Your organization’s products and services have the potential to touch the lives of people from diverse backgrounds, with specific needs and goals. To best serve your users, your digital offerings need to keep accessibility and inclusivity at the core.
We gathered the top five design best practices for creating more inclusive experiences for people of all abilities, cultures, languages, genders, ages, and more.
1. Consider your users’ cultural contexts
Every person has unique cultural values, attitudes, and expectations depending on where and how they were raised. When crafting new experiences, here are a few cultural contexts to explore about your users:
- Geographic area and history
- Socioeconomic status
- Educational background
- Religious beliefs and values
Taking cultural context into consideration will help you create more inclusive and accessible digital experiences. For example, Donate Life California is an organization that provides information about religious values around organ donation across 34 belief systems. Donate Life California explains that “most people are not aware of their religious group’s doctrine or position regarding organ and tissue donation.”
By providing information about how specific belief systems view organ donations, Donate Life California shows empathy for their users’ cultural contexts.
2. Understand your users’ various needs
Research is often seen as a ‘nice to have,’ but not as an essential part of designing products and services for your users. However, when research is not conducted, we tend to base designs on assumptions or best practices. When your users are unable to accomplish their goals, they get frustrated and likely leave to look for a solution elsewhere—or worse, your organization may get into unintended legal battles.
We saw this play out with the Hunters Point Library, a $41 million public library in Queens, New York that was built without regard for all the types of people that would utilize it. This led to major lawsuits over its inability to give everyone equal access to its resources. The Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) regulations state that people with disabilities should be given access at the top and the bottom of the stairs. But in this case, the library’s architectural design made everything on the middle levels inaccessible.
Had Hunters Point Library taken the time to better understand their various users’ abilities during the design phase, they would have saved themselves the lawsuits and costs of retrofitting the library.
Additionally, user research doesn’t require a huge budget. If you have the time and interest of understanding your users better, you can do so through the following methods:
- Send out a survey to gather specific feedback from your users
- Interview current or prospective users to learn about their motivations and frustrations
- Observe your users in the location where they use your product
Head over to this article to learn more about the various user-centered research methods and why to use them.
3. Design with accessibility from the beginning, not as an afterthought
As we learned from the Hunters Point Library example above, accessibility should be prioritized at the start of a project. For digital accessibility, we seek to design and develop websites, apps, and other technologies that people with all abilities can easily access and use.
If you’re new to web accessibility standards, we suggest starting with the Four Principles of Accessibility from: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).
There are many automated, out-of-the-box accessibility solutions to help you evaluate whether your product meets accessibility requirements, but it is best to enlist the help of a digital accessibility specialist as no automated tool can find all accessibility issues.
4. Learn about your users’ real-world experience with a product or service
Most likely, your customers have busy lives and limited attention spans. By observing your users where they are physically and digitally while using your product or service, you can learn more about who they are and their priorities. You also get a better sense of how and when your product is used which may lead to unexpected findings with breakthrough opportunities.
This was the case for the inventors of Swiffer, where they conducted an in-house usability study in which “researchers videotaped people cleaning their homes and realized how much people hated touching dirty mops.” By observing their users, Swiffer was able to observe how people clean, what frustrates them while cleaning, and the obstacles they face while cleaning, which led to one of the most beloved cleaning products we know today.
5. Get creative to reach all your users
When trying to reach a specific user, consider how you need to adapt your approach to be successful. Not all users speak the same language, have an internet connection, are technologically literate, or have access to resources. By making space for realities different from what we consider common, we can be more inclusive and empathetic. It also helps us have a humble approach focused on curiosity, respect, and equity.
For example, elderly Americans faced various difficulties when trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Many senior citizens were not as familiar with or lacked access to the digital tools where appointment notifications were made, which left them relying on family members, calling hotlines, or even giving up on trying to get a vaccine.
One way this could have been avoided is through researching various solutions and getting creative to problem solve. Having a tutorial explaining how to use the vaccine appointment scheduling on their website would have helped elderly with less digital literacy but would not be sufficient for those without internet access.
Therefore, learning about your users’ real-world experiences and knowing which users you are leaving behind is essential to your products’ success.
Making design decisions with inclusivity and accessibility top-of-mind ensures your products and services succeed. By designing for people with all abilities from the beginning, you can create experiences that are inclusive and more satisfying for all.