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Designed to Perform: Inclusive Design

Inclusive design is an approach that considers users' diverse needs and abilities, including those with disabilities, the elderly, and people with varying levels of digital literacy. It's not only a social responsibility but also a catalyst for innovation and competitive advantage.

The traditional way of design is often heavily influenced by the stakeholders of a project. While this may be efficient, it can skew the end product based on the experience of a tight group with similar preferences and abilities, which can unintentionally be exclusionary for some users.

A Pew Research survey shows that people with disabilities are three times less likely to use the internet daily, with one of the primary reasons being internet inaccessibility. Inclusive design is an approach that consider users’ diverse needs and abilities, including people with disabilities, the elderly, and people with varying levels of digital literacy. Although often used interchangeably, inclusive design includes accessibility considerations but is broader.

Why is inclusive design important in 2023, and how does this tangibly impact businesses?

There are several reasons why inclusive design has become a significant UI trend this year:

  • Social responsibility: Many designers and companies see inclusive design as a social responsibility. As more and more people recognize the importance of inclusivity, it has become a moral imperative to design products and services that are accessible to everyone.
  • Innovation and competitive advantage: Inclusive design can be a catalyst for innovation by forcing designers to think creatively about how to make products and services accessible. This can lead to new ideas and approaches that benefit all users, not just those with disabilities or other special needs.

Since the pandemic, older customers that relied on traditional ways of shopping and accessing services have adapted to online methods. While lockdowns are now a thing of the past, digital product users have diversified, and designers need to consider the needs and preferences of an older demographic. A simple example includes increasing font and button sizes to improve readability and ease of use. In addition, decorative animations and effects may need to be scaled back to ensure the experience is clear and engaging.




AirBnB inclusive artwork showing diversity

Example of airbnb’s inclusive artwork

Inclusive design isn’t simply about accessibility; the experience encourages participation and a sense of belonging for a diverse audience. Customers now have higher expectations for companies to ‘walk the walk’ regarding representation, and inclusive design can help prevent this from being an afterthought. Many brands have made meaningful progress in this area – from emoji with different skin tones to imageries, illustrations and animations that reflect modern societies; these all contribute to a welcoming digital space designed for all.

Finally, ensuring good inclusive and accessible design practices needs to be more than just what meets the eye. For example, alt text, short for “alternative text”, describes an image or other non-textual element on a web page that can be read by screen readers and other assistive technologies. Social media companies increasingly push Alt text features on their platforms, and businesses will likely follow. One thing to keep in mind is that for alt texts to be useful, it needs to be descriptive and contextual.

Balcony overlooking the sea

Using the above image as an example, an alt text of “balcony” would be less helpful than “balcony overlooking the sea”. However, if this image was for a hotel website, an even better alt text might be “deluxe suite’s balcony with two chairs, overlooking the sea.”

In addition to aiding people with visual impairments, alt text can also benefit users with slow internet connections, users who have disabled images to save on data usage, and search engine crawlers, which rely on alt text to understand the content of images for indexing and SEO ranking purposes.

How to get started with inclusive design?

If you’re about to start a digital project, then inclusive design thinking must be embedded in your process from the get-go.

Here’s how your design team can get started:

  • Learn about accessibility guidelines: Accessibility guidelines such as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) provide standards for creating accessible digital products. Familiarise yourself to ensure your designs meet the minimum accessibility requirements.
  • Conduct user research: Conduct user research to understand the needs of your target audience. Consider users with disabilities or those who use assistive technologies. Also, it is worth considering how your users or customer base might evolve, as it’s more cost-efficient to have accessibility functionalities already in place rather than changing the website later on.
  • Test your designs: Test your designs with real users to ensure they are accessible and user-friendly for everyone. Consider using assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifiers, and voice assistants to test the usability of your designs.
  • Continuously improve: Inclusive design is an ongoing process. Continuously collect feedback and data from users to improve your designs and make them more accessible and user-friendly.

By following these steps, you can create inclusive designs that work for everyone and ensure that your digital products are accessible and user-friendly for diverse users.

Thinking about creating a new digital product? Our website, app, or software pages might be helpful to get you started.


Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash