Inclusive Product Design: 5 Tips for App Developers

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Every developer can incorporate inclusive product design principles into software creation.

At the recent Microsoft Build Conference, Microsoft Cloud defends Rory Preddy and Henk Boelman facilitated a session entitledBoosting Inclusion and Accessibility with AI Developer Tools and Services,” which detailed exciting new ways technology is becoming more inclusive and accessible. After demonstrating tools like Azure Cognitive Services, which lets developers use APIs to make apps more accessible to people with disabilities, Preddy and Boelman shared five tips for developers who want to build inclusive products.

Here are their guidelines for designing inclusive products.

1. Who am I building this for? Who am I building this with?

These are questions to ask during the software development process. For truly inclusive product design, the answer to the first question should be “everyone”. As for the second question, while obviously not everyone can be involved in the design process, the most inclusive apps involve a wide range of people with different abilities for UX testing.

To take just one example, Boelman urged developers to involve people with visual impairments in the design phase of apps. Including people with various disabilities during the early stages of development will ensure you’re on the right track and won’t have to go back to square one later.

2. Who can experience it?

Imagine a completely visual mobile game: it has no sound or audio description of what’s on the screen. A totally blind person would not be able to experience this game in any way. Similarly, a game that relies on auditory cues and does not include subtitles would be inaccessible to a deaf person.

Developers should keep in mind that some people may not be able to take full advantage of their product or not at all. Ideally, they should make changes accordingly so that everyone can experience the product. Examples of ways to ensure accessibility include alt text, captions, text-to-speech capabilities, and transcriptions.

3. Who am I unintentionally excluding?

If inclusive product design is not considered, developers may inadvertently limit the accessibility of their software. Although these limitations are unintentional, developers should always be prepared to take responsibility and review their products.

User testing that involves people with a wide range of abilities should yield results that tell you who you are unintentionally excluding. “Make sure everyone has a way to participate in what you’re building,” said Boelman.

4. Are accessibility features and accommodations available to everyone?

We’ve all had the experience of searching endlessly through a website or app to find a particular option or feature. When it comes to accessibility features, Boelman has a simple tip: “Don’t hide them.”

You don’t want people asking for help to turn on captions, for example. The design of the product should make it obvious.

5. Learn from reviews. Repeat.

Listening to user feedback and incorporating it into your product requires humility and a willingness to adapt. This is crucial for the development of inclusive and accessible products.

Incorporate user feedback into new iterations. Doing this early in the process will ensure you catch things before they become huge unsolvable problems.


Conclusion

Incorporating these questions and tips into your software design and development process can create extra work, but it’s worth it to create products that really can be used by everyone.

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