Creating better products with inclusive design
Jan 11, 2023
“When you design for the edge, you get the middle for free.”
I recently listened to a podcast with Samuel Proulx, Accessibility Evangelist at Fable. Samuel mentioned hearing the quote above at a conference. He went on to say that too often we think about edge cases as these extreme situations that only apply to a few people and therefore don’t warrant the “extra work”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We have seen time and time again that accessible products are actually better for everyone. Think dropped curbs and subtitles, for instance. When you design for accessibility from the beginning you create a better product for all of your users.
In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose tells a story about cockpits designed for the US Air force in the 1940s. The Air Force had a big problem. Their pilots could not keep control of their planes. This wasn’t an isolated incident. It was happening so frequently and in so many different aircraft that the Air Force had a real life or death mystery on their hands. After multiple inquiries that resulted in no answers, officials turned their attention to the design of the cockpit itself. Turns out that while designing the first ever cockpit, engineers had taken the physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots (no females included) and used the average of these to design the dimensions of the cockpit. Through analysing the data they realised that none of the pilots they measured actually fit into the average even when they gave a 30% cushion on either side. By designing for the average, they designed for no one. This research led to the design and implementation of adjustable seats (now standard in all automobiles), foot petals, helmet straps, and flight suits and resulted in a drastic improvement in pilot performance.
We’ve spent far too long designing for the “average user” and thinking that this is the best use of time and money. The data is telling us a different story. There’s no such thing as average. So we shouldn’t be designing for it.
So what does inclusive design look like in practice?
Here are my top 3 ways to design more inclusive products.
1. Include people with a range of disabilities in your research and testing
This is by far the most important and impactful thing you can add into your product process.
Do the most human thing there is and have meaningful conversations with people. Do this with a wide range of disabilities, cultures, ages and digital experience levels. Check out this Inclusive Research Study report by Aleks Melnikova for tips on how to make your research process more inclusive.
Tell their stories to your leadership to help gain buy-in.
Ensure you are testing your products with people who use assistive tech like screen readers, magnifiers, and voice control.
And most importantly, stop thinking about accessibility as a project that has a beginning and end. Accessibility and inclusion have to be a process that is ongoing.
At Sociability we have weekly touch points with our users to ensure we are gaining continuous feedback and weaving this into our discovery and design process.
2. Move beyond the WCAG
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are exactly that, guidelines. They are not a checklist that you can complete and then you’re done. They are a framework to help you think about accessibility and all the things you should be taking into account. If you design products so that everyone who uses them has a great experience, then compliance will take care of itself.
3. And finally, always keep an open mind and continue learning
This circles back to accessibility and inclusion being a process. You are never going to know everything because technology is always evolving. Keep listening to your users and keep talking to a diverse audience. Don’t be afraid to change your mind or your design when you learn something new.
We recently received some feedback that the Sociability map was not compatible with iOS VoiceOver. Our developers took that feedback and created a new version of the app that opens when screen reader technology is active, ensuring that those users have a great experience while using the app.
There is a lot more to inclusive design than these three things but they are a great start! Below you will find some of my favourite resources for inclusive design and accessibility.
What are your thoughts on inclusive design?
What are your favourite resources?
The Why and How of Accessible Design with Samuel Proulx, The Optimal Path Podcast - Samuel Proulx, Accessibility Evangelist at Fable, talks to Maze about the importance of accessible design and how to incorporate accessibility into the development process to create better digital experiences.
The Principles of Continuous Discovery with Teresa Torres, The Optimal Path Podcast - Teresa Torres, product discovery coach and author of the book Continuous Discovery Habits, talks to Maze about the principles of continuous discovery, tactics to implement it, and how to make better product decisions with customer feedback.
Books & Reports
Inclusive Research Study - by Aleksandra Melnikova
The End of Average by Todd Rose - How to succeed in a world that values sameness
Building for Everyone - Google’s manifesto for inclusive design
Good Services by Lou Downe - the bestselling book on how to design services that work for everyone
Stark - A suite of integrated accessibility tools to use during your design process
Cards for Humanity - A practical tool for inclusive design - they deal you two random cards, a person and a trait. Your challenge: work out how you can meet their needs.
Tarot Cards of Tech - The Tarot Cards of Tech are designed to help creators more fully consider the impact of technology. They'll not only help you foresee unintended consequences-they can also reveal opportunities for creating positive change.