Designing for all mankindOctober 2021
The “average user” is a myth.
For years, brands have focused their message (and marketing investment) on a specific user, a target customer identified as the one most likely to buy the company’s product.
But in an increasingly globalised world, designing everything from products to websites purely for a brand’s average user is a dead-end. It’s time to reconsider what target audience means and move beyond mere aesthetics for a more nuanced understanding of user’s needs. And that means inclusive design.
"In an increasingly globalised world, designing everything from products to websites purely for a brand’s average user is a dead-end."
More than a buzzword
Inclusive design is a process that’s taking over the digital space. Based on an aim to be universal and accessible, it is a user-centred approach that goes beyond the average user to consider the full range of human diversity, from ability and age to language and culture, and how those intersectional concepts may include or exclude people from your product (or your website, technology, etc.).
This inclusive approach to design means recognising and considering users’ needs and limitations to create meaningful, mindful products that can be used by as many people as possible. It’s about throwing the old idea of an average user out the window and celebrating that no two users are alike. It’s design that moves a step closer to supporting all needs while enhancing UX, focusing on ease of use for people across the board. It’s making stuff that works better for everyone, not just your target audience.
"It’s about throwing the old idea of an “average user” out the window and celebrating that no two users are alike."
Win-win: why inclusive matters
Your users are different and so are their needs, and that’s why inclusive design matters. It benefits people who are often overlooked or ignored, and not intentionally being inclusive with your design means you run the risk of excluding those people.
Want to boost your UX? Designing with inclusivity in mind is the way to go. This focus creates a user experience that adjusts not only to different people but to changing circumstances as well (anyone who has a smartphone knows that high-contrast websites are easier to read when you’re outside – a design decision that also helps the millions of people in the world with poor vision).
Ultimately, inclusive design is good design that anticipates the broadest range of end-user needs possible. Anticipating these needs means designing an experience that puts people centre stage, making a product or service as accessible and usable for as many people as possible. If asked, would any business want to exclude potential customers? They wouldn’t. Designing for a diverse audience instead of a limited pool of target customers translates into more people being able to use your product or service, and that’s simply good business.
"Ultimately, inclusive design is good design that anticipates the broadest range of end-user needs possible."
Making it work
The idea of inclusive design is still catching on, and some brands have been slow on the uptake. Why? As one of the most impactful and effective ways improve experiences for users of any identity, background, or experience, inclusive design should be eagerly embraced, yet many companies aren’t sure where to start.
When it comes right down to it, there are two essential elements that make the process work. The first is having the right team, and that means a diverse team. Having a team made up of people with different backgrounds, abilities, and gender identities is going to help a company notice and overcome biases in a more powerful way than a team that looks, identifies and thinks in the same ways. Building a diverse team will help brands find and design solutions for a much broader range of user needs.
The second element is involving users. Brands are already well versed at putting the customer at the heart of what they do, interviewing them, getting to know their needs, and responding to those needs with solutions. But inclusive design takes the process a step further, harnessing collaborative design methods to design with excluded users in mind, not just for them. It gives excluded users a seat at the table and involves them in every stage of the design process.
"Inclusive design takes the process a step further, harnessing collaborative design methods to design with excluded users in mind, not just for them."
But inclusive design isn’t just thinking about people with limitations or impairments and how they might be excluded from using your product. Because an argument could be made that all of us are differently abled and our limitations shift and change over our lifetimes: how you interact with a website might change if you start to need glasses, for example, or how you use a product might be affected if you’ve recently gone through an illness or had surgery.
Product builders and designers need to approach their designs from a mindset that incorporates all sorts of people and abilities and backgrounds into design solutions, bearing in mind a wide set of situations that diverse populations face. It’s a way to innovate, to shape a world that’s fairer and more accessible for all. This context is critical for providing a sense of belonging while making it possible for human beings to experience the world around them in a fair and equal way, leading to a result that makes everyone feel welcomed.
"It’s a way to innovate, to shape a world that’s fairer and more accessible for all."
Take the plunge
If there was ever a time for your business to take the plunge and create a more accessible product or service, it’s now. With the paradigm shift of businesses from offline to online space, the enormous commercial benefits of reaching as many customers as possible cannot be overlooked. Companies that have never considered inclusive design might see it as a daunting, emotionally charged task, but it doesn’t have to be complex.
The more intention that brands place on inclusive design and the greater the focus on accessibility in conversations and design processes, the more universally usable a brand’s products will be. And that’s a win-win for customers and businesses.
Illiustration: Monika Sroga