I’ve been working in the Tech For Good scene for well over a year and in that time I’ve faced ethical challenges and dilemmas I’d never even considered previously.
Which is why I wanted to start writing about my experiences and opinions on designing ethically in the world of Tech For Good.
Check out the full article on The Duality of Design or download the guide below.
The importance of inclusive design
Inclusivity has never played a more pivotal role in design and development. Especially when it falls in the realm of UX and good causes.
Designing inclusively is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced while working at CUBE, having to consider such a wide range of users across such a diverse portfolio of projects.
Although it is practically impossible to create designs inclusive for everyone, we have a duty to understand our audience and ensure we don’t discriminate against gender, sexuality, ability, race, and a myriad of other personal needs.
It can be very easy to focus on all these things for just one type of user, forgetting every user is unique. One large part of achieving this is making sure our designs are accessible, and that we consider the potential environmental, social, sensory, physical and cognitive impacts our designs could bestow.
The principle of compromise
In the attempt to make our design approach and process inclusive we face the principle of “compromise”; the pursuit for a design that pleases everyone will inevitably compromise some features or design aspects to suit the needs of different users.
If we are not careful this can end in a design which is not functional for anyone, which is why rather than designing for all, we tend to design for our core audience but ensure we are inclusive of our entire audience, in a non-discriminatory manner, by considering users from all different backgrounds when researching and designing.
Here at CUBE we not only consider accessibility, digital anthropology, percentile and many other guidelines and standards, but we make sure we get out and touch base with the users that these standards aim to assist.
Designing accessible platforms
As already stated, accessibility makes up a big part of inclusive design. Accessible designs are those that consider people of all abilities and although commonly misunderstood is not solely for those with disabilities which is important to understand.
Accessibility is for all, as demonstrated by one of the most simple guiding principles within most accessibility guidelines: A system must follow a logical order and structure.
There are plenty of standards and guidelines out there to follow that are well worth the time to research. We at CUBE most notably comply with ADA standards and WCAG. We also follow a host of other standards, including ISO standard 9241 where a lot of the basic usability needs of a system are detailed.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
A set of rules or principles that guide individuals, organisations and governments with a shared understanding of how content can be made accessible to those with disabilities or impairments.
Although accessibility should by no means be limited to those with disabilities; as such a wide range of users (such as the elderly who are hard of hearing for example) rely on accessible features from screen readers to colour contrasts and text-to-speech software.
Outside this, I enjoy and encourage others to research other accessible design principles such as the Doherty Threshold, which states that productivity soars when interactions are done at pace, and should a user or interface take longer than 400ms to respond then productivity is disrupted, which is important for both designers and developers to understand when reviewing platforms or designing seamless interactions.
How do we put inclusive design into practice?
I have put in a lot of time and effort to ensure our design process is universal as to not discriminate against gender, sexuality, disability, race and a myriad of user’s personal needs.
To do this we not only take a lot of time to consider button placement, colour contrasts, alt text and accessibility labels, but look deeper into linguistics, semantics, iconography, colours, form options and a whole host more to ensure we offer the best possible experience to all our users.
This involves working closely with our developers, familiarising them with guidelines and standards so that our platforms react to our user’s accessibility settings, as well as performing passes over our apps to highlight any potential accessibility or usability issues and comply with our chosen standards.
Beyond this, we ensure to keep a diverse sample of users in touch with our products from conception to completion and beyond.
User research & testing
We make sure we do our user research and testing with a participant sample that is diverse.
We need a sample of participants that has a range of different key ages, different races, abilities, genders, sexualities, cultures and backgrounds to make sure our designs don’t end up offensive or discriminative of anyone, especially when dealing with sensitive topics.
Recruiting a diverse sample of participants can be a tricky challenge, and we have to be considerate with our terminology during this to ensure we don’t offend anyone, the same goes for when we write our testing scripts. My advice is to make sure you think about who you are writing for, and that you rubber duck whatever you have written with a few others.
The last blog I published in the ethical design series; User Testing with Communities from Different Cultures.
Considering & avoiding biases
We also have to consider and avoid biases in user research. The three main considered biases are sampling bias, cognitive bias and personal bias. Sampling bias refers to the sample of participants selected; the field location and time these participants are selected, being non-representative of the larger audience.
Cognitive or theoretical bias refers to the preconceived notions that the researcher may have about a sample of users or field location, and lays roots towards the many ways the human brain may leverage the researchers existing knowledge to bias the research results.
Lastly, personal bias takes that of the researchers own personality and cultural background, as this can influence their opinions about their observations and research. The best way to avoid these biases is to check over any research and testing plans that you have to ensure they don’t raise any of the above points.
The do's & don'ts of inclusive design
1. Identify your core audience; talk to real potential end-users and consider their diverse backgrounds.
2. Your research; run contextual observations and user research with a diverse sample of potential users within your core audience to understand their different pain points and needs and map these out in user journeys to ensure they are considered throughout the design and development of your platform.
3. Keep users involved throughout; regularly run user testing sessions with a diverse sample of users within your core audience to gain actionable qualitative insights into how platforms can better accommodate their needs.
1. Ignore your user’s needs; each of your users is different, don’t discriminate and don’t generalise.
2. Try to design for everyone; first identify your target audience and then identify their different needs.
3. Forget to consult your developers; inclusive design and accessibility heavily involves developers so work closely with them.
All in all, inclusive design is so so much more than just making sure a platform is accessible; to truly create an experience inclusive of all, you need to spend the time fully exploring and understanding the diverse needs of your entire audience.