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Inclusive Design: Creating Digital Products for Everyone

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We live in an amazingly large and diverse world, filled with complex challenges and a multitude of unique people. It is our goal, as designers, creators, builders, to make things that consider this diversity, and don’t leave people out. It is our job to make sure that everyone who uses our products feels like they have been thought of, and that makes them feel included.

Inclusive Design, also known as Product Inclusion, is an approach, a mindset, a process to creating products, environments, and systems that bring the full range of human diversity into focus. The goal of Inclusive Design is to create products and services that are accessible, usable, and enjoyable for a wide range of users, regardless of who they are.

As people-centred creators, we know our products should be purposeful, solve problems, and serve people. What we, as an industry, have failed to recognise, is the diversity of the people we serve. Race, class, gender, ability, sexuality (and all the intersections of these) - we’ve forgotten to embed into how we think and create.

It’s about time we look into our biases, and build for everyone. Thankfully, there are so many voices out there bringing focus into Product Inclusion, and it’s really encouraging to see so many recognise the importance of it, and give it the place it should in the product world. Follow people like Anne Jean-Baptiste, or Kat Holmes, and see how places like Google or Microsoft are already embedding Product Inclusion into their teams.


Product Inclusion and Accessibility

Accessibility is often seen as a requirement, a legal mandate to make products and environments usable by people with disabilities. Inclusive Design, on the other hand, is an opportunity to create products and environments that work better for everyone, considering the broadest range of human diversity.

Although Inclusive Design and Accessibility are related concepts, they are not the same. Accessible design is about designing products, services, or environments that are easy to use for everyone, focusing on people with disabilities; it is often seen as an attribute, or an output. On the other hand, Inclusive Design is a methodology or approach for creating products that consider a diverse range of users, with a wide range of perspectives.

Accessibility and Inclusive Design work hand in hand, working to create experiences that are accessible, usable and enjoyable for as many people as possible. The goal is to not only comply with general standards (e.g. web guidelines - WCAG), but to create things that are truly open to all.

Why you should care about Product Inclusion

Well, historically, a lot of the products created have not been inclusive. They’ve been built with a big load of bias; biassed towards white, towards male, towards able-bodied, towards cisgender, heterosexual. Biassed towards Western (US and Europe mostly), English speaking, urban.

We believe that as designers and builders we have a responsibility to create products that don’t leave people out. When we create products that don’t think about inclusion, we end up creating products that exclude and alienate, that make people feel “othered”. The world is filled with examples of this:

  • Transfolk in airports: body scanners at airports discriminate against transgender individuals, leading to traumatising experiences.
  • Automated speech recognition: speech to text software is not equally inclusive across racial lines, misunderstanding black speakers almost twice as often than white speakers.
  • Digital divide: unequal access to technology is a global issue that impacts social, economic, and educational opportunities and can further exacerbate existing inequalities, and leave people out.
  • Women’s perceptions of carsharing: access to carsharing is unequal, and woman use the services less than men due to gender roles and safety concerns.

Why should we care about making inclusive products? Mostly, because it’s right. People matter, and the way they feel in the world matters. We should build for inclusion, for fairness, for equity. If we need another reason, it’s also good for business - designing inclusive products allows organisations to reach wider audiences, increase client satisfaction and retention, and is an igniter for innovation.

Designing for historically marginalised communities has brought positive outcomes for everyone. An often shared example of this is closed captioning; while it was primarily created to benefit deaf or hard of hearing individuals, it is also of high value for anyone in a noisy or quiet environment.

Inclusive design has the potential to create products and services that meet the needs of all users by addressing their requirements and other related aspects. Creating a product that is inclusive to all, we can enhance user experience, increase customer satisfaction and value, and ultimately improve the bottom line. People who use your product are diverse, so we should build for it. It’ll mean you can better serve the people you are creating for.

What you can do next

  • Listening: Product Inclusion starts by recognising that there are other voices that need to be heard. This is especially true with historically marginalised communities, whose voices we have failed to listen to.
  • Research for inclusion: The people you serve are diverse, so should the people who inform your product be. This means not only understanding the diverse needs, goals, and challenges of your users through methods such as interviews, surveys, and usability testing, but also involving them in the design process itself
  • Stretch your thinking: Don’t stay in your bubble of who this is for, but constantly ask yourself, who else? Who are we serving that we haven’t thought about, brought in, and designed with.
  • Recognising exclusion: As Kat Holmes (writer of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design) suggests, we need to recognise exclusion in order to build for inclusion. Once we understand the ways in which certain groups may be excluded from our products or services, we can work to address those gaps and make our offerings more accessible and welcoming to a wider range of people. This requires a willingness to critically examine our assumptions and biases, and to actively seek out feedback and input from diverse perspectives.
  • Use inclusive language and imagery: The language and imagery you use in your product can greatly impact how inclusive it is. Use clear and concise language and avoid jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to some users. Use diverse and inclusive imagery representing a range of ages, genders, races, and abilities.
  • Consider different contexts and environments: Your users may be accessing your product in various contexts, such as on a mobile device, in a noisy environment, or with limited bandwidth. Consider how your product can be adapted or optimised for these different contexts.
  • Test and iterate: Inclusive Design is an iterative process that requires ongoing testing, learning, and refinement. Test your product with a diverse group of users, use their feedback to make improvements, and ensure that your product is truly inclusive.

Design Inclusion at Potato

At Potato, we worked together with the Vodafone Foundation to create Zoteria, an LGBTQI+ app focused on creating a safe space for the community, and raising awareness of hate crime. We ensured an inclusive design approach from the start, working closely together with key community organisations, and having continuous communication with members of the LGBTQI+ community. Through interviews, co-creation sessions, and ongoing user research, we created an app for and with the community. Key functionalities, like ‘discreet mode’ or ‘events’ were ideas built from understanding the community's needs, concerns, wishes, and that were imagined in collaboration with them.

Inclusive Design is a vital approach to creating digital products that are accessible and useful for everyone; and is a core principle through which we build things at Potato. We believe that together, we can create a more equitable and accessible digital landscape for everyone.

We love to work along with values-driven clients that are looking to launch more inclusive products. Reach out to our New Biz team, and let's build some truly purposeful and inclusive products together.