Understanding Inclusivity in Design

Roisin Evans

The term "diversity and inclusion" has risen to prominence in recent years. Socioeconomic developments, technological advancements and popular culture are all changing our views on what it means to be inclusive. But how does this influence design, and what can we do to address these changing attitudes?

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design aims to make products and marketing materials as accessible as possible – representing a wide range of people without discriminating against those with impairments. We might follow inclusive design principles in web design, mobile apps or printed materials. 

Inclusive design is accessible – meaning everybody can consume the content, regardless of their backgrounds, personal circumstances, or abilities. We see principles for inclusive design across many disciplines – for example, in web design.

Tim Berners-Lee, Director of worldwide web standards platform W3C, sums it up:

"The power of the web is in its universality.

Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

In practice, this might mean something as simple as layering contrasting colours over one another to make them easier to read. It can also go much deeper, for example, making text accessible to text-to-speech reading programs.

However we choose to make the design more inclusive, it’s important to understand its roots. By addressing our own inherent biases and assumptions, we can make inclusive design part of everything we create - not just an afterthought. 

According to PwC, inclusive design has the power to reach four times more consumers. It isn’t a “nice to have”, but an essential in modern-day marketing and design. So, how can we incorporate accessibility into our work?

1. Build a diverse team

Starting with people can challenge a huge range of biases that plague design. Without knowing it, we may favour some outcomes due to our upbringing, backgrounds or current circumstances. This is common in product marketing teams, for example, which may be all-male and fail to appeal to the needs of a female audience.

We may see it manifest in modern technology such as AI, which has been criticised for failing to recognise people of colour. Hiring a diverse team tackles these problems from the outset. A large range of ages, races, genders and physical or cognitive abilities challenges things we may not have considered. How would a disabled person use this product? How would a person of colour feel about this ‘skin-coloured’ plaster?

2. Be deliberate when selecting media

When it comes to design marketing material, stock images are available in abundance. Adobe Stock, for example, features 60 million images – so we have ample opportunities to choose figures from diverse backgrounds.

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If we want our brand to be truly inclusive, we need to reflect this in our design. Brands such as Unilever got this right with their Matey bubble bath, choosing to introduce more characters representing people of colour. 

Visual media should include people from all backgrounds to avoid alienating potential markets. For example, Channel 4 put disability under the spotlight when it took over the broadcasting rights of the Paralympics. This represents 22% of the UK population, and should not be ignored.

Whether sourcing stock images or conducting a photo shoot, both images and models should represent those from all backgrounds.

3. Accommodate for the technical ability of the user

Tech design is perhaps one of the areas most susceptible to overlooking users’ needs. As designers or marketers, we’re naturally accustomed to working with tech – but our audience might not be. This is especially pertinent in UX, where designers may be prone to biases such as:

  • Miller’s Law – overwhelming users with too many elements to remember (more than 7)
  • The Labour Illusion – assuming users will drop off if they have to wait too long
  • Decision Fatigue – assuming users will make poorer judgements if given too many options.

To be truly inclusive, we need to create customer profiles for people with a range of technical abilities. This involves striking a balance between those who can whizz through a complex app, and those who need extra guidance. A good way of doing this would be to offer an optional tutorial, for example.

4. Don’t break conventions unless you need to

Just as we have inherent biases, users have inherent assumptions when using certain tools such as apps or websites. Standards such as W3C set the tone for “how things are done around here”. People have certain expectations for how things should work – for example, navigation bars on web, product search when interacting with an e-commerce website, through to the predictive nature of Apples Human Interface Guidelines.

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We should bear this in mind when building interactive tools. Occasionally, there is cause for a rethink – such as designing for novel mediums such as voice assistants. But it’s rare that we need to reinvent the wheel, and it could risk alienating users. 

5. Make inclusivity a priority from the beginning

Just like web design and SEO, inclusivity and design should work in parallel. Allowances for inclusivity should feature at the beginning of the design process – leave them too late and risk cumbersome change requests, or alienating users.

Inclusive design should be a mindset. This goes back to the diverse workforce, involving product designers who will be empathetic to a wide range of users. These principles should be weaved into customer profiles, UX considerations and product copy.

Choose an accessibility ambassador from the start of any project – somebody who can check in periodically and make changes with a user-centric approach.

Reach more people with inclusive design

Accessible and inclusive design has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. As we begin to acknowledge the huge markets that these principles can target, we reap the benefits. Likewise, we discover the wider advantages of working with diverse teams.

For more help making your design inclusive and accessible, contact Netsells.

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