Insights

Delight, don’t frustrate: The importance of inclusive design

We talk a lot about how to improve your Google search ranking, increase your site speed and make your website look great on all devices. These are all things that are designed to help you reach more people or different audiences. And to encourage them to spend more time on your website.

But what if, once they get to your site, they struggle to use it?

User experience design

We’ve all experienced websites that are difficult to use. Like the ones that have those annoying ‘Subscribe to our newsletter’ popups that get in the way when you’re trying to read. Or sites that are impossible to use on your phone unless you’ve got the world’s smallest hands, because the buttons aren’t big enough.

User experience design, known as UX, is a vital part of building websites. The purpose of UX is to design a website that’s easy, pleasant and intuitive to use. Possibly even addictive. UX is about about delighting, not frustrating, your users. And it’s at the forefront of our minds as we design and build your websites.

However, there’s a trap that’s very, very easy to fall into. We can unintentionally base our designs on what we think the average person would want to see and use. And there’s a problem with that, because very few people actually fit into that category. As a result, we end up with a website that is really great for some people, but not-so-great for everyone else.

The flaw of averages

There’s a story that everyone seems to tell when they’re trying to make the point I’m about to make. That there’s no such thing as the ‘average person’. It’s a story about the US Air Force in the 1940s and how they discovered why their pilots kept crashing planes. I’m not going to tell it because if you want to hear it, Todd Rose does a much better job. But here’s the moral:

The tendency to think in terms of the ‘average man’ is a pitfall into which many persons blunder.

Lt. Gilbert S. Daniels

And it’s a pitfall we are careful to avoid when it comes to designing and building websites.

When it comes to people, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’. The interactions we design with technology depend heavily on what we can see, hear, say, and touch. Assuming all those senses and abilities are fully enabled all the time creates the potential to ignore much of the range of humanity.

Exclusion happens when we design using our own biases.

Inclusive Design, Microsoft

Human diversity as a design resource

Inclusive design is designing in a way that makes your website accessible to everyone.

We often hear it called ‘accessibility’ which, for many people, brings to mind assistive technologies. Like subtitles on videos, screen readers that will read a website to you, and the ability to increase a site’s text size. But inclusive design goes far, far beyond that.

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

Disabilities, World Health Organization

When it comes to technology, a disability can just be fat thumbs.

A few years ago, Microsoft decided to rethink the way they imagined their customers. In scrapping the idea of the ‘average customer’, they drew up what they call the Persona Spectrum. The chart does a good job of illustrating how anyone can experience barriers to participation, whether that be permanently, temporarily or just because of the situation they are currently in.

Inclusive Design Persona Spectrum, by Microsoft

Inclusive design

Designing with constraints in mind is simply designing well.

Inclusive Design, Microsoft

By designing for someone with a permanent disability, someone with a situational limitation can also benefit.

For example, you might put the subtitles on a video when you’re on the bus without your headphones. Or you might increase the text size of a website when you’ve misplaced your glasses (and your spare pair). And I’m sure you’ve used remote controls and automatic doors.

When we design to include people of all abilities, we design a website that works for everyone. It works for your mum with reduced eyesight, your coworker who experiences hand tremors and your colour-blind friend. And it works for you, on your lunch break, holding your Pret sandwich in one hand and trying to clear your inbox with the other.