Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, promoted by the United Nations since 1992 as an understanding of disability issues and to mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. I find this an excellent opportunity to reflect on the choices we make as designers of the modern digital revolution in embracing inclusive design for our products.
Product companies are increasingly aiming for an equitable relationship with its diversified customer segments. Designers in the ‘customer experience’ and ‘user experience’ field whose primary focus was streamlining user-interactions would have to accommodate a strategic-level thought process in incorporating a 360-degree outlook which includes a product’s physical & environmental aspects besides UI. For design professionals, therefore, the boundary between ‘industrial design’ and ‘experience design’ has blurred exponentially as customers evolve and companies remain committed to delivering business value.
As a consultant, I am involved in the framing of a viable design strategy for digital systems and applications, and it becomes imperative that I acknowledge the ambiguity of connecting the product goals with user needs and make amends in advocating a design which is inclusive for all. In more specific terms, that means integrating a systems design that reaches out to the masses by helping them achieve their objectives regardless of the physical and mental hurdles. In the words of the legendary Steve Jobs lies vital clues for designers in approaching products from the context of an ‘inclusive design’ which is engaging.
“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Design, by its nature, is meant to enable individuals to fit into a specific lifestyle and a purpose, and that should not be hampered by the incorrect use or lack of knowledge about the types of human physical challenges in our culture and society. Products which are intended to be ‘inclusive’ are not defined by their user-interfaces alone but also by their physical make and composition, which has to be sustainable and safer for the environment.
Furthermore, the Internet is becoming more complex with the launch of newer digital systems. If you consider the case of the mobile phone market it has numerous platforms and operating systems such as iOS, Android, Microsoft’s Windows OS and Windows Mobile, and perhaps several more platforms in the offing. The immense proliferation of different styles of experiences is creating a sense of disparity for learning for its end-users, not just those with physical or mental disabilities. Every mobile app uses a swipe or a drag differently and the user interaction is based on the context of the task at hand. The term ‘accessibility’ is significantly used to build accessible functions and depicts systems or features that are most commonly identified with a minority population which is physically challenged to achieve their goals. But in reality, the principles of inclusive design have a bigger role to perform with organizations and design leaders, in reenergizing the process of producing user-friendly and feasible products.
In conclusion, we have to embrace the idea of universality in designs in creating products which are comprehensible, sustainable, and economically cost-effective. Never, in the history of human civilization, has there been an important moment to discuss and support the designs of systems utilizing the principles of Inclusive Design.