Many progressive businesses have realised sustainability, ethics and access are key to their relevance. People (especially the young) are becoming more discerning in choosing where they spend their money and who they work for. Appealing to this mindset is likely to require changes that are the right thing to do for your profits and society as a whole.
5 considerations for a successful inclusive solution
“A whopping 47% of Millennials in the US — soon to be the largest group in the workforce — consider a diverse and inclusive workplace an important criterion in their job search”
Forrester report: The Inclusive Design Imperative: Win And Retain More Customers
Inclusive design was tipped to be a big trend in 2020. Six months in and its importance and relevance couldn’t be clearer. Lockdown across the world has emphasised the need for people with differing abilities to all have equal access to digital services. The Black Lives Matter protests have also highlighted how global citizens are challenging prejudice, discrimination and racism in all its forms.
We’ve pulled together some thoughts on the subject and what you might want to look at when bringing inclusive thinking into your practice or organisation.
It’s more than just checking boxes
It’s a great achievement when your digital products and services meet the standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
But thinking inclusive is more than just being accessible. The guidelines are generic but your business and audience are unique. An inclusive solution has research and empathy at its heart, creating products and services with access for all and value for your business.
Nuances of inclusive needs
If we stick to a very black and white view of ability and access then people fall through the cracks.
A good example of this is the use of icons. From a compliance standpoint we need to ensure that all icons have alt labels that screen readers can interpret. But this indicates that there are only two types of user – sighted and blind. It doesn’t cater for those who aren't blind but have severe visual impairments and don’t use screen readers. Or those who haven't got to their glasses or can’t see properly due to current light conditions. Solving challenges for one user group can have knock on benefits because user needs have intersectionalities.
‘Solve for one, solve for many’ - Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit
Inclusion as part of a design philosophy
One of the most important parts of any inclusivity project is setting it up for success.
Squeezing the time people need to create an optimal solution compromises results in compromises. These will need to be fixed later, but the more you build on the incorrect foundations the more costly and complex it will be.
‘If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design'. — Ralf Speth
Standards need to be created, adhered to and maintained across interaction patterns, design systems and code bases. These foundations ensure everything being released is a sustainable solution.
But won’t it just look like wireframes?
If done well, no it won’t. Inclusive design isn't about limiting creativity. This kind of thinking sees design as decoration, rather than serving a need. If an idea doesn’t achieve its aims, then it isn’t the right design and we need to push our creativity further.
Research is key to finding opportunities
Understanding what users really need and how to deliver, can only be understood by research. It’s a chance to stand back, take the blinkers off, observe and learn about the intricacies of all inclusive needs. Put simply, you can’t understand where and how people are denied access without allowing them to show you. It's a very human experience because data alone (currently) can’t help us understand this.
Qualitative and ethnographic research methodologies unlock the really interesting insights that help us design better products. Our Director of Experience Technologies at Kin + Carta, is passionate about the ‘lived experience’ aspect of designing for all abilities. He rightly points out that understanding the reason for a user's behaviour and the workarounds they have developed gives insights that directly inspire solutions.
User stories, requirements and backlogs are necessary but very impersonal. The best research is where we can retain the ‘human’ element. Personas and other documents give teams and organisations the ability to retain focus and empathy long after the research has been conducted.
The testing of a solution with users is standard practice. But we need to ensure that the participants we test are part of that inclusive audience and use the full suite of assistive technologies. How else will we know if we have succeeded? To help make this part of the process it’s worth building an inclusive user panel – a set of participants that can work with the team/business to periodically feed into research and testing. This gives consistency and takes users on the journey with you. There are also opportunities to partner with organisations that advocate different ability needs and designing to include their audience.
Be prepared to challenge what came before
Starting a process with an inclusive focus will require some tough decisions. It’s a lot easier when everyone is already aligned to a single vision. Getting buy in from across the business is key to minimising blockers later in the process. Everyone needs to understand and agree that an inclusive solution is the right solution.
Conversations should be had very early on in the project. You are expanding the ‘acceptance criteria’ of what good looks like and something that was working well before could now be a blocker to inclusivity. For example, a font choice may have previously been OK but research and testing shows it is too ‘thin’ and impacts on usability and readability in certain contexts.
This is an ‘easy’ example to choose, but it highlights how it is human nature to be wary of change. When someone has ownership of something they need the right information to understand that change is the right thing to do. It’s worth considering the creation of ‘champions’ across the business to help ensure an inclusive philosophy succeeds. People are more likely to adopt change when they are part of it rather than on the outside looking in.
It’s also worth considering the right story or narrative you need to tell. What will resonate with people based on their focus within the business? This will not be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The narrative and conversation with someone whose focus is on sales will be different to someone with a brand focus. It's about communicating the benefits of an inclusive philosophy and how change will help customers, the business and their area of ownership.