Inclusive design helps us create products that serve as many people as possible. While accessibility is a core objective, inclusion means much more. It enables people with diverse characteristics to use your product in a variety of different environments.
Inclusive design is a win-win for customers and businesses. It expands your product’s reach, sparks innovation, and helps your company take on a position of social responsibility.
1. Seek out points of 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.
In practice: Through user feedback, my team discovered that an educational video experience had been excluding users who are deaf or HOH. Further research revealed that exclusion occurs across both ability and context – deaf users couldn’t access the audio-heavy experience (ability-based exclusion), and ADA requirements prevented the video content from being used in public educational settings (context-based exclusion).
2. 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.
In practice: User research revealed that situational and ability-based impairments produced overlapping pain points and user needs. This meant that solutions designed for users who are deaf or HOH can also benefit those who are consuming video content in a loud airport or cafe.
3. Recognize 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.
In practice: By involving our user community across research and testing, my team was able to systematically identify and test any assumptions and biases. This approach revealed that a redesign needs to accommodate reading and language abilities unique to the deaf community – many of whom are bilingual and learn English as a 2nd language. Without involving the user community, our designs would likely reflect our own abilities and assumptions about language.
4. 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.
In practice: To enable users who are deaf or HOH to access our video content, my team decided to present each video’s machine-generated transcript in a couple different ways. A full transcript allows for quick skimming and closed captioning provides real-time translation of the audio content—this provides different ways for users to engage with the same content.
5. 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.
In practice: While closed captioning satisfies ADA requirements, designing for inclusion means making it usable for our target community. Ensuring an equivalent experience for users who are deaf or HOH means offering different playback speeds to accommodate language ability, and offering different transcript and captioning formats to accommodate task efficiency.
6. Extend the solution to everyone
Designing a solution for one user group can benefit a much broader audience.
In practice: Though the closed captioning & transcription features were designed with deaf or HOH users in mind, my team discovered that everyone can benefit from this solution. Video captions can be used in a loud airport or sports bar and can be used to promote literacy and language learning.
Inclusive design, sometimes labelled as universal design, refers to taking the deliberate decision to consider as many people’s needs and abilities as possible when designing infrastructure, products and services, as well as experiences. Inclusive design anticipates different ways individuals might interact with the world, today and in the future, considering aging and permanent or temporary disabilities.