Skip to main content

5 things to think about when designing inclusively

Harry Hurd
While learning to design in an inclusive way is a journey that never stops, here are some basic pointers to help get you on the right track to making truly inclusive design.
  1. Empathy. Empathy. Empathy.

    Design, in any form, is fundamentally about empathy. Without empathy, designers are only creating products and services for themselves, not for those who will be using the end product. Inclusive design means widening that field of empathy and trying to think about how people with very different experiences and abilities could use your product. Try and create audience personas with as wide-ranging experiences as possible. You can read our article on some base audience personas to get started here.

    It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For a design thinker it has to be ‘us with them

    Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO

  2. Keep it simple.

    Whether you’re working on user experience (UX), graphic design, website design, content, or something else, more often than not the best way to make sure that what you create is inclusive is by keeping everything as simple as possible. The more clutter, the harder something is to understand.

     marie kondo saying “I love mess”

    George Orwell wrote a 1946 pamphlet called ‘Politics and the English Language‘ where he appealed for straight-talking. Just a few of his points illustrate what he meant:

    • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    These apply as much to design as they do for content:

    • Never create an overly complex design when a simple one will do.
    • If it is possible to cut clutter and features, always cut them out.
    • Never create jargon based interfaces when you can think of simpler, more widely understood, equivalents.
  3. Inclusive design is about more than just accessibility.

    Accessibility is great, and something we should all be striving for … but we can, and should, aim higher. Accessibility means creating products and services that can be easily used and understood by everyone – an incredibly worthwhile pursuit – but if we stop there, then we miss out on a huge opportunity to design with diversity, not just for it.

    Accessibility is an outcome. Inclusive Design is a process.


    Women walking in front of text saying 'teamwork makes the dream work'

    When we design inclusively, we draw on a huge range of diverse experiences that open up new and exciting possibilities that we may never have thought of otherwise. One of the key tenets of inclusive design is the concept that you design for one, and extend to many. It’s easy as designers to think of the ‘average use case’ rather than the extremes, but many of even your non-disabled users may be situationally disabled. 

  4. Be humble.


    Inclusive Design is not about getting everything 100% right all of the time, in fact, it’s inherent to the entire concept that no one individual could ever claim to understand all of the huge ranges of diverse experience that human beings possess. What’s important is not getting it right every time, but that you’re humble and open enough to listen to when people tell you that something you made doesn’t quite work for them.

    It’s not a failure when someone says that your thing could be better for their particular needs, it’s a failure when you are told that and you don’t do anything about it. If someone tells you that you can do better, it’s an exciting opportunity to learn and then do better next time (and maybe even share the knowledge so that others can learn as well).

  5. Test, then test again.

    No matter how thoroughly you plan, there’s always the possibility that what you’ve created could still be made more accessible, and more inclusive. There is no alternative to testing what you’ve made with as wide an audience as possible – taking in as many different experiences as you can. It’s not always easy to find people that have views, abilities and experiences that are different from your own, in fact, it can be pretty difficult, but it’s always worth it in the long run. You won’t have to start again for every project but can call on different people you have worked in the past whenever they have a perspective that is relevant.

    Printer printing out sheets of paper saying test

    Some good places to start looking for people, separately from asking friends and colleagues is to post your product online (if you can) and ask the online community for feedback.

    Interacting with disabled people in focus groups will not only give you a wide range of experiences to question. It may also provide interesting solutions and takes on a particular challenge.

Contributor: Harry Hurd
Organisation: Developer, Clear Honest Design

Contribute an article

The Big Hack is an open community, and if you have an idea, or an article, about how to make the digital world more inclusive, we want to hear from you.

Message us about a contribution

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Was this article helpful?