papercut illustration of Social inclusion and people in different situations

some thoughts on inclusive design

From time to time I’ve brought up the topic of accessibility — for example how a well designed webpage will be more accessible to humans and easier to search by computers. Several recent events have nudged this topic from one I merely mention to clients as something to think about to one I am actively working on. They include watching people at different stages of their life interact with technology; the rise in AI biases; the rapid shift to a reliance on digital technologies in this new age of the Covid-19 pandemic; and a community website I use making a drastic design change without warning to its user base.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is a challenge to describe as it’s often charged with emotion. Inclusion is also tricky because it’s easier to describe the effects of being excluded. The way that a design is accessible and inclusive will change throughout our lives. What is accessible for a child may not be for an older adult recovering from hip replacement. What is accessible for someone with perfect sight may not be for someone with a vision impairment. Many factors can influence this such as color or lighting choices, fonts (and sizes), and even the words and the way they’re written.

Two books on accessibility

I am reading a lot to better understand the current thought of what makes technology accessible (or not). In some ways this topic hasn’t changed much in the twenty years I’ve been designing websites. In others ways there’s much more acceptance that this is an important topic.

The other day, knitting designer Xandy Peters mentioned that she was reading Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes as she’s working to make her patterns more inclusive. I immediately sought it out as it sounded interesting. This is a short book (the audio is 3h 47m; paper is 176 pp) and while semi-repetitive, it has a message that needs to be heard. My biggest takeaway is that we are all designers and for successful design we need to listen to a diversity of voices. Overall it provides a summary of what makes a design inclusive, what exclusionary traps many design teams fall into, and thoughts on how to improve the future. Mismatch isn’t a book that provides a checklist of “if you do xyz you’ll have an inclusive design”, but it shares key points that all design teams (especially if solo!) should think about. I’ll have more thoughts as I process the many pages of notes I took while listening to the audiobook.

I’m also reading Writing Is Designing: Words and the User Experience by Michael J. Metts & Andy Welfle. I’m not very far into this book but was caught by the premise “Words make software human-centered …. This book will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You’ll see that writing is designing.” I’ve experienced confusing error messages and forms that I struggle to complete. I know that words and how we choose them are important. I hope this book will help me find better was to help you communicate about your business.

How can I help you?

What do I offer to help you improve accessibility of your websites and business documents? Together we can review how your site is used, build questions that may help us explore unintentional biases in the design, and find others to help us better identify and fix those issues. In listening together we can solve your business needs. If you’re interested in working together please contact me.

papercut illustration of Social inclusion and people in different situations