Microsoft Inclusive Design

Developer Support

In this post, App Dev Manager Julio Madeira explains the driving principles behind Microsoft Inclusive Design.

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The concept of Design Thinking is very widespread and known to many people in the products area, but I wanted to talk today about Microsoft’s Inclusive Design.

Inclusive Design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity and includes and learns from people with a diverse range of perspectives and needs.

The main design principles for Inclusive Design is exclusion, which happens when we solve problems using our own biases. The Microsoft designers are oriented to seek out those exclusions and use them as opportunities to create new ideas and inclusive designs.

As developer or designers, we often generate and evaluate ideas based on what we know. We strive to make experiences that solve needs, work well with the human body, and improve lives but here’s the problem: If we use our own abilities as a baseline, we make things that are easy for some people to use, but difficult for everyone else.

The goal is to build solutions that can be physically, cognitively, and emotionally appropriate for each of users. It starts with seeing human diversity as a resource for better designs.

If we use our own abilities and biases as a starting point, we end up with products designed for people of a specific gender, age, language ability, tech literacy, and physical ability. Those with specific access to money, time, and a social network.

When it comes to people, there’s no such thing as “normal.” The interactions we design with technology depend heavily on what we can see, hear, say, and touch. Assuming all those senses and abilities are fully enabled all the time creates the potential to ignore much of the range of humanity.

Designing for inclusivity not only opens up our products and experiences to more people with a wider range of abilities. It also reflects how people really are. All humans are growing, changing, and adapting to the world around them every day. We want our designs to reflect that diversity. Every decision we make can raise or lower barriers to participation in society. It’s our collective responsibility to lower these barriers though inclusive products, services, environments and experiences.

The principles of Inclusive design includes:

1-Recognize exclusion: Exclusion happens when we solve problems using our own biases. Today, when we talk about disabilities and related limitations, we include situational impairments, activity limitations, and restrictions on participation. We encompass mismatches between individuals and their environments, situations, and society as a whole. It also reflects how people really are, how they grow and adapt to the world around them and we want that our design reflects that.

2-Learn from diversity: In general, humans are good in adapt themselves to new situations, but the Inclusive Design put the people in the center of the design process, making them the key for the success.

3-Solve for one, extend to many: We know that everyone has abilities and limitation. Design for people with permanent disabilities results in design that benefits all the people around it.

Sometimes exclusion can be permanent but sometimes is temporary, even a short-term injury or context affects the way people interact with the world around them, if only for a short time. Think about looking into a bright light, wearing a cast, or ordering dinner in a foreign country.

Sometimes exclusion is situational as people move through different environments, their abilities can also change dramatically. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually impaired. New parents spend much of their day doing tasks one-handed. An overwhelming day can cause sensory overload. What’s possible, safe, and appropriate is constantly changing.

A drawing of a person Description automatically generated

Figure 1 – 3 person, one man handicapped, one man with an injured arm. and a woman carrying a baby born.

Designing for people with permanent disabilities can seem like a significant constraint, but the resulting designs can actually benefit a much larger number of people. For example, closed captioning was created for the hard of hearing community, but there are many benefits of captioning such as reading in a crowded airport, or, teaching children how to read.

Similarly, high-contrast screen settings were initially made to benefit people with vision impairments. But today, many people benefit from high-contrast settings when they use a device in bright sunlight. The same is true for remote controls, automatic door openers, audiobooks, email, and much more. Designing with constraints in mind is simply designing well.

By designing for someone with a situational limitation can also benefit. For example, a device designed for a person who has one arm could be used just as effectively by a person with a temporary wrist injury or a new parent holding an infant.

Empathy is an important part of many different forms of design. Empathy is putting the human in the center of the design process. When building empathy for exclusion and disability, it’s misleading to rely only on simulating different abilities through blindfolds and earplugs. Learning how people adapt to the world around them means spending time understanding their experience from their perspective. When done well, we can recognize more than just the barriers that people encounter. We also recognize the motivations that all people have in common and to help to understand related mismatches and motivations across a spectrum of permanent, temporary, and situational scenarios.

Benefits of Inclusive Design technology that’s designed through inclusive practices pays off in many ways including:

1. Increased access

2. Reduced friction

3. More emotional context

The impact of inclusive design is more than just the products that people use. It’s also a shift in our mindset, methods, and behaviors. What we design is a byproduct of how we design.

Measuring the benefits includes measuring the shift in our culture and ourselves.

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