The Benefits of Inclusive UX Design for Your Business
Imagine you go to a new amusement park and are excited by sight of so many amazing-looking rides. Then when you get to the front of each line, you realize that you don't fit in the seats. The reason? The imaginary designers failed to engage in inclusive UX design and instead only considered the look of the rides. You, along with most people, would leave frustrated and never go back.
Yet this is how some people feel every day using apps and websites that weren't designed with them in mind. On the design side, some designers are confused about what inclusive design is, and think it is only about designing for people with disabilities. And while inclusive UX design does consider people with disabilities, it goes beyond this. At its essence, inclusive design is about designing products for as diverse a range of people as possible and making products useable in a variety of different environments.
This includes not simply making texts and images bigger for visually impaired people. It also means making your app so easy to use that a user could control it with one hand while carrying a shopping bag in the other on a busy street.
Inclusive design encourages designers to consider how gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, education levels, income, language, and culture shape the way the way people interact with the world. Although it’s impossible to satisfy all 7 billion people, designers still need to consider these factors when designing products.
Why design for a diverse market?
The ethical case for inclusive design is apparent: most of us want to build a world where everyone has an equal chance of engaging in society. Coupled with an aging population in most parts of the world, it also makes perfect sense at a societal level.
On a business level, inclusive design is lucrative and has been adopted by some of the world’s leading companies to increase their customer base. Arguably, the most compelling business case is that the more people who can use your product, the larger the potential market.
Still, you might think that you are currently reaching enough people. After all, the number of people who can't use your app is small, right? For example, not many people have only one arm. Yet many new parents might be holding their baby in one hand and might be temporarily unable to use your app. Therefore, designing for the smaller market of permanent disabilities is perhaps an effective way to develop products that make the lives of the majority more efficient and enjoyable.
So when thinking about varying capabilities, consider these three levels:
Permanent disability: losing an arm
Temporary disability: injuring an arm
Situational disability: carrying a baby
Text-to-voice services were initially developed to aid disabled people in living independently. But the technology was further developed and has been integrated into software that people use daily, including Alexa and Siri. Alexander Graham Bell might be credited as the inventor of the telephone, but it was initially created as a hearing aid for his deaf mother. Television closed captioning and transcription were designed for the deaf, but are now widely used in loud bars and quiet lounges. By designing for edge cases, your product can be useful for all types of people.
Inclusive UX design is a win-win for customers and businesses. While your customers are more satisfied with your product, your company increases your product's reach, sparks innovation and can feel good about being socially responsible.
How to make an app or website more inclusive?
There's an array of online tools and resources to help you audit your website and ensure it meets accessibility standards. But a good starting point is the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) by the WC3 (World Wide Web Consortium). They provide a comprehensive overview of how to ensure your website is accessible.
The following summary should help you understand and get started implementing the most important standards.
Choose colors wisely
Over 90 percent of content information is conveyed through color, but creating an accessible website means not solely relying on color and shape to display information. Essentially, you shouldn't use color as the only visible means of conveying information, because some of your users might be colorblind.
Make sure the colors of your site's foreground and background elements have sufficient contrast to ensure everyone can distinguish between the elements on the page. The WCAG recommends a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. And you shouldn’t dismiss usability just because a grey background and white text have better aesthetics.
Avoid using clashing colors that could cause eye strain. Bright colors are used in advertising and graphic design to draw attract attention, but some color combinations are simply unpleasant.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding font size, designers should use their judgement. It's important that enlarged text maintains its functionality and readability. This means text should be able to be resized without causing users to scroll horizontally. In line with WCAG recommendations, users should have the ability to increase text size up to 200 percent. To achieve this, opt for percentages rather than fixed font sizes (such as pixels or points). As a rule of thumb, 16px is often a suitable starting point for body text.
Line spacing might not seem important for the average user, but line spacing is as important as font size for the disabled. Cramped text is hard to read, while large spacing makes elements seem unrelated. Users with cognitive disabilities or visual impairment might have issues tracking lines of text.
Line length also affects readability a lot. The WCAG requires a maximum of 80 characters per line, but the ideal line length is 40-60 English characters.
Left aligned text is the easiest to read, as people with cognitive disabilities have issues with justified and center aligned texts. Right aligned text results in uneven left margin that greatly reduces reading speed.
There are no requirements for fonts, but they should be readable and plain. Fantasy and cursive fonts are poor choices for a website, regardless of accessibility.
Navigation and layout
For a website to be accessible, it should be usable without a mouse. This includes accessing pages, links, buttons, forms, etc. People with motor and visual impairment rely heavily on keyboard-only navigation. The most common method is using the tab key and arrows for navigation and enter to submit. The entire website—not just certain sections—should allow keyboard navigation. Designers should also make sure to have a visible indicator around an element to show it is selected. Most importantly, ensure that your site doesn't have any keyboard traps. This occurs when a user can't navigate away from the object currently in focus.
It's important to organize your content with the correct structure because screen readers navigate a website by heading structure. Therefore, don’t skip headings levels so that the content of the website is clear and has a meaningful flow.
Tips for proper heading structure: Use h1 for the primary title of the page only and don’t skip heading levels (e.g h1 to h3), as the flow will be interrupted whenever someone uses a screen reader to read your site.
Inclusive UX design should never be viewed as an optional extra or a last-minute consideration; it's a fundamental necessity. It's pivotal not only for the diverse users interacting with the products but also for the vitality of the business itself.
By intentionally designing for everyone, businesses can expand their market reach, drive innovation, and promote their commitment to social responsibility. This approach cultivates a more diverse customer base, elevates user satisfaction, fosters brand loyalty, and ultimately, is the right thing to do.