Inclusivity in software design: Challenges and solutions

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Inclusivity in software design: Challenges and solutions
IT Outsourcing

Software is playing an increasingly important role in modern society, affecting our daily lives to an ever-increasing extent. In the context of this dynamic development, an important question arises: how do we ensure that software is accessible to everyone, regardless of their skills, level of experience or possible limitations? The answer is inclusive software design.

Inclusive software design is the process of creating products that are accessible and usable by all users, regardless of their skills, age or culture. This includes not only people with disabilities, but also older people, younger people, culturally diverse people or those who are more or less advanced in the field of technology.

Inclusive software design is not only an ethical and moral issue, but also an effective business strategy. Inclusive software increases user engagement and builds a positive brand image.... Given the diversity of society, the more inclusive the software is, the more potential it has to succeed in the market. Accessibility in IT can help increase user engagement and build a positive brand image. It is becoming increasingly common that custom software companies are also very careful to ensure that their solutions do not exclude any user group.

The role of diversity in inclusive software design

Bringing diverse user perspectives into the software design process is an important factor in determining the success of a product. This diversity includes differences in technical skills, interface usage preferences, learning styles, and user needs and limitations.

Understanding diverse user needs allows designers to create more accessible, intuitive and usable products for a wide range of users. Inclusive software design helps tailor user interfaces to meet diverse requirements It is worth highlighting several aspects that user diversity can bring to software design:

  • Better tailoring to different user groups: Understanding the diversity among users allows designers to better tailor user interfaces, functionality and content presentation to different needs and preferences. For example, older people may prefer larger fonts and simpler layouts, while younger people may expect gesture-based interactions.
  • Increased consideration of the needs of people with different abilities and limitations: User diversity also includes people with various disabilities who may have special requirements for software accessibility and usability. Incorporating these perspectives can lead to more accessible software for all users.
  • Improve testing and user feedback: Including diverse user groups in the testing and feedback process can provide a more comprehensive look at the product and identify potential problems and areas for improvement.
  • Increasing user engagement: Developing software that incorporates diverse user perspectives and needs can help increase user engagement and satisfaction with the product.

It is important for software designers to keep social diversity in mind and try to include as many different perspectives as possible when developing products.

Challenges in designing for diverse user groups

Designing software that accommodates the diversity of user needs and abilities can be extremely challenging for designers. This diversity includes people with disabilities, older adults, digitally illiterate people, people with varying levels of language proficiency, and users from different cultural backgrounds. Here are some examples of different user groups, along with customizations that can be applied for them.

  • Accessibility for people with disabilities: Designers must take into account different types of disabilities, such as vision, hearing, mobility or intellectual disabilities. Inclusive software design should include technologies such as screen readers and voice interfaces. The use of appropriate technologies, such as screen readers for the visually impaired or voice-operated interfaces for people with mobility limitations, can be key to making IT software accessible.

         Example: Incorporating alternative descriptions of images for people who are blind or visually impaired, making it easier to understand content on a website.

  • Considering the needs of the elderly: Older people may have difficulty operating complex user interfaces and have less tolerance for small fonts and blurry interface elements. Designers must therefore strive for simplicity and readability of the interface.

          Example: Magnifiable interface elements and clear, legible fonts can make applications easier to use for the elderly.

  • Consideration for the digitally illiterate: Some users may have limited experience with technology or may not be very good at reading and writing. Software should be intuitive and easy to use to enable even those with limited technology literacy.

          Example: Simple and easy-to-understand messages and icons instead of textual instructions can make the application easier to use for the digitally illiterate.

  • Consideration of linguistic and cultural diversity: Designers must also consider cultural and linguistic differences to ensure that the software is understandable and useful to users from different regions and cultures.

          Example: Adapting the user interface to different languages and taking into account local customs and preferences can improve the usability of applications in           different regions of the world.

Best practices of inclusive companies

Specific examples of companies or projects that have successfully applied an inclusive approach to software design and achieved positive results can be mentioned in abundance. Often these are companies offering custom software, but let's look at the biggest players in the market:

Microsoft is known for its commitment to inclusive software design. Their product, the Windows operating system, is constantly evolving to provide accessibility for diverse user groups. For example, the Narrator feature is a built-in screen reader that enables people who are blind or visually impaired to use a computer.

Google is also taking steps to promote inclusive software design. One example is Google Docs, which offers accessibility features such as the ability to dictate text, enabling people with hand dysfunctions or dyslexia to use the application.

Apple is known for its attention to the accessibility of its products for different user groups. Their devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Mac, offer a range of accessibility features, including VoiceOver screen reader, screen magnification and features that make it easier to use for people with various disabilities.

Adobe is committed to inclusive software design that is accessible to all users, regardless of their skills or needs. Their products, such as Adobe Acrobat, offer tools for creating PDF documents that are accessible to the visually impaired, making online content significantly more accessible.

These examples show that companies can achieve positive results by taking an inclusive approach to software design. This makes the products created more accessible, usable and satisfying for all users, which contributes to both business success and improved quality of life for users.

Tools and best practices in inclusive design

Inclusive software design requires not only understanding the diversity of user needs, but also using the right tools and methodologies. Let's take a look at some tools and best practices that can support this process:

IT accessibility - user interface (UI)

UI accessibility testing tools, such as axe DevTools, WAVE or pa11y, allow designers and developers to quickly identify potential UI accessibility issues. Using these tools early in the design process allows available solutions to be implemented as early as the development stage.

Testing with users

The practice of testing software with a diverse group of users is key to ensuring product availability and usability. Organizing test sessions with people with different skills and needs allows you to identify potential problems and collect valuable feedback and suggestions.

Responsive design

Creating responsive and flexible user interfaces enables adaptation to different devices and user preferences. Using techniques such as progressive content disclosure and adjusting font size to user preferences allows you to better accommodate the diversity of user needs.

Continuous improvement and response to feedback

Inclusive software design is an ongoing process that requires continuous improvement and response to user feedback. Regularly collecting feedback and suggestions and iteratively improving the product allows for the creation of increasingly accessible and useful software.

Inclusive software design brings benefits not only in the form of better tailored products to meet the diverse needs of users, but also promotes a responsible approach and ethics in technology. While the challenges in this area are real, the right tools, strategies and approaches can bring significant benefits to both users and companies. With an inclusive approach, software becomes more accessible, usable and rewarding for all users, contributing to both business success and creating positive social impact. Ultimately, the article points out that inclusive software design is not only a matter of efficiency and profits, but also of ethical and social values, which should be a priority in technological development.

About The Author
Izabela Węgrecka

Izabela is a Project Manager and Scrum Master with 6 years of experience in the IT industry. She has experience in leading diverse projects and effectively managing teams. She's a leader with the ability to create cohesive and efficient teams based on Scrum values. Regardless of the project's scale, she's able to establish a dynamic environment where collaboration, innovation, and delivering valuable products take precedence.