Inclusive digital design: A quite honest reality check
For someone outside the design bubble, design can be quite abstract, hard to capture and look like fancy people creating fancy looking things. And I know what I am talking about, because I am one of those people who slowly slipped into the world of design without specifically aiming to do so. I am absolutely grateful for it though, as it makes me learn and grow a lot and also changed my perception of design holistically. I learned that design — especially design how we understand it here — aims to improve and ease people’s lives.
But who are these people that we’re talking about? What are their needs, desires and abilities? How can we be sure to actually reach and include all people with our designs? Having all those global discussions about race, sexuality, gender, migration, equality and all the other big currents that concern humanity at present, these questions have been popping up in my mind little by little. So I asked myself and the rest of our team: Who are these people that we want to support with our digital designs, what are we doing to include all kind of people already, and what should we be doing more of? Let’s have a little reality-check.
Inclusion: 1st level
Logically, there are obvious aspects that digital designers always have in mind, mostly factors that relate to visual factors of their design product. For instance: Checking and increasing contrasts to support people with poor eyesight. There are great plug-ins for Mac or Sketch and Figma that simulate color-blindness and visual handicaps to ensure visual contrasts for an optimal readability.
We hopefully won’t tell you anything new when mentioning ALT texts for pictures, lists or maps on websites and apps. They are everywhere, even when you — as a user — don’t see them. They describe the visual content of a photo / illustration and thereby help visually impaired or blind people get the context of your product. Thanks to the awesome “screen reader” feature, their phones or laptops will read the screen content for them. And even if I just claimed this to be a basic thing, I also have to admit that we are not quite sure about having ALT texts for all the pictures on our website or Instagram (yes, ALT texts are addable on Instagram, too). Which is something that I will be having a closer look at for the next couple of days.
Talking about increasing the readability of a screen, not only black and white contrasts should be taken into account, but also the potential of color blindness which complicates distinguishing between a red and green button. How to adjust to it: Play with color brightness, and add text with a readable font, and maybe use icons to support the message — mix it all up to address and reach all people. And yeah, we know that we always talk about keeping design as neat, clean and minimalistic as possible, but a good access for everyone is just as important as keeping your design visually smooth and pleasant.
Another thing to consider when talking about inclusive digital design is: choosing the right font. Choosing the right font in a good size and thickness without loosing the aesthetic approach and idea at the heart of the product is a crucial task. Beyond that, we find it very important to work hand in hand with developers that are putting our design ideas into technical practice to allow a font to be dynamic. In this context, make sure to have flexible text blocks and the option to customize the text and font throughout the zoom mode a smartphone offers.
Inclusion: Next level — to be discovered and continued
As already said, this is inclusion on a very basic level. Something that hopefully all designers consider or will consider in the future. But we want to take it a step further. This is why we asked ourselves: What are the next phases? We are honest with you right now, because the answer is: we don’t know. But we will inform ourselves about it, educate ourselves further, broaden our horizon and perspectives even more. At the same time, it is inevitable for us to critically check the work we are doing and have been doing to see how inclusive we have been and how inclusive we want to become.
Things we want to pay attention to: diversifying the bunch of people we invite to our user testings. Maybe find a local NGO or community institution that works with blind, paralyzed, deaf, hard-of-hearing etc. pp. people and ask for their help finding research participants. Increase our awareness and talk to all kinds of people, to not base their needs on our assumptions, but to observe how differently-abled people go through their daily lives. Think about what other accessibility restraints there might be apart from the ones we have mentioned earlier (such as people who can’t see, hear, use their hands completely). And probably other things that we cannot think of right now.
A few last thoughts before we leave you with this: We surely know that not all of these subjects are realizable for all kinds of businesses. Especially start-ups with a small budget and team simply might not have any capacity to go this deep in the first place. And maybe not all aspects we have mentioned will apply to all kinds of apps / products, especially when talking about niche products that address a very small target group. Yet, we we find it very important to review the work of design these days and put attention to a topic that we have honestly not talked about very much. But we will change that and take you with us on that journey.