What Is Inclusive Product Design & How To Use It

March 5, 2020


Amir M

In many ways, technology is the great leveler.

Whether you’re a world leader or you’re fresh out of college, we all interact with digital technology in exactly the same way. 

Or at least, in theory, we should. 

This quest for truly shared experiences, irrespective of socio-economic background is the ethos at the heart of the inclusive design movement, and it’s this thinking which makes product design a more open playing field for all of us.

And yet, despite this ambition, many products today have a polarizing, exclusionary effect. Which is hardly surprising, given that the design industry is still 90% white and 60% male.

With that in mind, let’s look at exactly what inclusive product design is and how you can weave it into your workflow to produce digital products which are truly open to everyone.


What is inclusive product design?

Before we get down to the detail, let’s first define just what we mean by inclusive product design. 

It’s easy to mistake the concept with accessibility, and while there’s certainly some crossover there, inclusive design is much more wide-ranging.

The core premise of inclusive product design focuses on shifting the paradigm of the design process, so that diversity and inclusivity are baked in from the start. It’s about beginning every design process with one core goal in mind: to design for as many different types of people as possible.

Naturally, this means designing products that span economic, social and cultural barriers. It means designing not just for one type of user (usually white, affluent users), but many. 

At its core, inclusive product design opens the door to everyone – no matter who they are.

How to weave inclusivity into your designs

If you’re a product designer at any level, you’re probably wondering exactly how you can adjust your design process so that it’s more inclusive and less biased.

First off, try to not worry too much – this isn’t an exact science. In fact, much of the methodology you’ll use to weave in this inclusivity into your design comes from acknowledging the things you don’t know, so that you can involve others to fill those gaps.

Let’s look at some examples of questions you could ask which will naturally lead to a more inclusive design outcome:

1.   Who is the audience for the product? Sometimes the obvious ones really are the best, and this is a great example. By taking some time to define the audience for your product, you’ll start to consider their viewpoint when making design decisions – sometimes without even realizing it. Let’s take, for example, a product related to female reproductive health. When conducting early user research, be sure to include women who tend to be underrepresented and unheard, such as women of color, and women from poorer backgrounds whose habits, needs and desires may differ from those you’ve already factored in.

2.   What are the edge cases for usability? We’ve all heard of the 80-20 rule, but if you want to design in a more inclusive way, you might consider flipping this principle upside-down. By considering the smaller edge case users before your core audience, you’ll ensure everyone’s needs are met. Map out the touch points of how, when and where your target user will interact with your product and think let user research guide any outlier moments you may have overlooked.

3.   How will users interact with the product? If you’re designing a mobile app, chances are your users will interact with familiar taps and swipes – but this question is more about the context of this interaction. To design in a more inclusive way, consider where the user might be, which platform they’ll be using, how long they might use it for, and so on. Think about what setting they’re likely to be in when using your product, what their mindset is, and any difficulties that they will need to overcome to gain maximum value from your product.

You might be picking up on a bit of a trend at this point: inclusive product design demands that you put yourself in the shoes of your user by involving them closely in the design process.

But diverse design isn’t always as simple as that.

3 pitfalls to avoid when designing for inclusivity

It may seem as though inclusive design is a pretty straightforward process, but that’s not always the case. In fact, if not done correctly, it can actually damage user experience.

Here are 3 very common mistakes when trying to implement a more inclusive design methodology:

1. Exclusivity through inclusivity. The goal of inclusive design is, of course, to ensure your product is open to everyone. That said, if you focus too much on certain groups of users, you risk alienating others. Remember that the art of this process is finding balance.

2. Relying too much on data to inform design decisions. We all use data to make decisions, as we should. That said, always remember that no data set is totally impartial. If the data is telling you to design something in a way which you feel may be biased, go with qualitative and anecdotal findings from your user research instead. Data can often reinforce exclusion if the starting point is wrong.

3. Don’t mistake inclusive design for accessibility. This is probably the biggest mistake people make with inclusive design. While things like font sizes and clear signposting are essential to ensure everyone can use the app, even those with disabilities, inclusive design is a far more holistic concept.

We hope you’ve found this casual stroll through the world of inclusive product design useful, and that it’ll help you create even more open and accessible products for your users.  

Of course, if you’d like to know even more about the Blackcreek approach to inclusive product design, and how it could potentially help your business, we’d love to talk.