Designing for Inclusivity 101: How to Get Started

Find out how you can employ principles of inclusive design in your design processes to improve your product’s usability and accessibility for all audiences.

UI/UX Design
Gordon Chen

How to Design for Inclusivity

After identifying the power of inclusive design, comes learning ways to employ inclusive practices in design. It’s good to work with the 6 principles mentioned earlier, but aside from that, we should be adopting a different way of thinking.

Inclusive design is a method by definition, but it’s mostly concerned with changing the way you think about the process. Since it’s more about the process instead of the outcome, we should adjust the way we approach design thinking such that inclusivity is ever-present.

How might we do that?

It’s first imperative that we eliminate the notion of a “normal” user; having such a label presumes there are “ab-normal” users — deviations from the alleged “normal user”. This is because we all face circumstances where we’re unable to tap into our full capacity, with some situations being more frequent than others.

There should hence be no strict distinction when it comes to disability, as people can be affected for a brief period, or for longer. Disability should instead be viewed on a spectrum, so designers understand it can be circumstantial or permanent.

To put this into perspective, when we cater for users with permanent disabilities (producing closed captioning for TV shows to help users who are hard of hearing), users who face temporary disabilities also benefit (other users watching a video in a noisy and disruptive environment). This results in a product with greater accessibility for all.

To help get you started with inclusive design, here’s how you can better kickstart the design process:

Assembling your Design Team

Diversity in design team and the workplace
Diversity drives multiple perspectives

To bring a team together for projects, consider looking for others with different backgrounds and lived experiences from you. This broadens the perspectives you have access to in the design process. Even if you have an established team, there’s no harm in roping in a few other colleagues for some cross-department collaboration if they might have something that could help you out!

What to do: Bring in ideas and opinions from individuals who have navigated through life in different ways. When you embrace a diverse group of people, the ideas and knowledge you can tap into are amazing! Even better, you can improve your product design through customer engagement, or seeking their feedback at times. After all, their voices are the ones that matter most to you and your design team.

Your team might also end up creating more digital solutions for the disadvantaged, such as Hearing Aide, an app for the Deaf community launched by Grey Group Singapore in 2014. It alerts the Deaf community of emergencies by picking up audial cues and notifying users through phone vibrations and messages describing the situation at hand. Grey Group Singapore also launched Lend an Eye for the visually impaired in 2013, which helps users remain independent through providing them with the information they need. They also tested it with employees with visual impairments from Eureka Call Centre Systems, a contact-service provider employing PwDs.

These two apps are designed with disadvantaged groups in mind, made possible through having a team that’s diverse and inclusive, to provide users with solutions and options to make their lives better.

To aid your hiring practices: You should better understand the benefits of diversifying your design team. For instance, hiring practices can be a concern when colleagues are referring in their friends or former teammates. This is because referrals have shown to benefit and penalise candidates in a disproportionate manner, as people tend to prioritise those who’re similar to them. It’s thus imperative to find more ways you can prioritise inclusivity, such as by starting at the beginning with a more diverse interview team.

Moving down into getting started on the actual designing, here are two things you should take into consideration as well:

Usage of Language

Importance of inclusive language
Inclusive experiences start from inclusive language

Language has the power to connect and bond people. But it also runs the risk of excluding and distancing if you do not choose the right words. As a designer, you have to be careful with the language you use, more so if it’s intended for the public. In your copy, product interface, and in customer or client communications, your word choices can reflect how much your design team values inclusivity, and your company’s image as a whole.

What to do: Employ language that is neutral or positive, instead of words that might risk alienating or offending people, including slang and phrases that are discouraged.  When you’re using certain terms or describing people, be sure to be objective and inclusive rather than words associated with a specific gender, race, religion and economic status. You want users to feel heard and welcome, rather than segregated.

Salesforce Inclusive Terms
Neutral terms you can opt for instead of “master” | Credit:

For example: Software company Salesforce has been dedicated to replacing ingrained technical terms since September 2020. This is because these terms involve colour or hierarchies, which reinforces harmful biases. As such, they’ve strived to switch out “whitelist” and “blacklist” with “allowlist” and “blocklist” respectively. In software development, the terms “master” and “slave” have been used for decades for database relationships. These can offend and harm both employees and clients as these terms carry negative connotations in history. Salesforce has hence come up with a list of alternatives for employees to adopt.


Diversification in representation of inclusive design
Be intentional when it comes representing diverse groups

When designing, we should be aware of the practices and considerations of the races, religions, and communities in our society. We’re most familiar with our own circle of people and community, but each group of people does things differently. As such, it’s important to consider the demographics of your society as a whole.

In a multiracial society like Singapore, you should be catering to all possible communities, rather than only to the majority race. Some areas this is crucial in would be: designing visual assets, and providing broader options in your products and services.

What to do: In visual assets: Ensure your designs reflect a diverse group of people. This can be done by designing with aspects like age, race, and ability in mind. In addition, you should be tactful in portraying what each individual is doing. Simply having them there doesn’t help to convey inclusivity, and it should portray them as equals, without anyone being superior or inferior.

In providing options: You can embrace all communities by making sure they’re considered as well. For example, this could look like including a wide range of halal-friendly food establishments on a food delivery app; food delivery service foodpanda has a broad selection for the Muslim community to choose from.  

It could be allowing users to choose from a list of languages for subtitling on a video streaming service too. Netflix provides multiple languages for you to choose from for subtitling, based on how relevant it could be to your location and language settings.

Netflix language subtitle options designed for inclusivity
5 language varieties for a Japanese-based show | Credits: Netflix

Last but not least, you could provide supportive aids on apps to help the visually impaired navigate through a digital space.

Apple’s iOS and the Android operating system are also designed with inclusive features at the forefront, allowing users to choose between a range of options for text size, display size and brightness. They also offer options for zooming into your display. In addition, for their respective smart assistants that operate through voice command, you can choose to type out instructions to them also.

Tip: To cater to the visually impaired, you’ll want to include informative alternative text for images. This aids blind users with navigation. WebAIM provides an extensive guide to how to write alternative text well so the visually impaired can understand the image with its full intended context.

Wrapping Up

The main purpose of inclusive design is to improve the user experience by designing with disability and minorities in mind. When that takes place, the use for the products and services is broadened, and more people get to use them across the board.

The key takeaway is that regardless of our identities, we aren’t individuals with rigid capabilities set in stone all the time. We’ll all be exposed to situations where we have to work around temporary limitations. Sometimes, people end up having to adapt when they’re met with permanent barriers. With inclusive design, we make sure everyone feels empowered and considered, as it continues to strive to deliver solutions that can meet our needs to the best of its ability!