Design for extremes! Enjoy the challenge of designing for users of all abilities

What does designing for extremes mean? 

In a design context, designing for extremes means creating web designs/product design that are accessible to and inclusive of all users. It means making your designs usable by the widest range of people, including—but not limited to—people with disabilities.

A designer’s job is to make people’s lives easier. We are trained to study the people we design for, root out problems, and invent innovative solutions.

The world is not easy for people living with disabilities. As designers, we can change that and do our bit. 

Why call it extremes, you ask?

By definition, disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Lots of people have disabilities. All ages, races, and classes. Not all disabilities are visible or what we assume disabilities look like. 

Take ageing. Ageing itself isn’t a disability, but the side effects of ageing do cause disabilities: vision gets worse, memory gets worse, weaker bones can make us slower on our feet or wheelchair-bound or unable to use keyboards. When we get older, we’re more easily fatigued, which can limit our movement and our cognitive abilities. 

So, whenever we are designing, we should think as humans first and designers second. We are all only temporarily abled. We should always remember that at some point, we’re all going to need accessible technology, and we are merely designing in the present for the future. Inclusivity in design will help us make designs for a better future. 

As designers, we have the opportunity to provide great experiences to all. Let’s make the most of it!

Let’s conduct a small exercise.

Imagine your mouse is not working and try to navigate through your webpage/product using just the keyboard. Are you able to do it? Is it easy to navigate and do anything you wished to do? Or is it annoying to keep pressing tab multiple times, for something that can be reached easily had you designed it differently? 

Not being able to use the computer because your mouse doesn’t work is frustrating. Many users around the world, however, use only a keyboard to navigate, either by choice or circumstance, and your website/product has to be operable by the keyboard. Whether it is temporary limited mobility, permanent physical disability or simply a broken mouse, the result is going to be the same: FRUSTRATION. 

Accessible and inclusive designs are essential for some, but useful for all. It’s our responsibility as designers to be considerate in this process to avoid creating bigger barriers of exclusion.

Why is it important to work on inclusive and accessible designs? 

  • It provides equal access and opportunity to people with diverse abilities.
  • It improves the overall user experience and satisfaction.
  • Inclusive designs are often easier to read, easier to navigate, and faster to download.
  • It offers the potential for organizations and businesses to reach out to new customers and new markets.
  • It helps enhance your brand, drive innovation, and extend your market reach.
  • In addition, it allows users with disabilities to participate in day-to-day activities many of us take for granted, such as reading a newspaper or buying a gift for a loved one.
  • It is required by law in many situations.

What can we as designers do to make a difference?

Accessibility is not a barrier to innovation. It will, in fact, allow you to explore new ideas that will lead to better products for all your users.

  • Make accessibility part of your design research. While researching, we should always verify if our assumptions concerning accessibility are right and if there is scope for improvement..
  • While designing, always start by getting a solid understanding of accessibility fundamentals. Accessibility criteria are the foundation of integrity for any inclusive solution. It will help if we focus on making our design accessible from the first stage.
  • Get to know the people that you’re designing for. Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. It means you’re finding many different ways to design so that everyone has a sense of belonging. 
  • Inclusivity needs to be considered at every stage of building a product/website, including strategy, design, and development.
  • Consider things like finalising the keyboard interaction, colour contrast, reading order, colour contrast, text, and media tags.
  • Give time and attention to designing a keyboard navigation paradigm.
  • Be mindful of colours. Colour brings vivacity to the design, but for those with colour deficiencies, it can be confusing and painful. Always maintain enough contrast in your designs. Read more about it here. 
  • Establish a clear hierarchy, particularly when designing for those with cognitive or neurological disabilities. Placing important information higher in the website/product or following a predictable flow will help users focus better and navigate through the content easily. Following a hierarchy will help in the screen reader as well. 
  • Place clickable links in obvious locations and ensure that the button size for mobile screens is at least 44*44 pixels. The size of the button will help to control a mouse with precision. It is particularly helpful for people using a mouth stick and for people with visual impairment as they won’t have to struggle to find a clickable link among other distracting images.
  • Use large font sizes so that people with  visual impairments don’t struggle to read the text. Select a typeface that easily readable and has enough kerning between them, and make sure not to have fonts smaller than 14px.
  • Always provide a stop button for elements that move, flash or animate. They could distract users with dyslexia or trigger an anxiety attack for the user who has an anxiety issue. 

By taking inclusivity and accessibility into considering during the initial stages of your product design/web design, you can avoid situations where accessibility is an afterthought.

Accessible and inclusive design is fun and challenging and runs much deeper than what I’ve covered here. You can get a detailed list of the do’s and don’ts here

Enjoy the challenge.

There will be many challenges while designing for accessibility and inclusivity, and the only real tool for finding solutions is empathy. Prepare yourself to open up to a world unlike your own. It’ll not only make your website/product more accessible but also more human. Enjoy the challenge of designing within the constraint. It’s all the more rewarding to know that those solutions aren’t just for branding, but they also make the product/website easier to use for more people. Never think just about meeting the accessibility standards alone, always think about designing something that can be used by extremes. I hope that you enjoy the challenge of designing for users of all abilities.