Illustration by Erica Fasoli
Inclusive design considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference. It empowers designers to create products whose experiences serve as many people as possible.
Accessibility is and should always be a UX designer’s core objective. This includes designing for the varying levels of ability when it comes to the eyesight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, and memory of your audience. There are many aspects to take into consideration.
For example, the user’s environment may be the quietness and seclusion of their bedroom or they could be accessing your app in a loud, windy, or crowded environment. The experience should be the same high level of quality for all instances. A method for accomplishing this is to provide multiple ways for individuals to partake in your experience, depending on the context in which they’re using your product. This expands your product’s audience and results in better user experiences, across the board.
Why is inclusive design important?
Inclusive design is important for many reasons, but most importantly, it enhances the user experience for a diverse audience. Approximately one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Empathy for a diverse audience is a key component of inclusive design. It helps create an experience where users can feel like they belong, rather than feel excluded.
Second, inclusive design can also help boost your brand to position it as a market leader. Practicing inclusive design and providing equal access and opportunity will not go unnoticed by consumers. Nearly two-thirds of consumers prefer to support companies that stand for a purpose while mindfully avoiding those who don’t.
Third, inclusive UX design is great for SEO and a good way to boost your organic traffic. Search engines place value on user experiences that consider inclusiveness in their design. Therefore, by including alt text for images, closed captions in videos, as well as descriptive link text, your page will potentially be ranked higher than pages without.
Finally, inclusive design may help increase sales because the user experience is accessible to a larger, diverse consumer base. If users don’t feel empowered to use your design, they will never be clients because they can’t use your product.
What is the difference between accessibility and inclusive design?
Accessibility and inclusive design often get used interchangeably. Although related, they are not the same. Accessible design is the primary outcome of an effective inclusive design process. It focuses on the end result or the outcome of a design. The goal is to ensure that all users, especially those with differing abilities, are able to use and benefit from your product.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were created to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility. The document explains how to make web content more accessible to people with ranging abilities. When creating your style guide and UX design system, it is very important to keep these guidelines in mind.
Some examples from WCAG include:
- Short equivalents for images, including icons, buttons, and graphics.
- Descriptions of data represented on charts, diagrams, and illustrations.
- Brief descriptions of non-text content such as audio and video files.
- Labels for form controls, input, and other user interface components.
Inclusive design, on the other hand, focuses on how to approach a design, rather than just the outcome. It is a process for creating an experience that can be used by a wide, diverse group of users. This process begins by identifying situations where people are excluded from using a particular product or technology. Exclusion can happen to anyone depending on their particular circumstance, which is a key element to inclusive design methodology.
Both inclusive design and accessibility are tools to help designers create products that can be used by the largest population possible, regardless of their individual circumstances. They work together to lower barriers that exclude people from using a product effectively. By empathizing with a diverse group of users through inclusive design, designers can create products that are accessible to all.
What are the inclusive design principles?
The principles of inclusive design help designers create an experience that can be used by a diverse group of users. This becomes possible when a designer adopts an inclusive design mindset from the beginning, so at the end it meets accessibility standards.
To do this effectively, consider these inclusive design principles:
1. Identify ability-based exclusion
When approaching your design, proactively seek out points of exclusion and use them to generate new ideas and highlight opportunities to create new, inclusive solutions. Once designers understand exactly how and why people are excluded, they are able to help establish concrete steps towards being more inclusive. Following WCAG can help you design a diverse range of abilities.
For example, a company website may lack alt captions for page readers, which assist people who are unable to fully see. The lack of alt text may exclude users with visual disabilities. Therefore, as UX Designers, it is important to design for inclusion and include alt text, as well as other WCAG suggested guidelines.
2. Identify situational challenges
Exclusion can also happen on a unique, situational basis. Differing from ability-based exclusion, situational execution stems from various scenarios when a user is unable to use a product effectively.
For example, if a user is watching a video without closed captions at a noisy airport, they may not be able to hear the audio. This airport noise disrupts their user experience, and if too loud can exclude the user from using the product all together. In this example, the design did not include an alternative use for this situation. In this instance, adding closed captioning would be more inclusive.
3. Avoid personal biases
In order to avoid any unintentional, personal biases ending up in your designs, involve people from different communities throughout the design process. To help accomplish this, include certain user communities across your research and testing phase. There are plenty of prototyping tools to help turn your static designs into clickable prototypes.
For example, imagine a company conducts user testing and realizes that they need to accommodate reading and language abilities unique to the deaf community, including a large number of people who are bilingual with English as their second language. This insight was made possible by involving the user community in their user testing.
Remote usability testing is a good method to help avoid biases. Companies such as UserZoom and UserTesting that have a diverse pool of users signed up and waiting to test your product. This helps in the recruitment process allowing your company to reach to various demographics and test your product on a diverse group of users.
4. Offer various ways to engage
Offering various ways to engage in an experience is a key principle of inclusive design. When a user is given different options, they can choose a method that best serves them in their unique circumstances. For example, you can offer those with hearing impairments transcription options to enhance their experience. Consider offering a full transcript, allowing for quick skimming in addition to closed captioning, which provides real-time translation of the audio.
5. Provide equivalent experiences to all users
Ensure experiences are comparable when designing different ways for people to engage with your product or service. Just because you meet accessibility standards does not mean you have offered a usable or comparable experience. For example, offering different playback speeds to users with hearing impairments helps ensure your experience is equivalent for everyone.
Inclusive design is a great way to ensure your product’s user experience takes into consideration a diverse group of users in unique environments. As UX Designers, we are constantly focused on improving our UX and inclusive design. By using inclusive design, you work from a place of empathy for all users, regardless of abilities, and can thus reach a broader audience who can benefit from your product or service.