How to implement inclusive design

Defining inclusive design

What is inclusive design?

Let’s start by focusing on what inclusive design is. The Microsoft Inclusive Design Team defines inclusive design like this:

Inclusive Design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.

Inclusive design is a process for creating design that can be used by a diverse group of people. It’s a methodology that is human-centered. That means including and learning from as many people as possible — people with a diverse range of perspectives.

Twitter screenshot of post about inclusive bandages
Dominique Apollon tweet

This is a screenshot of a tweet by Twitter user named Dominique Apollon. His tweet shared how he was moved from wearing a bandage that matched his skin tone. Bandages were only sold in light colors until very recently, and it felt so natural. Dominique also mentions that he didn’t even think anything of it, and didn’t notice the unconscious bias until he saw this dark tone Tru-color bandage wrapped around him.

Differences between universal design and inclusive design

In the design community, the term “Universal design” may come up when we speak about inclusive design. Universal design aims to create one experience that can be accessed and used by the highest number of people. Universal design enforces a single design solution without need for adaptation or specialized design. While both universal and inclusive design methods focus on reaching a large population, the design approaches are drastically different.

Universal design focuses on the end goal, instead of the process of getting there.

Universal design: 

  • A single solution that’s intended to accommodate as many users as possible.

Inclusive design: 

  • Accepts and embraces multiple design variations by including a diverse range of people in the design process.

Let’s put this in the example of bandages.

If we are considering a universal design, we need to accommodate as many users as possible. To to that, we could make the bandage clear, so it would accommodate any users of skin color.

On the other hand, if we are considering an inclusive design, we would start by learning from diversity and seek out exclusion, and then make bandages that would solve those users’ problems.

Graphic showing clear bandages under universal design and bandages of many skin colors under inclusive design.

Even though the design approaches differ, they don’t necessarily conflict with one another. Both approaches have their strengths, and it is important for designers to realize the differences and adapt both approaches when necessary.

Differences between accessibility and inclusive design

Another term that can be synonymous with inclusive design is accessible design.

Accessible design considers usability for people who may have technical, physical, or cognitive barriers.

Accessibility and inclusive design are closely related. However, inclusive design recognizes that solutions that work for people with a disability are likely to also work well for people in diverse circumstances. Accessibility is closer to an outcome and the qualities that make an experience open to all, whereas inclusive design is a process.

Graphic showing Accessibility as a circle included in inclusivity

Accessible design and inclusive design work hand in hand to lower barriers that exclude people from using products effectively.


5 steps for implementing inclusive design

1. Seek out points of exclusion

When does exclusion happen? Microsoft says exclusion happens when we solve problems using our own biases.

Graphic showing inclusive design contained in a circle and exclusive design not contained in a circle

Recognizing bias: Disability

Here’s the problem — we tend to design things for our own ability level, creating a gap between others. While it may be unintentional, we exclude a huge number of people from our solutions when we do this. In fact, we are designing disability.

Design processes that focus on edge cases are based on the assumption that there is a ‘normal’ case. However, we are all diverse in the way we interact with what is around us.

Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which they live.

– The World Health Organization (WHO)

Disability is not a personal health condition. It happens at the points of interaction between a person and society. Instead, we should consider it as a mismatched human interaction between the needs of the individual and the offerings of a product, service, environment, or social structure.

Remember: Inclusive design is for everyone

Sometimes, exclusion can be temporary or situational. This includes short term injuries, differences in abilities in different environments.

graphic showing permanent, emporary, and situational disability

2. Identify situational challenges

A WHO report on disability 2011 states that 15 percent of the world population lives with some form of disability. That’s about 1.2 billion (B) people. The rest — 6.2 billion (B) people are only temporarily non-excluded. At any point in time, this population could become disabled (or excluded), whether it may be permanent, temporary, or situational disability.

It is important to consider the context in which your user is interacting with the product and to design the experience to be accessible in daily moments of situational exclusion.

graphic showing accomodations for users in public settings

Situations like this could happen to anybody and everybody. That is why inclusive design is important – it could help anybody and everybody.

3. Include people from different communities

It’s important to involve people from different communities throughout your design process. This helps designers recognize bias. Users will show us what we need, and will help us extend our eyes beyond our own abilities and biases. So, don’t skip out on user research and testing!

4. Provide multiple ways to engage

Your design should provide multiple ways for users to engage. Here’s an example — a piece of video content could have different playback speeds or an option for closed captioning. We could even provide a full transcript of the closed captioning, which would let people quickly skim the content without watching the video. The possibilities are endless!

graphic showing multiple ways to accomodate users

5. Deliver the equivalent experience

In addition to providing multiple ways to engage, ensure that your experiences are comparable. Meeting accessibility standards doesn’t mean you have offered a usable and/or comparable experience.

Here are some ways you can provide an equivalent experience:

  • Offer different playback speeds for video content
  • Provide an option to enlarge or control font size
  • Remove filters that bias fields for Western surnames and allow naming for global audiences


More tips to remember

Here are more tips recommended for implementing inclusive design.

Be consistent

Make sure you use familiar conventions, and apply them consistently. This follows the basic law of UX, called Jakob’s law. Jacob’s law is also known as the law of familiarity. Familiar interfaces and consistency should be applied to functionality, behavior, editorial, and the presentation.

Give Control

Ensure that people are in control. People should be able to access and interact with content in their preferred way. This is a fundamental principle of UX and UI design. One example is scrolling control.

Infinite scrolling can be problematic, especially for users who navigate primarily through keyboard. These users won’t be able to get past the stream of refreshing content. One solution is to provide an option to turn off the infinite scrolling feature and replace it with a load more button.

Prioritize content

Help users focus on core tasks, features, and information by prioritizing them within the content in layout. Clear visual hierarchy is also an important point in design, as it helps with Jakob’s law (mentioned above), and with Miller’s law – which argues that an average person can only keep 7 (plus/minus 2) items in their working memory.

Users should be able to focus on one thing at a time, without getting bombarded with information that may not be necessary to them at the time.

Ways to improve include: providing a clear hierarchy to action items, features, information architecture, and providing clear language. Progressively revealing information/content/features when needed is also an important step, as we should not show everything all at once.


Inclusive design doesn’t mean you are designing a single solution for everyone. Instead, you are designing for a diversity of things so everyone can find a way to participate. While universal design, accessibility, and inclusive design may all seem similar, they have different definitions and we should be flexible to move forward with a design approach that would work best with you.

It is best to practice inclusive design for all. Afterall, we are user experience professionals trying to extend solutions to everyone.