More businesses and organisations are adopting a human-centric approach to the way they work and inclusive design is more important than ever to bridge the gap between business and people. In the journey of designing for people, it is especially important that inclusive design be a requirement from the get-go instead of an afterthought.

An illustration of a ven diagram with Accessibility and Usability crossing over

But first, what is inclusive design?

With terms like inclusive design, accessibility, and usability flying around, it is easy to feel like they’re all the same.

Usability is concerned with whether a design is effective, efficient, and satisfying to use. This would, theoretically include accessibility, as one wouldn’t be able to find a design effective, efficient and satisfying to use if one can’t actually access the design.

In practice though, accessibility is more concerned about whether the experience is open to all and focuses on users with disabilities and impairments. For example, websites are required to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which sets out how web content can be more accessible to people with disabilities or impairments.

It is important to realise that while a design is usable, it is not necessarily accessible. Similarly, an accessible design is not necessarily effective, efficient, and satisfying to use.

On the other hand, inclusive design takes a wider approach to include a range of needs and behaviours - such as minor capability impairments and gender differences. Microsoft defines Inclusive Design as “a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives”.

For the purposes of this article, I will include accessibility when talking about inclusive designs.

Why is inclusive design important?

In short, inclusive design is good for customers, businesses AND can lead to more innovative designs.

Sometimes, inclusivity and accessibility considerations are given less weight than other design components and are left until the end of a project. However, inclusive designs make more sense than we think and here’s why:

1.  Saving time and money

Making sure our designs are inclusive from the start means we avoid retrofitting elements to the design. Fewer changes to the design mean less work for the teams involved. Higher efficiency means money and time saved for the business.

2. Benefitting everyone

One benefit is that inclusive design tends to also assist other users. It creates a curb-cut effect which is the phenomenon of disability-friendly features being used and appreciated by a larger group of people. For example, think about the time when you’re at an airport using a wheelchair-accessible bathroom so that your large suitcase can fit. Also, think about the time you turned on closed captions while watching a show because you keep missing some of the words being spoken. These are all ways that we benefit from accessible designs.

3. Sparking innovation

There’s nothing that sparks innovation quite like constraints. The best way to think outside the box is when conventional designs just won’t cut it, and as designers - as humans- we can be incredibly innovative when we apply the right design constraints. As Benjamin Evans (Product Inclusion Director at PayPal) says “Diversity and inclusion has always been the core of innovation. If innovation is about taking two ideas that are different and overlaying them and mixing them, then that means the more you do that, the more opportunities there are for innovation”.

4. Reaching more audiences

If organisations are in the business of people, then it makes sense that considering the needs of more users leads to broader appeal and more market opportunities. One notable area is accessible designs. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 18% of people in Australia have a disability. Another 22% have a long-term health condition but no disability. It can be argued therefore that at the minimum, inclusive design may directly benefit around 18% of the Australian population and may indirectly benefit up to another 22%. That’s a huge portion of the Australian population being left out if designs are not inclusive.

5. Accessible design is a legal requirement

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) -  an international standards organisation for the World Wide Web - provides accessibility guidelines that have been incorporated into Australian Legislation. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 set out standards that must be met to ensure that users with a disability have the same access to information and services. The guideline provides 3 levels of conformance (Level A through to Level AAA) and content must meet the minimal level.  All this is to say that there's a legal onus on all of us to ensure that designs are accessible. 

An illustration of items representing design and inclusivity including Large print, a computer and the WCAG guidelines

Starting (or continuing) your inclusive design journey

Regardless of where you are on your inclusive design journey, here are some handy tips to help you along:

1. Get acquainted with the WCAG 2.1 guide

Arm yourself with information by getting familiar with Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.1.

Here’s a handy overview:

Check out the visual map of WCAG 2.1 by accessibility agency Intopia:

To better understand how to apply the guidelines check out:

2. To succeed, one must know thyself

To take a quick audit of your product or design, consider using an online tool.

Take a quiz to see how well you’re designing for inclusion and belonging:

Check how the colours and contrast you’re using are affecting users with visual impairments:

Identify and fix issues during website development (Chrome extension):

3. Leverage online design guides and toolkits

Feeling a bit overwhelmed learning everything you need for inclusive and accessible designs? Never fear, online guides and toolkits are here.  

Use IBM’s toolkit to increase accessibility of your product: 

4. Undertake training on inclusive design

Want to take your learning to the next level? There is a range of free and paid training courses.

Get training from VisionAustralia:

5. Create an inclusive, curious culture and mindset by facilitating conversation around inclusive design

Be a champion. Bake inclusive and accessible design into your workflow or process and continue to foster conversation within your team or organisation. 

A practical tool to spark conversation and push for out-of-the-box thinking:

Join Nomat on a journey

Here at Nomat, we love talking about inclusive design and how organisations can incorporate inclusive design to create more innovative solutions and products that can be effective, efficient, satisfying, and accessible to more users. Click here to view our accessibility statement.

We have embarked on our own journey to implement inclusive design within Nomat. While there is plenty of room for improvement (starting with our website for example!) we are excited to be going on this voyage. Join us. Bring snacks.

While you're here, have a story about implementing inclusive design in your organisation or when you’ve benefitted from inclusive design? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

About the author

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Author photo
Author photo

Amanda Chen

Senior Designer and Researcher

Amanda is an analytical thinker who strategically combines human-centered design with business requirements to create thoughtful and feasible experiences for the end-user. She utilises more than five years of stakeholder engagement, collaboration and project management skills and enjoys working collaboratively to build a common understanding and to communicate fact-based research findings.

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