UX

You should be designing for diverse user bases

4 min read
Sean McGowan  •  Jan 10, 2018
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While new year celebrations differ around the globe, nearly all traditions call for some form of personal and professional reflection. A fresh year provides an opportunity to look back at the accomplishments and missteps of 2017, as well as the upcoming goals and challenges of 2018.

For UX designers, one of these goals should be a stronger commitment to inclusive design. As the accessibility of technology increases across the global community, user bases are becoming more diverse and nuanced than ever before.

The UX design agency I work for, Codal, understands the importance of crafting experiences that resonate with this international audience. After some brainstorming and reflection of our own, here are just a few ways to design for diverse user bases in 2018.

“UX designers need to make a stronger commitment to inclusive design.”
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Inclusive imagery

When selecting photos, graphics, illustrations, or any other imagery for your platform, ensure you’re displaying images that are representative of the global population. And while some are improving, most stock photo providers fall short of this inclusivity.

If you’re searching for better stock photo options, Codal has found sites like Burst, Stocksy, and Blend to fit the bill. All 3 of these platforms not only offer quality, high-res photography, but are committed to showcasing an inclusive group of models and actors.

Facebook’s Diverse Device Hands Kit (Source)

And if your product is entirely digital—say a marketing website for a mobile app—you can use Facebook’s diverse hands kit. We’ll be revisiting the evolution of Facebook’s design a few times in this article: it’s a perfect example of a company that started with an extremely monolithic user base (Harvard’s campus) and grew to an international audience.

508 compliance

While we often think of ethnic or racial inclusivity when we consider diversity, it’s also imperative to remember the specific accessibility needs of those with impaired vision, hearing, or cognitive ability.

Related: The ultimate guide to web content accessibility

508 compliance refers to the standards and protocols required for federal agencies to ensure their services are accessible for the disabled. And while it legally only applies to government services, its checklist is still an excellent reference for any designer interested in crafting a user experience that’s truly accessible for all. (If your site is already 508 compliant, be sure to check on the refresh it received in early 2017!)

One of the most oft-forgotten, and important, of these accessibility requirements is designing for the colorblind. I’ve written at length about the importance of color selection, both in designing around different iterations of colorblindness, but also the different emotional responses that color evokes.

A fantastic example from UserTesting.com

With the wrong color scheme, clear CTAs can become indecipherable to the colorblind. The left photo shows a color combo as it appears to the average user. The right shows what the same scheme appears to someone with red green colorblindness.

Iconography

Just like the imagery, it’s important to factor in how the iconography of your platform will scan across racial or gender lines. Consider the criticism Apple received not long ago for the lack of diversity in their emojis, and the praise lauded on the company for their latest, more inclusive release.

Another excellent example of diversity in UX design is the evolution of Facebook’s iconography. I recommend this article by Facebook designer Caitlin Winner on her creative process in re-imagining Facebook’s friends icon to be more inclusive.

Some variations of Facebook’s retooled female icon (Source)

In a similar vein, Facebook also revamped its notification icon. Formerly a global view of the Americas, the social media giant’s designers injected a dynamic element to the icon, so that it would change depending on which part of the world the user was accessing Facebook in.

Content and copywriting

While some designers might consider this the job of the content writer, the longform text and copy on your platform is an obvious factor in a user’s experience, which means it’s a concern of the UX design agency.

For inclusive copywriting, use gender neutral pronouns when possible.Twitter Logo And while most web copy shouldn’t be too complex anyway, be sure to use simple language if you’re writing for audiences who may use English as a second language. (Or, even better, offer the copy in different languages if possible!) To check the “simplicity” of copy, I recommend using the free Hemingway app.

The intro screen on the Hemingway app

Lastly, try to avoid assuming what knowledge or preconceived notions the reader might have, and be wary of cultural metaphors. What might be a common phrase in one region might completely alienate a user in another.

Hire diverse!

The best way to instill diversity and inclusivity in your design is to hire diverse UX designers. The best UX design agencies boast a team that comes from differing backgrounds and schools of thought, with disparate perspectives on both life and design.

“The best way to instill diversity and inclusivity in your design: hire diverse designers.”
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Having these distinct perspectives will not only enrich your user experience, but your company’s culture as a whole. Countless studies have found that creativity and productivity are higher amongst diverse teams.

The UX design techniques discussed here are all well and good, and they can check off the right boxes in making a more accessible (and powerful) user experience.

But the best way to craft more creative, friendlier, and ultimately better interaction experiences is to start with the designers themselves.