Inclusive design is about creating experiences for all users – no matter their background, their abilities and how they define themselves. The intention to create inclusive experiences is probably a no-brainer for most people. But this intention also needs to be put into practice, of course.
When I talk about inclusive design I always quote Mike Monteiro, the author of the book Ruined by Design:
“When you decide who you’re designing for, you’re making an implicit statement about who you’re not designing for. For years we referred to people who weren’t crucial to our products’ success as ‘edge cases’. We were marginalizing people. And we were making a decision that there were people in the world whose problems weren’t worth solving.”
I think this is a great reminder of how our design decisions become decisions about our users as well.
Part of being inclusive is making your designs accessible. By creating accessible content, you’ll help people with learning disabilities, reading difficulties and people who don’t have this language as their first language. But frankly, no one wants to read something several times to understand it. So really, you’ll help everyone!
So how do you design inclusive content? Let’s look at some things you can do to make user experiences more inclusive.
- Question your own assumptions: Asking yourself a few questions is a good place to start. Who’s part of the design team? Who do we base our research and testing on? How does all of this affect how we define and solve the problem? Be very mindful of your assumptions and how this affects the work you do.
- Use language that is easy to understand: Plain language, or clear language, is a superpower! You don’t want to make people think twice about your text – you want to minimise the cognitive load and help people understand the information straight away. Write clear headers and short sentences. Use everyday words, not the complex ones that you were taught to use in academia. Those words could make people give up on your text. And do you know what? We may think that complex words convey more trust and authority, but it’s actually the opposite. People trust language that is easy to understand.
- Avoid dicult terminology: Don’t use language that excludes people. Using jargon that only a certain group of people recognise, naturally excludes people outside of this group. When I worked on an app where patients could get medical help, we always tried to use common words instead of medical terminology. (Yes, we did have a lot of conversations about ‘poo’ and ‘stool’.) We did, however, also have a desktop app for healthcare professionals. On this platform, we did use medical terminology as this was more accessible for doctors and nurses. Think about your users and what makes more sense for them!
- Combine text and images: Have you heard of dual coding? It’s a theory that suggests that we process information in dierent ways: visually and verbally. So if you want to make your content more easily understandable, and memorable, use icons or other visual elements together with your text.
- Avoid offensive language: Choose your words not only based on what people understand but also on how they can make people feel. Because even when the UX copy is functional, it could still exclude people. Say you’re asking for someone’s gender, and you give them the options “man”, “woman” and “other”. Though this covers more than the traditional two options, it’s still “othering” people and could be offensive. Another example from the healthcare product is how we wrote about pregnancy. We didn’t know if the pregnancy was a happy one, if the person who was pregnant had a partner, or if they were keeping their baby. So we made a conscious decision to be neutral in our language.
Creating products that are inclusive at all times isn’t easy. There will always be limitations to what we can do when we create user experiences. But as designers, we have a responsibility to at least try to be as inclusive as possible, and lead with empathy.
Written by Anna Söderbom
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