StrategyDesignDesign for inclusion: Embrace accessibility-based design

Design for inclusion: Embrace accessibility-based design

Appeal to a wider audience by making marketing more accessible and inclusive, details Tylor Loposser, Art Director at Emma, a CM Group company.

30-second summary:

  • Without realizing it, every day, marketers alienate a large part of their audience with design that is either not accessible or not inclusive.
  • Rather than focus on the “average” person, inclusive design takes into consideration a spectrum of people. Today, one in four adults has a disability, for example. Make it easy for everyone to be a customer.
  • Designing for accessibility means considering everything from someone accessing a web page on their phone while carrying groceries, to designing for color blind readers, to being friendly to voice prompts.
  • Designing for inclusion means using text and imagery that makes a wide variety of people feel represented, such as pictures of different family structures, ages and ethnicities.
  • Inclusive and accessible design isn’t just nice, it’s good business.

Inclusivity and accessibility have really come to the fore towards the end of 2020. Imagine being asked to a party, but when you get to the front door, it requires a special password that you don’t have. Or, that you come in, but no one seems to want to talk to you. You were invited, but you’re not welcome.

This is how millions of people feel every day when they interact with businesses that haven’t considered their needs or their version of real life when designing campaigns, ads, emails or websites. The diverse world we live in is often narrowed down to a limited experience that only works for a subset of our true audience.

Inclusive, accessibility based-design solves for this with a strategic approach that considers a wide array of audiences before, not after, an asset is created. Designing for inclusivity not only opens up your brand and experiences to more people with a wider range of abilities, it also reflects how people really are.

All humans are growing, changing, and adapting to the world around them every day. We want our designs to reflect that diversity. Every decision we make can raise or lower barriers to participation in society. It’s our collective responsibility to lower these barriers though inclusive products, services, environments and experiences.

Accessibility – Making sure everyone can interact

The first phase of any good inclusive design approach ensures that a design is created so that everyone can interact with it.

This means that it can work across many devices and browsers of course, but also for different personas, including those with long-term disabilities (such as a missing limb), short-term limitations (such as a broken arm), and situational limitations (such as someone with a bag of groceries in one hand).

When online experiences are designed for the typical online customer, many of us picture a relatively savvy online shopper, maybe a millennial or Gen Z shopper with a smartphone always at the ready. But, this assumption isn’t necessarily accurate.

In fact, by 2030, people 65 and over will outnumber children for the first time. It’s also being tested in 2020, when millions of new people shifted online.

Nearly half (47%) of baby boomers said they pick merchants based on their digital presence as a means of avoiding infection this year, more than any other generation. And, they are more likely to say they’ll shift their habits permanently, even after it’s safe to go back to stores.

Including aging customers in your campaign design is only one element to consider. People of all kinds have embraced online more than ever this year, and deserve great experiences. Baby boomers are more likely to need larger font sizes, as there are many who are visually impared. They may also have trouble tapping small buttons or using voice software.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults in the US has a disability, including impairments with vision, hearing, mobility and cognition. This proportion only grows with age, with 40% of those over age 65 living with a disability.

People of all ages have been doing their best to adapt to online experiences, but now is a great time to rethink how to make it easier for everyone to interact with your content. Some disabilities are temporary and situational, while others are not.

Think about adding captions to images and considering color contrast with type to improve legibility and cognitive recognition. Some disabilities are caused by our environment and can be temporary, so make sure that people in bright sun can see just as well as those indoors.

Have you ever checked if a message can be seen by viewers with color vision deficiencies? It could make a difference, because color blindness and other color vision deficiencies affect nearly one in twelve men worldwide.

Here is a checklist to ensure that accessible design is inherent in every new piece of content:

  • Text is a legible size, especially on mobile
  • All visual media should have options for captions, closed captioning, transcripts and alt tags should be added
  • Page can be navigated with a keyboard, single hand or finger
  • There is  good color contrast with your copy to allow for an easier read
  • Buttons are large enough for all people to tap
  • Uses descriptive call-to-action buttons that specify where a link will take a person or what the value is if it will navigate away from the page, such as “get savings” or “learn more”
  • Develop efficient code that presents in a logical reading order, uses proper mark-up to identify page language and header styles, and is mobile responsive

Inclusivity – Making sure everyone wants to interact

Even if an email works fine mechanically, it might not feel inviting if it assumes a version of reality that simply isn’t so for many people. Think about the imagery: your message should be reflective of a desired audience and show the influence of diversity.

This allows people to make a better connection with your brand or product. Communities today are just as likely to include an LGBTQIA couple, a single mom or a blended family, and a rainbow of cultures and skin colors, which should all be represented genuinely in the imagery.

If your audience is in the US, for example, consider a few more important statistics to ensure your customers see themselves represented; 16% of the US population is of Hispanic descent, one third of adults have never been married, and most people rent the home they live in. These and so many more realities of American life are rarely mirrored accurately in the content we see.

The truth is that there are millions of versions of “average” and so celebrating differences is much more inclusive and relatable than one-dimentional imagery. Take the typical approach to selecting stock photography used for so many marketing campaigns – by trying to appeal to everyone, it often appeals to no one.

For example, even seemingly innocuous elements like a gym showing pictures of people with only big muscles or a certain body type might turn off the actual typical customer. Body positivity is an important growing trend to ensure that all people feel included.

In fact, the average US women’s clothing size is between 16 and 18, so it’s important that imagery reflects reality and features people of all sizes.

Think about the following before creating any new design:

  • Language is a very important part of inclusivity. Default to person-first constructions that put the person ahead of their characteristics, e.g., instead of “a blind person” use “a person who is blind.” With the above being said, always give space for people to self-identify.
  • Use imagery that reflects the world that we live in, and create ways for your audience to see themselves in your brand.
  • Reference a variety of elements of American life, not just those directly familiar (such as regional foods).
  • Avoid idioms, jargon and acronyms that steer clear of inside jokes or cultural references. Always use welcoming, inclusive language.

Make 2021 the year everyone is welcome

Accessibility is a function of inclusive design. While accessibility focuses on the structures and containers that hold information, inclusive design is based on the information itself, creating an opportunity for understanding and empathy with your audience.

This design method opens up our brands to more people with an array of abilities and experiences, which reflects how people really are. It’s our collective responsibility to lower these barriers though inclusive products, services, environments and experiences. That responsibility requires us to recognize the exclusions that exist, and learn from the diversity within our audiences.

When we understand the principles of inclusive design, we can apply those to all disciplines of design. The solution that, at first, feels like it was created for a narrow subset of our audience, actually makes the design accessible to many.

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