Applause is among the more than 80 leading enterprise software businesses that make up Vista Equity Partners’ diverse portfolio of companies spanning nearly every end market. Because Vista’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount to its corporate culture, the global investment firm recently hosted its annual UX Design Summit to gather executives from across the Vista portfolio to share best practices about how corporations can effectively build and foster diverse workforces and inclusive cultures while driving corporate accountability.
As part of the summit, I had the honor of presenting to other executives about the principles of inclusive design and the essentials of developing and advancing an inclusive design program.
What is inclusive design, and why is it important?
Inclusive design is an approach to design which intentionally removes barriers that may otherwise hinder users’ meaningful interaction with products or experiences.
When software is inclusive by design, it allows for users across a broad spectrum of capabilities to interact with it and accomplish necessary tasks in the ways best suited to them. Simply put, the more inclusive a digital experience is, the more people can and will use it.
However, without involving your user voices throughout the SDLC – including planning, design and testing, there’s no way to truly understand their needs or to understand whether they can use the product as they need and want to. To gain necessary insights, putting people at the forefront of the software design process is crucial. This is why companies need to work closely with all persons – those in the disability community and non-disabled, from the very start of the process. Doing so ensures equitable experiences for all, and benefits every user.
Inclusive design principles and building a program
For the Vista training session, I detailed how executives can foster a culture of inclusivity by evaluating their “inclusivity maturity” and building a holistic design program by accommodating users with low vision, blindness, deafness, neurodiversity, and upper body mobility issues. We chose those personas for the inclusive design program at Applause because they struggle to use digital products if their needs and voices aren’t planned for in the product development process. To give a better understanding of challenges encountered by people with vision issues, we gave a screen reader demonstration which was really impactful in understanding how different the user experience is for that community.
Here are some of the important steps I discussed for creating or enhancing an inclusive design program:
Evaluate your current inclusivity status
With any learning experience, it’s good to start by taking an honest look at where you are today. In developing an inclusive design program, the first steps should include reviewing conformance standards, evaluating your existing products and making all necessary remediations to avoid or address legal implications.
Educate your staff
What is your current knowledge base around inclusivity? How engaged are your colleagues? According to an annual survey of more than 1,200 digital quality testing professionals conducted by Applause about digital accessibility, 35% of respondents said their level of understanding of digital accessibility is either basic (28%) or they have very little knowledge (7.5%). This lack of knowledge can inadvertently result in companies developing and releasing products that exclude groups of people from using them effectively.
Educating your staff and engaging the resources you need to have a clear understanding of the principles of inclusivity are vital components of a successful program. Moreover, designating a person or team who is accountable for keeping up with WCAG standards and other legal requirements, and are otherwise the champion(s) for the program, will improve the program’s sustainability over time.
Build a holistic program across the product lifecycle
Once the program is established as a cultural imperative within your organization, it is important to gain knowledge and feedback from the disability community effectively. As you begin the planning process for designing or redesigning, ask Persons with Disability (PwD) for their input into existing or potential challenge points. One way we help our customers do this is by organizing workshops so that designers, developers and QA professionals can observe how PwDs use the existing product or can ask the appropriate questions to make needed improvements. Experiencing interactions in real time breaches any existing knowledge gaps, and enhances the team’s empathy and understanding. This empathy building is a key ingredient in designing for all users.
Commit to testing for the best user experience
Testing the user experience with real people in real-life scenarios – like when using screen readers or other assistive devices – is crucial to ensuring that the product or experience will work for all. Lab-based testing with less diverse testers and limited devices may limit your access to insights that are imperative to providing great user experiences.
The training session received a standing ovation from Vista portfolio executives. With the information they learned during the session, executives can begin implementing inclusive design action plans or advance existing plans within their organizations.
One of the most active software investors in the world, Vista believes the transformative power of technology is the key to an even better future – a smarter economy, a healthier planet, diverse and inclusive communities, and a broader path to prosperity. As a testament to its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Vista provided this recent summit opportunity to educate and encourage its portfolio companies to design software for all, and to provide equitable access for the disability community across the tools and products they create.
Learn more about digital inclusivity solutions at Applause.