There’s no such thing as “normal”.
Audiences are full of unique and diverse individuals, each at different stages of their lives and with varying abilities. Tech often reflects the needs of the people who make it - sometimes designers unintentionally create products or services for people like themselves. Often their assumptions and biases cloud their judgement. As a result, products and services are released that do not consider the experiences of those living with disabilities, or those with a different age, gender, or nationality to themselves. Design decisions can be made that alienate or perhaps even completely exclude audiences, leaving them unable to use your product.
In her book ‘Invisible Women’, Caroline Criado Perez writes about the “one-size-fits-men” approach often applied in tech design, where widely-used products and services have been designed without considering if women can comfortably use them. She explains that the average smartphone is 5.5 inches long, which may comfortably sit in the hands of most men, however women’s hands are on average an inch shorter. This means many smartphones on the market currently are too big for most women’s hands, and often don’t fit in the pockets of clothes designed for women. Additionally, speech recognition software is mostly trained using recordings of male voices - Google’s software is 70% more likely to understand a man’s voice than a woman’s. These sound like pretty blatant oversights, right? Well, the historic gender-washing of tech design is just one example of how audiences are alienated through design decisions. So how can we avoid making these kinds of mistakes?
Using an inclusive design approach allows us to meet the needs of a diverse audience, including people who experience exclusion in their daily lives due to being part of a marginalised group or a statistical minority. Microsoft explains inclusive design is “a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity”, emphasising that by putting people at the centre of the design process, we gain diverse perspectives and insights on our products. Every design decision we make has the potential to lower or increase barriers to participation in society, and as designers we have a responsibility to ensure we’re mindful of the needs of everyone in our audience.
Inclusive design recognises that solutions that work for people with a disability can likely also work for non-disabled users in diverse circumstances. A website that displays audio or video content can provide transcripts or subtitles for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. These transcripts could also be handy in other instances too, such as when someone who has an ear infection that impairs their hearing. Or someone who is visiting the website while they’re in a library and without headphones. Closed captioning services in the UK are used by approximately 7.5 million people, which is 4 times more than the intended audience. According to the World Health Organisation, over 1 billion people live with a disability; that’s about 14% of the planet, which is a huge audience that shouldn't be ignored. By designing with accessibility in mind, we end up creating products that benefit a much wider group of people.
The WHO’s research found that social exclusion harms people's mental and physical health, but the products we design can create opportunities for people to connect with each other and the world around them. Our pals at Go Jauntly recently launched their ‘Rise Against Loneliness’ walking challenge, aiming to raise awareness to the increasing loneliness reported among adults and encouraging people to leave the house, get physical exercise and social contact. According to mental health organisation Mind, spending time in nature can help ease mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. By identifying and understanding the challenges that our diverse audiences face, we can design solutions that provide people with the tools to deal with them.
Similarly, we worked closely with the Myplace team at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, who run an ecotherapy service for people experiencing poor mental health. During their onboarding process, their service had a drop off rate of 45% before the registration phrase. We worked with Myplace to reduce this by 16%, and the team reported that the users seemed more confident and had increased knowledge of the service. You can read more about our work with Myplace here. If you’re experiencing a similar challenge, we’d love to hear from you!
That’s not all - having an inclusive design approach can help your business succeed alongside your audiences. Often creative and innovative ideas can be sparked by embracing the constraints of inclusive design. For example, during the 1980s many deaf and hard of hearing people struggled to communicate over the telephone. Vint Cerf, known as “one of the fathers of the internet”, is hearing impaired, and quickly identified the need to develop an alternative method of communication. Cerf led the creation of the first commercial email service, enabling him to communicate with colleagues and family members without straining to hear through the telephone. Since then, emailing has obviously become a highly popular way of communicating for both hearing and hard of hearing people.
Inclusive design is important to us at Furthermore, and is at the heart of all of our projects. It’s up to designers to ensure that everyone can participate in our society, and we can start by looking closely at our existing technology and asking “who wants to use this, but who will be unable to do so?” If you have a new project that needs an inclusive design approach, drop us a line for a chat about it.
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