Inclusive Design Is Something We Can't Live Without

Man who uses a wheelchair pushes button in wheelchair lift elevator

When we set out to design something, the questions we ask and the perspectives we bring make a difference. Often, designs that have been created to solve a specific challenge end up having a broader application just because someone thought to apply inclusive design.

As I pick up my phone to send a raccoon GIF to my bonus daughter, I don't even think about the fact that texting was designed for the deaf or hard of hearing. It's one of those things we love, use daily and don't even realize has a fascinating backstory.

Texting allows people who have difficulty hearing to communicate easily. A traditional phone call isn't effective if you're hard of hearing. Even if you read lips or know sign language, an audio-only phone call is useless.

Creativity and innovation often arise from constraints. Enter inclusive designs.

Why have inclusive design?

Sometimes, new designs are about seeing ourselves in the world around us, particularly if we haven't seen ourselves represented there before. One simple example is bandages that match different skin tones. It's nice when your bandage is less noticeable — especially if you don't have a good story to account for the injury.

When we set out to design something, the questions we ask and the perspectives we bring make a difference. Often designs that are created to solve a specific challenge end up having a broader application because they are useful to many more people than the ones the design was originally created for.

But what if you start with the idea of making a design useful for as many people as possible? That's what inclusive designs are about.

Key inclusive design principles

Inclusive design considers the barriers possible users may encounter and ways to address those obstacles. It aims to ensure different people can use the product or interact with the service effectively. It involves considering a variety of conditions and use cases, such as whether lighting conditions will affect visibility, whether the surrounding environment may be too noisy or busy to hear or focus or whether the controls are needlessly complicated.

This approach encourages the design team to think about who would be excluded from using it and keep developing to end up with something user-friendly for everyone in a wide range of circumstances.

Inclusive design principles include:

  • Flexibility. Designing options so that people can engage with the thing in different possible ways and create ways that work for them. Think options and preferences.
  • Error tolerance. Figuring out where users are likely to get hung up and helping them find the way out and back to what they were trying to do.
  • Intuitiveness. Making things simple and easy to figure out.
  • Perception. Addressing that different people experience the world differently.
  • Effort. Creating products and services that don't require significant physical effort to use.
  • Equity. Making sure that all individuals have fair access to products and services regardless of their abilities or resources.

Realizing the reach of inclusive design

ADP Chief of Product Inclusion Giselle Mota explains, "We're a global company with more than 900,000 clients around the world. That means there are millions of people using our products in different cultures and work environments. We want to make sure we're designing for everyone and including as many perspectives as possible in our design process."

Here are some examples of things we could not live without that exist because of inclusive designs:

  • Elevators. This is why historic buildings are only a few stories. Building height is a barrier for all of us when you try to get a couch up 50 stories. Elevators — as well as lifts, ramps and escalators — were designed to help people who can't climb stairs, and our world today would not look the same without them.
  • Glasses. The Vision Council of America estimates that about 64% of people in the U.S. wear glasses to correct a visual impairment. Glasses and magnifying lenses have been around for ages. Today, we also have screen readers, font size options and tools to manage color and glare on computer screens and our other devices.
  • Shoes. Shoes can be hard to put on —ask any toddler. When someone came up with the idea of putting Velcro instead of laces on kids' shoes, countless parents started making it to work on time again. Today, the options are limitless.
  • Handles. From door levers you can open with your elbow or hip to easy-grip kitchen tools to no handles at all, inclusive handle design has changed the way we do things.
  • Menus. Whether it's due to food sensitivity, food allergies or cultural reasons, some people don't eat certain foods. The next time you see a menu, it's likely the restaurant offers options for all different food constraints because inclusive design was considered.
  • Settings and options. Nearly every modern device has settings to customize the light, sound, text and accessibility functions, like automated read-aloud and captioning, so that we can personalize our experiences. Certain software and products are intentionally created with a potential user's language, religion, physicality, environment, and other contexts in mind.

"When everyone is the end user, we create better, more inclusive products that benefit everyone," Mota says.

Inclusive designs change the world, and it's also just good business. Who doesn't want as many buyers and users as possible for their products and services?

Regardless of business size, inclusive practices can help improve your employees' experience and your bottom line. ADP's product inclusion page has a complimentary product inclusion guide and other resources to help your organization become an inclusive place where everyone feels like they belong.