By Dylan Hensby (UX Research and Design)
The relationship that humankind has with technology is constantly evolving. One area in particular is how we interact and use technology. There is a growing focus on using design to improve these interactions (and the experiences that surround them) to make them as seamless as possible. However as interactions improve, and we become more reliant upon them, people are getting left behind. People with different ways of seeing, touching, hearing and speaking. And people of different cultures, genders and races than the original designers who crafted the experiences. This led to the genesis of inclusive design.
Inclusive design is about seeing a design through the full range of human experience and thought, not just from the designers perspective. These different viewpoints provide clarity around where in the design or in what situation are people being excluded. This includes people of differing nationalities, races, genders, levels of mobility, as well as situational experiences such as people with varying amounts of time.
How is inclusive design different from accessibility? The Microsoft design team describes this best in their inclusive design toolkit; “An important distinction is that accessibility is an attribute, while inclusive design is a method.” (Microsoft, 2016) Inclusive design is an approach that a team can take, a method that can be put into action. Accessibility on the other hand is more of an attribute or criteria. You can say ‘This design is accessible in these certain areas, and not others’. Whereas inclusive design is more about the journey to get to that point. It can lead to an accessible design, but not always.
How Inclusive Design Benefits Everyone
It’s worth practising inclusive design for two reasons. Firstly, inclusive design allows a product, service or experience to be used by more people. This is both a win for the business and for the user. And secondly, a design that can respond to a larger range of human interaction is often generally a better design. When a design is required to work with specific constraints there is an unhindered focus on what’s important, saving time and money. And these learnings and changes, such as having captions for those who are hard of hearing, can be applied to other circumstances, such as for people watching television in a waiting room where having sound would be distracting. This allows even more people to be included as well as increased business.
Microsoft’s Three Guiding Principles
While there are many different frameworks for practising and conceptualising inclusive design, Microsoft’s framework stands out for its simplicity and ease of use. They have been at the forefront of inclusive design for many years and their design toolkit is used by professionals around the world. Below I summarise their main principles of inclusive design and how they can benefit you.
1. Recognise Exclusion
The way we solve problems is shaped by the way in which we see and interact with the world. Recognising exclusion starts with discovering our own biases and those of the design. We do that by researching where exactly users are being excluded in a design’s use. This can be done in many different ways. One way could be by testing with specific users. Another way is to use specific design techniques to temporarily step into their shoes. The point is to find these exclusion points and use them to evolve the design.
2. Learn From Diversity
Learning from diversity is about observing how people adapt to use a design when they are excluded. How do they ‘make do’? Understanding these adaptations leads to insight about what specifically needs to be changed or added. Whereas the first principle is about finding exclusion points, this principle is about how people respond to these points. By learning from people’s adaptations we also gain insight into their motivations and how they view and interact with the world.
3. Solve For One, Extend To Many
The solutions that arise from practising inclusive design can be applied across many different groups of people and contexts. A design solution that is helpful to someone who can no longer use their arms can also be useful to a mother with a newborn baby. To make it easier to identify different groups that could benefit, Microsoft divides scenarios into permanent, temporary and situational, using what they call the ‘Persona Spectrum’(Microsoft, 2016).
Using this framework we can begin to see the full extent of how our design can be used. We can identify scenarios we may have missed as well as those in which our solutions could also benefit their lives.
Inclusive design is becoming more important as designers and companies focus on improving the experience of their products for everyone. An improved experience is a win-win for both business and the people using the products around the world. By incorporating these principles into the design process, we can begin to recognize our own biases, discover how people adapt to exclusion, and build a solution that benefits a broader audience.
Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit