Why UX teams are pivotal to Inclusive Design efforts

by Frank Spillers
CEO/CXO @ Experience Dynamics; UXInnerCircle.com

inclusive team sitting at a table

Inclusive Design is the process of ensuring representation in your design, your team, and your design and development process. Inclusion is core to User Experience (UX) efforts. UX professionals are uniquely positioned to help drive inclusion in design teams, projects and processes.

User Advocacy is a core skill

Disability advocacy starts with bringing users into your process, listening deeply to their needs, and amplifying their issues, needs, and concerns (throughout your design decisions).

Finally, W3 digital accessibility guidelines (WCAG 3.0, draft Jan. 2021) are recommending testing with users with disabilities (Accessibility Testing):

“WCAG 3.0 includes two types of tests:

Atomic tests: simple tests (usually of the code), like the way we test today. You use these tests to reach the bronze level.

Holistic tests: usability tests and manual tests with hardware and software used by people with disabilities (assistive technologies). You use these tests to reach the silver or gold level.

Some content will meet outcomes if it passes atomic tests, but that content still might not be usable by all people with disabilities. Holistic tests can help you fix that.”

Accessibility is not a technical problem

Similarly, efforts to improve usability followed the same approach. However, after the Dot-Com bubble burst in 2000, testing with real users became the default. Shortly thereafter new tools leveraging direct end-user feedback flooded the market (eg UserTesting.com; User Zoom; Look Back; Loop11 and many more). To date, there is a single accessibility testing crowdsourcing service using actual users (Fable). However, there are plenty of automated or AI-based tools, and checker tools but none replace user accessibility testing. Note: Automated testing tools have an estimated 20–30% coverage rate, and the tool axe by Deque claims it hits an industry high of 57% coverage of finding accessibility issues(source: Deque report 2021).

Research (Law et. al 2006; Farmer & Macleod 2011) shows accessibility efforts are more likely to fail when designers do not include users or consider themselves the end-users…

Yet the art of excluding users seems to be an ongoing ‘instinct’ of many IT-trained professionals. For instance,“We don’t need to talk to users” seems natural since naturally, answers come from analytics, quant data, analysis, asking other employees, hard thinking, creative thinking, or interpreted empathy. It’s second nature to not talk to users. Note: I’ve heard this from four different teams in the past few months!

In other words, user exclusion is a risky behavior when designing experiences…Projects, managers, designers who exclude users are increasing their risk, of making a bad decision. But where can you start? Start by connecting your companies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to your design process.

Who’s the Inclusion champion? Everybody and UX teams can help

UX brings users in, by default. UX teams perform necessary User Research (User Needs Analysis and User Testing). Ethnography, above all, studies human behavior within a culture and can help deepen understanding of underrepresented communities and user groups. User Testing brings user feedback to a design starting by recruiting underrepresented users. Consequently, user inclusion unlocks the same innovation and market growth opportunities as staffing diversity within your team.

Include Users= improve quality of design decision-making

venn diagram DEI-B for Inclusive Design: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with a feeling of Belonging holding the balance in the middle.
venn diagram DEI-B for Inclusive Design: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with a feeling of Belonging holding the balance in the middle.
Image above: DEI-B for Inclusive Design: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with a feeling of Belonging holding the balance in the middle. Without a doubt, the key idea of Inclusive Design is to bring representation of users and teams fostering diversity, inclusion, and equity while amplifying their contributions and voices.

Image contents described:

Diversity: Inclusive design starts with diversity. Design teams are diverse and represent diverse users in experience design efforts and in recruiting for User Research.

Danger point: The dominant group influences design decisions. HIPPOs dominate (Highest Paid Person’s Opinions).

Inclusion: Your insights account for the needs of all user groups (and employees). Users are involved in problem definition, design prototyping & testing.

Equity: Addressing historical patterns of exclusion of underrepresented users and team members. Constantly and consistently enabling access, participation, and empowerment.

Danger point: Unconscious bias dominates, eg. personas are unfairly prioritized or driven by profit only over societal gain.

Belonging: Teams embrace diverse users and team members; outside-in design thinking thrives.

Danger point: Org does not engage diverse users or teams and navigates with assumption.

To clarify, the DEI acronym can be extended: DEI needs a feeling of Belonging (DEI-B) as well as justice (JEDI). Add a much-needed sustainability lens, since human fabric and environment overlap, eg environmental racism, and you get JEDIS. With Belonging, we extend the DEI acronym to B-JEDIS.

Inclusive Design adds value to design decisions and profitability

“Companies with more inclusive business cultures and policies see a 59% increase in innovation and 37% better assessment of consumer interest and demand.” -International Labour Organization (2019 study)

For example, Airbnb started embracing DEI-B when it was clear that their app-powered service experience was excluding people of color. Airbnb now sees inclusion as an innovation engine. The company offers service experiences promoting disability inclusion as well as an Inclusive Design toolkit. The toolkit offers design and development teams a way to question design biases.

Inclusive practices rank high among quality of life indicators across the world. Studies by Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) found that the richest countries with higher inequality did worse on almost every quality of life indicator. In other words, inclusivity brought better results due to: diverse perspectives, recognition of the interconnectedness of users and systems, and better adaptation in design.

Inclusive Design dimensions from Wilkinson and Pickett
Inclusive Design dimensions from Wilkinson and Pickett
Wilkinson and Pickett in their book ‘The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better’ found that inclusion (bridging economic inequality) leads to better results. Image: Inclusive Design Research Center OCAD University.

Design with, Not For users

To sum up, it is time that our research, design, and dev efforts include representation of underrepresented users. Users with disabilities; people of color; women; the LGBTQ+ community, and more. Finally, industries across the board are starting to recognize that user inclusion leads to new opportunities, hidden revenue as well as mitigated bias. Above all, UX teams are key players in the Inclusion challenge. To succeed, manager involvement is critical.

Note: To learn more about Inclusive Design, check out this FREE webinar: Inclusive Design: How to bake inclusion into your process and experience

And this 3 hr. Inclusive Design workshop, ($99) join my UX Inner Circle for this and more…

Frank Spillers CEO/CXO Experience Dynamics
Frank Spillers CEO/CXO Experience Dynamics

About the author: Frank Spillers, CEO/ CXO of Experience Dynamics, a leading UX consulting firm with Fortune 500 clients worldwide.

For over 20 years, Frank has been a seasoned UX consultant, Researcher, Designer, and Trainer. He is an award-winning expert in improving the design of digital products, services, and experiences. Frank is a Subject Matter Expert in UX Design, UX Management, Accessibility, Emotion Design, Service Design, Localization UX, Lean UX, VR/ AR UX Design. He provides private corporate training and offers courses to the largest online design organization in the world (Interaction Design Foundation). In 2001, Frank founded UX consulting firm Experience Dynamics. He provides deep learning opportunities at UX Inner Circle.

Founder, CEO and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Dynamics, an award-winning User Experience consulting firm. www.experiencedynamics.com