Some of the world’s biggest products that are everyday staples started off as being designed for impairment. Major mainstream products from potato peelers to voice assistants, screen readers to SMS and even shampoo bottles have all been made for people with impairments. They were so well designed that they became used by default.
With 1 in 5 potential UK consumers having some sort of disability, it has become a big part of our digital offerings. Disabled people have an estimated spending power of £249 billion per year to UK businesses as such it is bad business not to cater for inclusion/accessibility.
We sat down with Paul Alexander, our Quality Assurance Manager to talk about how designing for inclusivity can provide the best products for everyone and allow businesses to grow their market share.
Paul, can you talk us through what it means to design for inclusivity?
Designing for inclusivity and accessibility is about aligning interactions. For example, if you’re looking at building a mobile app, then I’m going to look at if you’ve got buttons all over the place and I can’t reach them, that’s a mismatch.
A good way to compensate for these interactions is to try and solve issues for people with permanent impairments. If you are able to find a good solution to a permanent issue, you will by consequence solve the issue for people with temporary and situational impairments.
So if you’re designing an app, you want it to work just as well in portrait as it does in landscape. You want it to be nice and orderly and laid out so it's as simple as possible.
If you’ve fixed that issue for an amputee then you’ve fixed it for:
A temporary impairment - if someone has broken their arm;
Situation impairment - if someone is at an airport and holding a baby in their arm, then they only have one arm free.
Is designing for able bodied people and people with impairments or disabilities technically different?
There shouldn’t be a difference in the way you think about it because if you get it right for the people with impairments, it translates into greater market value. The best examples of that are things you don’t even think about:
SMS was invented for deaf people so they could communicate using a mobile phone.
The Oxo Good Grip potato peeler was created for people with dexterity issues and is the best selling potato peeler design of all time because it created an easier motion for everybody and more recently,
Alexa and voice assistants were all invented for people that needed that assistance but they were done so well they came into the mainstream and became a much bigger product.
Non standard phone ringtones and vibration, there are varying degrees of deafness and not everyone is audible. By having a variation of pitch or in some cases songs etc this allows people with full or high/low tone deafness to know they have an incoming call or message.
If you design well for people with impairments, you’re pretty well guaranteed to grow your user base.
What are some of the most common mistakes that people make designing for inclusivity?
There are a lot of companies that are learning about it, why it’s important and what it could mean for them, which is extremely positive. Often companies see accessibility as a big expense. It can be if you try and add it in later in the process or treat it as an afterthought. If you design with inclusivity in mind, accessibility will be baked in as a byproduct.
A common misconception is that if you design for a disability it’s obvious. If you look at certain brands of shampoo and conditioner you will notice that shampoo has a lid on the top, conditioner has its lid at the bottom. Why? So that you can tell the difference without sight. Whether you are blind, have an eye infection or have your eyes closed while washing your hair; you can tell which bottle is which. Look at your TV remote, you’ll notice there are raised dots on the 5 button. That is invaluable for the same reasons. You can tell exactly where you are on the pad without looking with zero impact on anyone else's experience.
A lot of people try to build apps and products that are universal and can cater to everyone but that’s a brass ring you’re never going to reach. By designing that way, you’re going to create exclusion somewhere.
So, look for the mismatches in your product and web design. Think about the people and look for solutions to their potential issues. It is far better to solve problems and broaden your audience than to create exclusions, narrowing your user base.
How can designers and product builders and developers change their thinking to avoid those mistakes?
People always have the best intentions and so they try to cater for this idea of normal but the challenge is that there isn’t a single thing that conforms to the idea of normal. For example, if you have a 10 point scale and 10 is absolutely normal, your user group is never going to hit all 10 of those points. They might hit 8 or 9 but never 10.
So, if you go for normal, based on averages and mathematics, you’re specifically catering for nobody because normal isn’t an actual person. You are in fact designing for no-one.
A key area often overlooked is copy and content. It is really important to not create exclusions with your words or imagery. For example, where possible it is best practice to use non gender specific pronouns. Make sure you do not have any culturally insensitive terms; certain words, phrases and terms can have differing meanings in different regions. Similarly images, symbols, even hand gestures mean different things to different people.
The best thing that people can do is create a unique persona set and think about how the user that might struggle the most to use their app, what impairments could make that a challenge, consider your content strategy/style and then design for that on a case by case basis.
If you can find one problem and then fix that problem, it will go a long way, as long as you’re careful and not knocking out anything else and are maximising what you can do.
To find out more about designing for inclusivity, connect with Paul on LinkedIn or email him on email@example.com.