‘Never assume anything’: The golden rules for inclusive design

2 Aug 2018

Image: Chaosamran_Studio/Shutterstock

Why should developers and designers have inclusivity at the forefront of every project?

Henny Swan is director of user experience (UX) at The Paciello Group (TPG), a leading accessibility services firm helping businesses to ensure their websites, web apps and mobile apps are user-friendly for everyone

Swan spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the importance of inclusive design and accessibility, and the steps organisations can take to broaden their marketplace, minimise risk and make users happier.

Her career spans close to two decades and includes work as lead author on the BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines. She also worked as a senior accessibility consultant at the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK and as a web evangelist at Opera Software ASA.

Be creative and inclusive

The importance of inclusive design principles is paramount to Swan’s work. They complement the more technology-focused web content accessibility guidelinesSwan said developers should view them as “a jump-off point to help us be more creative and have better empathy when we are including those with disabilities in our design”.

Adding value with features to enable better UX on an app or website is a core element. 

There are subtle differences between accessibility guidelines and inclusive design principles. Both are important to make a product anyone can use.

When designing a button for a website, a developer needs to figure out how to code a button so it is compatible with a screen reader. They will also add the correct wording and contrast so it makes visual sense.

Designing for humans  

With inclusive design, it is more about designing for those at all ability levels, according to Swan. A button showing the user password to cross-check it before submission is a prime example. “This is incredibly important if you have dexterity issues, issues around memory and recall.” Inclusive design is “actually about making sure we build things to be used by humans”.

Swan said some organisations are starting to understand that an inclusivity audit is “only one slice of the cake when it comes to making things accessible”. More clients are aware of inclusive design, but there are difficulties around how to incorporate the principles throughout the process. Many teams only do so at the very end or beginning of a project.

She always tries to incorporate inclusive design with the particular systems used by TPG clients, from Agile to Waterfall workflows. The point is to “embed accessibility into process”.

A key element of the incorporation of inclusive design principles and accessibility guidelines is seeking out opinions from people with disabilitiesSwan added: “With the best will in the world, I can’t tell what a person with low vision who uses a combination of a screen reader and magnification may prefer when it comes to filling out a form.”

Your team’s design plans can then evolve based on the continuous feedback of these users. “We experience the world in our own particular way and we often design for ourselves, so we need to incorporate more diverse users more often,” Swan said.

This needn’t be an unwieldy and expensive usability test. Design teams and developers can include the principles in their own sprints every few weeks. Teams can embed the feedback from users along the way.

Future-proofing technology with inclusive design

Inclusive design is also future-proofing technology for everyone. Swan noted that many more developers and designers are considering accessibility issues as they age and encounter poor eyesight or other impairments. “Nobody is exempt from accessibility.”

Some disabilities are temporary, such as repetitive strain injury, while others develop over many years. Even trying to use your mobile phone in the blazing sun can be classed as a situational disability.

Swan mentioned some of her key tips for effective, inclusive design.

  • Pinning a checklist to the wall is a great reminder for every design and building stage.
  • Good colour contrasts are a must. Developers must be sure if they use colour to convey meaning, there’s an alternative way to access that meaningA useful question to keep in mind for teams is: ‘Am I providing two ways to complete this task?’
  • Consistency in design is crucial.
  • Design teams should also annotate their work for accessibility. This ensures that the developers will “take the design and code it correctly”. By annotating, checking your work also becomes much more streamlined. “[By] capturing design issues early on, you don’t have to end up retrofitting features in at a late stage.”
  • An accessible pattern library as well as a style guide for accessibility and inclusivity are also useful resources.

The most important thing in the entire process is quite simple: “Never assume anything.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects