#12 - Design with Purpose, for a Purpose
Impact begins with design
Inclusivity and Diversity
Inclusivity and diversity are terms we’ve all heard before.
We’ve read about how companies and businesses interview and hire people from the LGBTQ+ community, ethnic minority or marginalized groups and senior citizens all in the name of being inclusive and diverse in their organizational practices.
On the surface, that is the easy way out. But is that all there is to it?
Are we neglecting another group of people altogether - people with special needs?
The Role of Design
The challenges in both hiring and working with people with special needs are well documented and they require rather unconventional approaches to be effective, and that, begins with design.
Design, in general has a profound impact on not just the lives of people with disabilities, but also abled individuals as well. Poor design leads to unusability, miscommunication and confusion.
Photo by Faizur Rehman on Unsplash
What is Impactful Design?
Impactful or purposeful design, on the other hand, can either facilitate special needs persons’ integration and participation int society or exclude and limit them altogether.
Impactful design is a unique and somewhat unconventional approach to traditional design methodology that primarily focuses on creating designs that have a positive and meaningful impact, specifically for a select group of people.
Photo by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash
Impactful design covers broad spectrum of industries that can range from building infrastructure to digital products, to services and even user experiences.
We’ve seen countless examples of this - From wide walkways to wheelchair accessible ramps, to tactile paving and Braille keyboards, text-to-speech and other accessibility related digital tools and software just to name a few.
Photo by Elizabeth Woolner on Unsplash
Impactful design prioritizes user needs and experiences above all else and aims to either solve or mitigate real-world problems by creating designs that are usable, accessible and inclusive.
Impactful design goes beyond just making things look aesthetically pleasing.
Let’s explore the processes and merits of impactful design for people with special needs.
Understanding the Context
The first step to creating impactful design is to understand the context.
Designers must understand, emphatize and recognize the specific needs and challenges of people with disabilities and how these needs vary depending on the disability.
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
A person with visual impairment will require different design solutions compared to someone with mobility issues.
The solution for this - walkways with tactile paving that are wide enough to accomodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
The Importance of User Research
Once the context has been understood, the next step is to conduct user research.
Inclusive design starts from the ground up. Designers need to throw away their designer cap as the application of conventional design theory and fundamentals go out the door when designing inclusive products or experiences.
Interacting and communicating with people with disabilities and understanding their experiences, needs and especially challenges they face is important and can be done through interviews, focus group discussions and surveys.
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash
User research, not just for inclusive design, but design in general, is crucial as it helps designers to understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities and to conceptualize the design solutions that are likely to have the most impact.
For example, a person with visual impairment may have difficulty reading text on a computer screen. Designers then can understand that large font sizes, high contrast and proper use of typeface makes text easier to read.
Understanding Accessibility Guidelines
Designers should also be familiar with accessibility guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
These guidelines provide specific recommendations for designing accessible websites, applications, and physical spaces.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Accessibility guidelines are not prescriptive and the “be-all-end-all” and definitely may not cover all the needs of people with disabilities, so designers need to be mindful of this fact.
Designers should exercise their own judgment and inject their own creativity to design solutions that are both effective and impactful.
Testing and Validation
Once the design has been created, it is important to test and validate it. This involves testing on people with disabilities to ensure that it meets their needs and is effective.
Designers can use various tools and techniques to test their designs. For example, automated testing tools can be used to check for accessibility issues, such as missing alt text for images.
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash
As with everything design driven, designers must also be prepared for the arduous iteration process to evolve and make changes to their designs based on the feedback they receive from users. This helps to ensure that the design is effective and impactful.
Inclusive Design Principles
Inclusive design is a design process that involves people with disabilities at every stage.
It is based on the principle that design should be inclusive of everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Inclusive design principles include:
Providing alternative ways of accessing information
Designing for ease of use and flexibility
Providing clear and simple visual design
Creating an accessible digital environment
Providing accessible physical spaces
The Inclusive Design Process - A Step by Step Guide
Understanding the needs of your target audience
Consulting with people with disabilities to understand their needs and limitations is key to designing for them.
Familiarize yourself with Accessibility standards and guidelines
Read up on accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure your design meets their requirements.
Design with accessibility in mind at the start
Consider how people with disabilities will interact with your design. This includes factors such as colour contrast, font size, keyboard and mouse navigation.
Test with real users on the ground in real-world situations
User testing is critical to ensuring that your design is accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Involve either a specific or diverse group of users, including those with disabilities in your testing process to get their feedback and make necessary improvements.
Continuously iterate with improvement in mind
Accessibility design is an ongoing process, not a one-time task. Continuously evaluate and improve your design to meet the evolving needs of people with disabilities.
Designing for people with disabilities is a complex, time consuming and challenging process that is ultimately both fulfilling and rewarding in the end.
Accessibility and inclusive design is an ever-evolving, ongoing process that requires a tailored and customized approach, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
As society evolves, so too do the needs of people with disabilities, so let’s make a positive difference by keeping inclusivity and accessibility in mind the next time we design. Designing with a difference starts today!
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
Code-free Maverick is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.