by Shayne Tilley, Head of Marketing at 99designs
While the term “inclusivity” can often be used as a buzzword, building an inclusive brand can actually have a meaningful impact for both your business and society – as well as creating an opportunity for you to build strong and authentic connections with the people around you.
But how can you incorporate inclusive best practices into your design as a small business owner or entrepreneur? Whether it’s your branding, digital assets or packaging, there’s five key steps that can help get you started.
1. Learn the difference between inclusive and accessible design.
When thinking about inclusive design, our minds often jump straight to accessibility, and while this is a vital element, it is only a piece of a bigger puzzle.
Accessible design specifically considers the needs of people with disabilities and addresses any barriers that might prevent them from experiencing something.
Inclusive design is based on a very simple concept: make an effort to include where inclusion does not already exist. It takes into account the diversity of all people and their individual contexts, viewpoints and situations which might have an impact on their experience of it. This includes a range of factors such as ethnicity, language, gender, age, mobility, ability and geographical location, or situational things like customers who are stressed or under emotional strain. Inclusive design actively ensures that none of these factors result in people being excluded from a product or experience.
2. Start with an inclusive mindset.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses can make when addressing inclusivity in their design is treating it as an add-on or an afterthought, which can lead to rushed outcomes.
Inclusive design is a process, not a destination. It requires imagination, empathy and a commitment to ongoing learning. Today, most major corporations, including Microsoft and IBM, make inclusive design a standard practice for developing products and solutions to create more personal and adaptive experiences. Instead of viewing inclusivity as a box to be ticked, they have adopted it as a mindset and accept there is always room for improvement.
Doing the same for your business will lead to better decisions in the design process – whether you’re developing your logo, website or product packaging. This, in turn, will enable you to create a more meaningful and impactful brand that appeals and resonates with a larger number of people.
3. Acknowledge assumptions about your audience.
Many small businesses will carry out market research to understand their target audience and place in the world. Ultimately, this is who you are designing to serve.
However, the whole concept of inclusive design is to meet the needs of those that differ to the majority. People’s needs also change and evolve over time – so while your research may paint a healthy picture of your demographics now, it doesn’t take into account how this may look in the future.
As such, it pays to be open to the idea of questioning your preconceived notions about your audience and customers. By doing so, you’re already well on your way to building a more inclusive business.
3. Find, cultivate, and listen to outside perspectives.
Once you’ve identified where your assumptions may lie, it’s time to challenge them by actively seeking out and listening to differing perspectives.
You can do this by testing your designs with a diverse range of people or focus groups, listening to real customers’ reviews (positive AND negative), or learning about the experiences and viewpoints of diverse industry leaders to understand how they tackle similar issues.
This brings in different perspectives to the problems you’re trying to solve – and the earlier you bring in more people to your process the better the result.
At the end of the day, the result that goes out to the wild is being seen by unique people from different backgrounds who are all interpreting it in really different ways. Therefore, it makes sense strategically to bring that same level of diverse thinking into your process.
4. View the design process as the solution.
The design process is now going to help you bridge the gap between the problems or pain points identified above and the solutions which will make your brand more inclusive.
Look for any commonalities in user groups and consider how design can help you solve them simultaneously across your business and branding. You might find that one design change may help you solve a number of problems. For example, subtitles on a video can be useful to the hearing-impaired, someone with an ear infection as well as the hearing-able watching the same video in a noisy setting with no earphones.
Additionally, an advantage of your digital brand assets is the ability to design features that enable your audience to customize their own experience of your content. Simply giving users the option to increase text size (rather than get out their reading glasses) or offering more than one way to pay for your product, allows them to interact with you in a way that suits them. While seemingly small, a customizable experience goes a long way when fostering inclusivity.
It might seem like a lot of groundwork, but not only is inclusive design a moral necessity and ethical responsibility, it also makes good business sense. Design that excludes segments of customers, will fail to meet its full potential – as a result, inclusivity should be viewed as an opportunity for your business, rather than an additional cost.
Shayne Tilley is Head of Marketing at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. He is a wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity who helps bring more opportunities to people all around the world.