirror that. Consumers will question your authenticity.
As an example, when we recently conducted user testing for a client’s careers site, one potential recruit noted, “I didn’t see anything about LGBTQ equality, so I’m probably not going to apply here.” Having both a diverse team and the diverse audience play a role in the design process to represent diverse needs ensures that an inclusive design will be created.
But it’s just as much about what you don’t say, or don’t do, that signals your commitment to diversity and inclusion. It has to be reflected in all aspects of your brand.
3 other common mistakes
- Retrofitting: Inclusive design shouldn’t be an afterthought or tacked on at the end. Once a digital experience is designed, there’s no quick fix to make it truly inclusive if it wasn’t designed to be from the get-go.
- Assuming it’s not needed: Without designing inclusively, you could be missing opportunities for people to connect with your brand, buy a product or use your service. And because most brand interactions are now occurring digitally, it can have a significant business impact.
- Assuming you’re already doing it: You can’t design inclusively without doing the work. The fact is, people and technology are always changing. Every time we do research, we learn something new.
One North’s approach to designing inclusively
We’ve discovered that inclusive design works best when you have the following elements in place:
Everyone on board
At the onset, we get all stakeholders together—clients, partners, etc., so we have everyone’s input and commitment. We aim to be as inclusive as possible, ensuring the team accounts for representative user groups.
We dive deep into research to help our clients learn about their audiences. This step surfaces foundational insights that guide the design decisions we make.
Inclusive design is not owned by any one team at One North. It’s interdisciplinary. Everyone works together–from the UX team to the design team to the implementation team–to create an optimal experience. This ensures both the front- and the back-end experiences are designed to be inclusive.
Getting input from users can surface simple things that make the design better. For big brands that have many different users, we partner with our Accessibility Lab that provides a widely diverse testing group of people with differing abilities, such as those with visual, auditory and/or physical impairments. These users test the experience using screen readers and voice-activated devices, noting any hurdles they come across so they can be addressed.
Although a brand is comprised of many touchpoints, the explosion of digital has pushed websites and apps to the forefront. By designing inclusively, we’re leading with consumers in mind and thinking through every aspect of their online experience, so everyone is included. Beyond reducing friction and improving the user experience, inclusive design shows that your brand is thoughtful. That you care about people as individuals, and you make their experience top priority. Seeing the benefits begs the question: Why design any other way?
Photo Credit: Franzie Allen Miranda | Unsplash
As Manager, Technical Strategy with One North’s Digital Strategy team, Pete serves as a key technology consultant for clients. He partners with clients in both Marketing and IT to assess, advise and plan technology selection, integrations and ecosystems. His close attention to the ever-changing technology landscape helps him stay on top of the latest trends and approaches that affect professional services organizations.
Favorite color: #cd1922
What you wanted to be when you were little: An astronaut
As Director of UX, Zach helps clients maximize the effectiveness of their digital properties by ensuring they’re human-centered and tailored to their most important audiences. He considers it his personal responsibility to represent the voice of the user on every project, as they are often the only one not at the table during the design process.
Favorite season: Summer – nothing makes me happier than spending time out in the sun!
Most unusual job: A Hawaiian shaved ice operator, with 72 flavors and all the snow cones I could eat.