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Example slide from inclusive interfaces presentation showing a representation of US racial diversity with icons representing people

Inclusive Interfaces

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

UX is not a discipline you may think of when you think of standing up to systemic racism, inequality and bigotry, however UX practitioners are responsible for what exists on the internet. For the experiences that humans and brands have digitally. We hold immense power.

However, racial and gender bias are rampant in interfaces. Language tinged with racism or exclusionary terms abound. Images of racially ambiguous people are used rather than truly diverse casting. We can and must combat this in our work.

What started as a primer on web accessibility turned into a presentation to agency leadership defining what truly inclusive interfaces are and what we as a UX team at FCB were doing to align with the agency’s approach to diverse mass marketing. I’ve summarized the presentation below along with the deck I shared.

I defined inclusive interfaces in 3 dimensions: identity, language and ability.

Identity

Identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person or group. Interfaces often exclude users of differing identities because designers forget about them.

Think about imagery on a site. We often see straight-size women modeling plus size clothes. Or beauty brands using models who’s skin tones are tan at the deepest. When was the last time you saw a disabled person in an image and didn’t remark on how brave it was for the brand or how rare it is? Images show who your brand thinks their users are before users read a single word.

It’s also important to remember that interactions can reinforce positive and negative perceptions of identity. Are you only providing binary options when asking about gender or biological sex? (And are you asking this when simply asking someone their pronouns would do?)

Interactions can also be subtle in their exclusion. Name fields that don’t validate for names with just 2 letters or names with spaces and special characters aren’t just annoying to a small set of users. They’re exclusionary.

Language

Language can be defined as a system of communication that enables humans to express themselves control objects in their environment and is reflected in the words we choose as well as the languages we make our content available in.

Experts in linguistics have shown us that the language a person speaks reflects their culture and values. Language, identity and culture are deeply intertwined. The interfaces we create should honor this connection. English-only interfaces leave out many potential US users. In some countries, such as Canada, French and English content is required by law, but this is a rarity in inclusivity.

Within the language that we speak, word choice shows our users that we value them (or not). Appropriative terms such as “spirit animal” are ignorant at best and racist at worst. If we are talking about humans who parent children, we should call them parents because if we use binary terms to speak to the group, we leave out those who identify as neither.

Voice interactions and conversational UIs are experiencing rapid adoption rates and language is the most critical component of those. But those assistants fail many users – accuracy rates fall to 35% for users with a southern accent. It’s worse for those with foreign accents speaking English or those with speech impediments. If any user can’t be understood there is still work to be done.

Ability

As a disabled person, this is where my mind has always gone when thinking about inclusivity. Considering physical and cognitive differences when creating an inclusive experience. This is also the one type of inclusivity that is mandated by law in the US.

Did you know that 1 in 4 adults can be considered disabled? Disability can be temporary or permanent and many people who are don’t consider themselves disabled. If you’ve ever sprained an ankle and needed crutches you have been disabled. Disabilities range in severity from color blindness, near sightedness and carpal tunnel to profound mental and physical limitations. Considering screen readers, contrast and alternative navigation tools are easy ways to build inclusive interfaces.

It’s important not to rely just on guidelines such as WCAG as they don’t address all types of disability excluding many potential users. For example, contrast ratios are the one accessibility guideline most UI designers I’ve worked with know but combinations that pass contrast may still be quite inaccessible. The reason? Luminosity. There’s plenty more examples, but the takeaway is clear: designers need to think beyond the rules.

Inclusion is critical for businesses.

Inclusive interfaces are critical for businesses from a reputation and financial standpoint. Inclusive brands reach more buyers and accessible sites aren’t liable for expensive litigation. As UX professionals, it is our obligation to ensure our work includes all users or else it isn’t user experience. It’s some user experience and that SUX.

Explore the presentation below (or open in a new window)

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