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Inclusive design is a design process that aims to create products, services, or environments that are usable for as many people as possible, particularly groups who are traditionally excluded from being able to use an interface or navigate an environment. Rather than focusing on designing for disabilities, inclusive design is a methodology that considers many aspects of human diversity that could affect a person’s ability to use a product, service, or environment, such as ability, language, culture, gender, and age. Inclusive design is often equated to accessible or universal design, as all three concepts are related to ensuring that products are usable by all people. However, subtle distinctions make each approach noteworthy. Accessibility is one piece of inclusive design, but not the whole picture. In general, designs created through an inclusive design process should be accessible, as the needs of people with different abilities are considered during the design process.
Inclusive design involves engaging with users and seeking to understand their needs. Frequently, inclusive design approaches include steps such as developing empathy for the needs and contexts of users, considering the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other factors, and making informed design decisions to maximize the product performance indicators for the target market. Inclusive design teams should be as diverse as possible and include individuals who have a lived experience of the “extreme users” the designs are intended for.
Inclusive design has several benefits, including establishing a baseline of access for the community, making accessibility part of the workflow, reducing the need for retrofitting, improving timeliness, and extending benefits to people without disabilities. Inclusive design also looks beyond resolving issues of access to improving the overall user experience.
To get the best results, inclusive design must be thought about from the earliest stages of the design process. The later in the design process it is addressed, the fewer the options and the greater the risk that opportunities will be lost. Inclusive design should trigger a virtuous cycle of inclusion, leverage the “curb-cut effect”, and recognize the interconnectedness of users and systems.
- Manage: Recognize diversity and uniqueness, use an inclusive process and tools, and broaden the beneficial impact and best practices to address user challenges.
- Explore: Identify user needs and preferences, research and analyze user data, and generate design ideas and concepts.
- Create: Develop and refine design solutions, prototype and test design concepts, and integrate user feedback and insights.
- Evaluate: Measure and evaluate the impact of the design on users and business goals, and identify areas for improvement.
- Learn and improve: Continuously learn from user feedback and data, and improve the design based on insights and best practices.
Inclusive design teams should be diverse and include individuals who have a lived experience of the “extreme users” the designs are intended for.
- Reach a larger market: Inclusive design can help businesses reach a larger market, including the estimated one billion people in the world who live with a disability, as well as their friends and family. This market is estimated to value around $8 trillion.
- Foster creativity and innovation: The constraints of inclusive design tend to inspire creative ideas, leading to innovative solutions that benefit all users.
- Improve user experiences: Aims to create products, services, or environments that are usable for as many people as possible, which can lead to better user experiences for everyone.
- Increase customer loyalty: Can foster a sense of belonging and loyalty among users, as they feel that their needs are being considered and addressed.
- Stay ahead of competitors: Brands that fail to adopt inclusive design principles risk falling behind their competitors. Sixty percent of respondents to a 2022 Wunderman Thompson Intelligence survey said that brands that fail to adopt inclusive designs will become “irrelevant”.
- Improve search engine optimization (SEO): Can improve SEO by making websites and content more accessible and visible to a wider audience.
- Boost team satisfaction and productivity: Teams that prioritize inclusive design are more likely to find meaningful purpose in their work, which can boost team members’ satisfaction and productivity.
DisadvantagesThere are several challenges and barriers to implementing inclusive design, but there are no significant disadvantages to inclusive design. Inclusive design can be time-consuming and costly, but it is a worthwhile investment that can lead to several benefits for businesses and users. Inclusive design can help businesses reach a larger market, foster creativity and innovation, improve user experiences, increase customer loyalty, stay ahead of competitors, improve search engine optimization (SEO), and boost team satisfaction and productivity. It can also improve the lives of millions of people and make technology more accessible and usable for everyone. Therefore, inclusive design is a valuable approach that should be considered from the earliest stages of the design process.
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