Inclusive Design: those ignored that we must design for

Source: Inclusive Design by Microsoft

I recently attended a meetup event, “Special NYC Blend Event: Inclusive Design”, held at the Google Office in New York. There I heard a talk by Heather Cassano, Head of Product Design at Google about the premise of Inclusive Design and her approach to it. “Inclusive Design is a methodology… 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. (Inclusive Design by Microsoft)”. I have used Universal Design, which essentially is rooted in “building an environment that can be used to the greatest extent possible”(National Disability Authority), to describe a similar practice, but I was not familiar with the term Inclusive Design. It is interesting how Universal Design emphasizes the outcome that adopts to universal conditions, while Inclusive Design speaks about the process of creating the design. To understand better, I want to learn and address where Inclusive Design stands in the accessibility.

The accessibility focuses on enabling users to perceive, understand, interact, and navigate. Inclusive Design goes beyond accessibility and focuses on usability for people with disabilities. Inclusive Design is the key for product design with large audiences because feedback from these groups is harder to receive, and we may miss opportunities to reach them. Also, pain points of product tend to get amplified for people with disabilities, hence solving usability based on feedback from people with disabilities could be effective for wider range of people.

“Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so that everyone has a sense of belonging.”

– Inclusive Design leader Susan Goltsman

This is another fundamental distinguishment between Universal Design and Inclusive Design- to design many solutions so that each speak to someone.

Inclusive Design Applied to Interaction Design

Google hosted a presentation covering basic design process with inclusive design at its I/O 2018. A couple of great examples were shown during the presentation.

For example, being considerate with display time for snackbars, which alerts of conditions or gives interaction feedback to users is necessary for people with cognitive impairments or motor impairments. The aid can also be extended to people who are learning a language or with low literacy and children.

The other example is to have content and control grouped together for immediate comprehension. In the below diagram, elements and check boxes are aligned together, but them being apart may cause problems some users to comprehend immediately or interact accurately and painlessly. Those users may be suffering with ALS or may be riding jolting vehicles.

An accessible process for inclusive design (Google I/O ‘18)

Similar consideration has to be applied to visual design as well. The obvious implication is for clear color contrast for color blindness. Those choices can be aided during the design process using the color tool by Material Design or the color blind simulator like Stark, color palette simulator like Color Brewer. The tap accessibility also needs to be secured by keeping the interactive element size at least 48dp or 7mm, reflecting adult fingerprint size.

Keyboard navigation was also introduced to improve usability in the desktop environment. Tabbing is the most common shortcut used to access content faster. In the video example below, elements were grouped to access different sections quicker, otherwise users would have to press a tab 94 times to access the entire content. Within each grouped element, users can use up or down keys to navigate through. This may be also helpful for users who have difficulties digesting a lot of content at once.

An accessible process for inclusive design (Google I/O ‘18)

Inclusive Design is not only about interfaces

Heather at the meetup event brought up an interesting story about how Microsoft Xbox failed in Japan. Xbox sales had been extremely slow from the beginning due to the unique and well-saturated gaming market in Japan, but she noted the failure of Kinect released in 2010. Motion detect engine Kinect needed a decent play area, but the average living space is much smaller in Japan. People also have to share the small living space amongst family and people have to be sensitive to noise pollution to their neighbors. Kinect simply did not work well in that environment.

Source: Sora News

In this case, people were not “disabled”, but their unique features, environments, and cultural context were simply ignored. The language is the most simple example for migrating products to local markets but that’s small fragment of localization. When I worked on a news app, retention rates significantly fluctuated without any changes to the product. The cause was due to changes with the marketing channel; The app was beginning to acquire new users from different regions, while the content provided was identical to all users and did not engage with some users. The result alerted my team to come up with a solution to reflect different content for different regions.

The story about failing to adopt to local markets also reminded me of my experience when I had to utilize a facial recognition technology from Israel, which was cutting edge at the time. When the technology was applied for the Japanese market the facial recognition accuracy dropped about 15% for gender recognition and 30% for age. The data samples were heavily leaning toward features found within Caucasian faces, not Asians.

The definition of Inclusive Design was to design for people with disabilities. However, the study made me realize that anybody can fall into those easily ignorable groups even myself. For example, I may lose motor skills on shaken subway rides. Therefore, Inclusive Design ultimately will provide an accessibility solution that covers the larger group of users rather than each subject during the design process. The only productive way to tackle these limitless possibilities seems to just create more prototypes and test with more users.

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