In this digital age, more people than ever are touched by the products that we design. With a mission-critical industry focus on creating products that are helpful, easy to use, and beautiful, UXers have become finely attuned to what our users think and feel. Empathy is the foundation for successful digital products which is why we work to humanize technology for unique audiences, whose voice, of course, needs to be heard.

With everything UXers think about when creating new products, it’s essential to consider one more thing: the more customers who find our products accessible (as well as useful and elegant), the better. This is called “inclusive design”. 

Inclusive Design — Challenges that Bring Possibilities

All this can seem like a lot, especially in the face of constant challenges. As UXers, we are the advocate of the user but we also have to meet certain business goals. With deadlines to meet, legacy systems hampering our process, and other constraints that limit our resources, it can be hard to cover everything.

And the UX challenge becomes even greater when we consider that we should all be designing products for people with different characteristics who are using our products in different situations and contexts.

What, exactly, does “accessibility” look like and what do these new challenges bring? One example is when an app’s context of use involves a temporary disability. Imagine a worker who has to use gloves in his skilled hand. He must be able to use the app on the other hand. So, regarding the context, we have to consider that any of the user’s capabilities could be limited. That brings in the new challenge: to find out information like that, your process needs to be agile enough to incorporate and act upon volumes of feedback in order to discover possible accessibility issues like this particular example. 

Overall, opening up new possibilities for different segments of the population through good UX makes sense. That’s why it’s important for anyone working in the field of UX to push through those challenges and consider Inclusive Design when creating new products and services.

Designing Products for Everyone — What it Means and What to Consider

Just to recap so far: Inclusive Design means to design your product in a way that makes it accessible and useful to as many people as possible. There are several  names for it around the world, each describing roughly the same idea (equal opportunity for all):

  •         Inclusive Design
  •         Design for All
  •         Accessibility Design

Inclusive Design implies that you’re collecting user data and seeing your product through the eyes of users with different physical, cognitive, and emotional characteristics.

Being directly informed by these users in the design process makes for a better product that’s easier to adopt, more convenient to use, and longer-lasting – for all users. By including corporate minorities in the feedback loop, what strategies must the team consider? Is there a business value or a key differentiator to motivate including minorities?

Inclusive Design and the Product Design Process – What to Consider

Even though UXers have a wide range of tools and techniques at their disposal for understanding all kinds of users, there can still be cracks in the system. We inadvertently omit the needs of some types of users and as a default, can sink back into designing from our own perspectives. Let’s say, as designers we often generate and evaluate ideas based on what we know. Getting stuck in our own biases can cause us to miss an entire segment of users.

So the team needs to always be expanding their portfolio of perspectives – strengthening their process of innovation by becoming familiar with the types of challenges that some users have. 

And consider this: inclusive Design is not all about designing for whose who has a disability. Being inclusive is considering minorities, from disabled users to people from underdeveloped countries who have restricted access to the latest technologies. Every decision that we make in the design process can raise or lower barriers to participation in society. It’s our responsibility to design products, experiences, and services that help lower these barriers. 

“Every decision that we make in the design process can raise or lower barriers to participation in society.”

Reaching out to more users in the early stages is one way to ensure you’re considering other minority populations among your users. 

Inclusive Design, Technology, and the Global Population – What to Consider

We’ve been focusing on generalities so far, but what about the nitty-gritty of how users approach our products and services – literally?

In much of the world – including the developed world — equipment failure and outdated “OS” present daily obstacles for users. That’s true even in rich countries, whose not-for-profit organizations and governmental departments may be running on old equipment, slow connections, or outdated software.

This is, of course, a different type of disability: a tech-based disability where users suffer because their accessibility is limited by something they can’t quite control.

For example, by developing lite versions for mobile apps we can raise market segments in places and countries where technology modernization is overdue. Such is the case with Uber, who created Uber Lite to make Uber more accessible for users in countries such as India. In such countries, many smartphones are not designed to run large apps like Uber and internet networks and GPS don’t perform well. This kind of design decision and others like it have a powerful impact on societies where citizens have no access to the latest technologies. Apps created with this in mind are more inclusive, which allows us as a company to reach our business goals. That’s what we call a win-win relationship. 

“By developing lite versions for mobile apps we can raise market segments in places and countries where technology modernization is overdue.”

Besides technology limitations, we as designers often face other challenges, like languages or specific situations in which the app is being used. At Making Sense, for example, we designed an app for the AgTech industry that’s used in complex working environments like dairies. We had to create each feature considering this unique environment. For example, the app allows farmers to solve tasks using just one hand. Look at the case study.

Inclusive Design and its Impact on Business – What to Consider

Incorporating these changes in the design process will require some additional resources upfront. But the return on investment greatly outshines any of those costs. Simply by including more potential users (and customers) in our process, we are reaching a whole new segment of the market that we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

What’s more, good inclusive design covers usability factors that make it easier to onboard new users and keep them using the app once they’ve adopted it. Users with challenges like the ones we’ve discussed will experience fewer obstacles and feel less frustrated in their total experience with the product or service when inclusive design techniques have been followed. Improvements like speedier adoption and longer retention mean a faster road to all the business benefits the customer envisioned when they came to you for help.

That’s a win-win for everyone, including users who will have a better experience with the product as well as customers who will experience the subsequent business benefits. And finally, all of this is a win for UXers, who will have expanded their innovative capabilities, standing at the forefront in the world of design by representing the needs of minority users.