Are you designing inclusively? You might be and not even know it. White space, bullet points, plain English—all these elements make your work accessible to whole demographics of potential users. But you might also have blind spots that unwittingly exclude whole audiences.
On World Interaction Design Day, IxDA and Adobe hosted more than 90 events around the world in 37 countries to continue the conversation on how designers can bake inclusive design into their practice from the beginning,
At the event 99U attended in New York City, designer Marie van Driessche, Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, and author Liz Fosslien shared the following ideas on how to use design to make products, teams, and information accessible to everyone.
Often designers are asked to create for a user persona; a specified, highly-targeted audience. Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, suggests casting a wider net: think of the range of your potential audience and design for them. On one side there are the early adopters who preorder new tech and will happily set up a trial account. On the other end of the spectrum are the users who will be the last to try out new technology because of lack of access, or because they’ve been overlooked in the design process.
According to Anderson, by designing for both those extremes, you’ll create a product that also captures the entire spectrum in between—the general mass of users. To illustrate his point, Anderson referenced Smart’s storied OXO peeler, initiated to be comfortable and accessible to those with arthritis, but designed with the high-performance needs of professional chefs in mind. The result? An award-winning, iconic design that is a staple of household kitchens.
Designer Marie van Driessche presenting on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.
There are basic tenets of good writing—make a clear point, one point per paragraph, and avoid jargon. But there are equally codified tenets of writing for accessibility. Designer Marie van Driessche advocates for:
Van Driessche notes that English is a second language—after signing—for many deaf people. So written wordplay like puns and synonyms can be hard to follow. Plus, there’s a larger audience that can benefit: the 50 percent of U.S. adults who are not able to read at an eighth grade level.
The community of users who need accessible design is incredibly diverse. Just within the Deaf community, van Driessche says that there is a massive range of capabilities. Some are born deaf, while some may only be experiencing hearing loss temporarily. Others are fluent in many languages, including sign and written languages.
Everyone takes in information in different ways. The solution? Make sure your product or website includes multiple options for how to engage. For instance, when posting a video, include transcripts, video captions, and additional video of a person signing. That way, users can select the option that’s best for them.
From left to right, Marie van Driessche, Smart Design technology director, John Anderson, and author Liz Fosslien speak on World Interaction Design Day in New York City. Photo by Joe Anastasio.
Liz Fosslien, author of No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed) maps out guidelines for creating inclusive environments at work. One of the biggest problems she sees? People hired to bring diverse experiences feel—ironically—that they have to blend in to succeed. “Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice. And belonging is having that voice be heard,” says Fosslien. Only with belonging is diversity realized.
Just as each human capabilities change over time—as they learn sign language, or lose mobility in their fingers—so too must accessible design evolve with them. Even if you come up with the perfect product for one person, that person’s condition will change. Design must exist in dimensions and must take time into account. Van Driessche advocates for thinking of design processes in an ongoing alphabetical A-Z loop, where you reach the end and then start over and start iterating again. That way designers will engage with their products, not just across finish lines, but across time as well.
Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer.