One aspect of design that is absolutely critical but not put into practise or even discussed anywhere near enough is design that ensures a positive experience for everyone, including those with different abilities. I call this inclusive design.
Everyone is different in terms of their capabilities and life experience, and ensuring every single one of these people is able to make use of your design outcome can be extremely tricky. This is not because designers deliberately seek to exclude those who have vision limitations for example, but those responsible for creating the experience simply do not consider factors and experiences that they do not know.
How does a designer realise (let alone eliminate) issues people with vision impairment have if they have not encountered it themselves, know someone personally who has, or have it drawn to their attention for legal compliance? This awareness simply does not often factor into the designer’s (or stakeholder’s) experience. Whilst this is true, it still results in certain sectors of the population who are excluded from interacting with your design. And in my opinion, there is nothing that disempowers people more than giving them something they cannot use.
One simple example of ways some people can be excluded through its design, and something we are all familiar with, is mobile websites. There are so many ways in which people are excluded purely because of how they operate. Those with vision impairments cannot view the screen and when speech becomes more prevalent, people with hearing difficulties cannot hear what their virtual assistant is saying. Furthermore, almost everyone makes errors due to the tiny buttons, let alone those with motor control difficulties. Designers have the responsibility of creating the most inclusive experience they can. How can they do so when they cannot even imagine what kind of things are inaccessible to people who are differently abled?
The simple answer is research. Gather together those in your target audience who have some kind of impairment and ask them what they have trouble with when using a device like yours. Observe them using their devices and see where they struggle. This experience will give you ideas on different inclusions you can develop that will ensure everyone is able to have a great experience. Back to the mobile example, it would be wise to use a sound, flashing light and vibration as an alarm or notification, because this covers the greatest amount of people who can receive it.
Another handy feature that should be incorporated where possible is anticipatory design, as it ensures the least amount of choices need to be made and communicated to the device. For example, all web stores should have automatic access to your address to which orders can be delivered, as this means the user does not have to navigate the small buttons again, trying to input their physical address for the umpteenth time. There are many other examples like this where choices are reduced and a greater experience can be achieved.
To conclude, the best experiences are those that can be appreciated by all people, not just those who fit a certain stereotype. The world we live in is diverse and so should our design be.
Katja Forbes is an Australian pioneer in the concept of experience design. She founded syfte, a specialist business in research and experience design in 2012, and is at the forefront of innovation for experience design and all of its components – research, software and service/experience design. She is an International Director on the Interaction Design Association Board (IXDA).
Katja is proud to be a co-founding member and Local Leader in Sydney of the global community organisation, Interaction Design Association. Together with Joe Ortenzi, she has built a community of over 1600 designers in Sydney, providing them with learning opportunities via lecture based meetups that draw a crowd of 150 people each time, a mentoring program and workshops.
In addition, Katja is passionate about sharing her story and advice to empower other women in business. She has given presentations at Women In Design, Leaders in Heels, Women In Commerce, Code like a Girl (Melbourne Knowledge week) and at multiple organisations including Telstra and Macquarie Bank.
She is particularly inspired to reach out to women with a disadvantage of some sort. For example, Katja and industry colleague Lisa Harrison are currently collaborating with Enactus UNSW to find a way to teach women in prison how to code. Katja is also a mentor for Remarkable, an innovation incubator for people who have ideas for products that deliver to the disability community.