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Design for diversity: the impact of inclusivity



Date  22 March 2023
3 min read
by Lisanne Blokdijk

What is inclusive design?

Even if a website or app meets WCAG accessibility standards, it can still alienate important aspects of a person's identity that are relevant to the product: age, disability, race/ethnicity, gender, skin color, size, sexual orientation, language, etc.

The boundaries between accessibility and inclusivity often become blurred with the two terms frequently being used interchangeably in the design world. Accessible design provides the foundation of ensuring that everyone can experience your content by removing the obstacles that prevent people from using it. Inclusive design asks you to consider the content (and user context) itself.

Inclusive design is a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. The goal of inclusive design is to recognise and to embrace this diversity. Who is it you want to develop solutions for? How do they get around? How would they describe themselves? Inclusivity commits to the due diligence of learning about your users to ensure designs not only fulfill business objectives but also consider and respect the needs and expectations of your users.

Man texting in the bus with a smile

Foster a sense of belonging

When people feel like they belong, they are more likely to engage with your product of service. People should not only be able to work with your product. It is also about whether they feel at home with your brand. By fostering that sense of belonging you build a stronger sense of connection and trust among people, leading to greater collaboration, creativity and productivity.

Two older people looking on a mobile phone

We’re all part of an aging population

Let’s zoom in on ageism as an example. According to United Nations, people ages 65 and older account for 10% of the world population (800 million) in 2022 and will increase to 16% (1.28 billion) in 2050.

Bar chart elderly people over the years
*Elderly in the Netherlands, source: Alzheimer Nederland

In the Netherlands this group is estimated to grow from 2,7 million in 2012 to 4,8 million in 2041. According to “Volksgezondheid en Zorg” almost 33,4% of people ages 75 and older experience at least one disability or impairment. And to top it off - between the ages of 25 and 60 people's ability to use websites declines by 0.8% per year.

Smartphone adoption is also rapidly rising among older adults and they find touch screens easier. Yet this group is associated with a struggle with technology, often requiring assistance, and not being familiar with more advanced features or apps. Older users who aren’t familiar with technology can already feel insecure while using it; a condescending message will only cause further insecurity and may turn them off to using the app or website altogether. Providing clear communication and evaluating used terminology will not only help the older adults but most people that possibly currently feel excluded.

Did you know?

  • Shades of blue can appear faded to seniors, potentially reducing contrast when blue elements are used in a design.
  • Many older adults use reading glasses or opt for much larger font sizes when given the option.
  • Older adults make more mistakes than young people do and have trouble reading the error message.
  • Older adults may be more likely to turn to an app’s help functions or tutorials when they run into problems.

Despite being a prevalent issue, ageism often goes unnoticed or ignored. Leading to negative consequences for older adults in various moments of their lives. And that’s just ageism. By acknowledging and addressing forms of possible exclusion, we can promote an equitable product or service that values and respects people.

Here are some of my key learnings on inclusive design:

  • Collaborating with community experts can help define a problem space or represent a specific user group.
  • Acknowledge that there are biases in projects, examine them and how these may impact the direction of the project.
  • Recruit participants with different identities and backgrounds.
  • Only collect relevant information about participants during your research and explain why you’re collecting this data.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Own up to your mistake, take appropriate action, learn from it and move on.
  • Provide best practices and alternatives people can use to be more inclusive. You could consult resources and best practices.

Inclusive design is a continuous learning process. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we’re dedicated to being a part of the conversation and striving for progress. We invite you to join us in this journey, as we work together to create a more inclusive world through design.

Interested in an inclusive website?

Expand your craft, and your mindset—and start creating a richer experience for everyone on the web, regardless of disabilities, location, language, or identity.

+31 10 436 5050lisanne.blokdijk@harborn.com