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What makes a product equitable in UX design?

Equitable product design is a strategy that enhances user experience, builds brand integrity, fosters market growth, and aligns with a company's ethical compass.

10 November, 2023
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Equitable UX design ensures that technology products work well for a wide range of people. It’s essential in today’s market to design with everyone in mind from the very beginning. 

Read on to learn why it’s vital for your product to be fair and usable by diverse groups, the challenges designers face in making this happen, and how getting it right doesn’t just help users - it’s also great for your business. And we have just the right product design services for that.

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Definition and significance of equity in UX design

Equity in UX design is the strategic practice of creating products that are not only accessible but also provide equal value and usability across diverse user demographics, including people of different ages, abilities, races, genders, languages, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses. 

Unlike equality, which would mean providing the same design solutions to all, equity in UX makes design solutions meet the varied needs of users. 

It’s about crafting experiences that acknowledge and bridge differences to offer an equivalent level of service, satisfaction, and functionality to every user.

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Understanding equity in the context of UX design

Understanding equity in the context of UX design means recognizing the varied user needs and designing to accommodate them. 

For instance, designing a website that is equally navigable for both a tech-savvy teenager and a visually impaired elderly person involves considering different font sizes, color contrasts, and navigation pathways. 

Another example is that a streaming service may offer closed captioning for those with hearing impairments, but equitable UX design would also consider how to make content discoverable and enjoyable for users with varying cultural backgrounds and language proficiencies.

Overall, the technical aspect involves adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and employing responsive design techniques to ensure compatibility across various devices and assistive technologies.

Why equity in UX design is crucial for users and businesses

For users, it means having a consistent and efficient experience that respects their individuality and adapts to their needs. 

For businesses, it leads to expanded market reach and customer base, increased customer loyalty, and reduced risk of alienating certain user groups. 

For example, streaming services that offer audio descriptions and closed captions don’t just comply with accessibility laws; they also engage a broader audience that includes individuals with hearing or visual impairments.

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Common challenges in achieving equity in product design

Achieving equity in product design comes with its challenges:

  • Representation. Accurately reflecting the diversity of the user base within design personas.
  • Unconscious bias. Recognizing and mitigating biases that can skew design decisions.
  • Inclusive research. Conducting user research that truly captures a wide range of needs.
  • Diverse testing. Ensuring usability testing includes participants from all target user groups.
  • Design adaptability. Creating designs that are flexible enough to cater to a variety of user contexts without diluting the user experience.
  • Time and resources. Allocating adequate time and resources to understand and implement equity-focused design strategies.
Common challenges in achieving equity in product design
Common challenges in achieving equity in product design

Addressing these challenges requires an approach where continuous user feedback and data-driven insights inform the iterative design process. 

For example, instead of relying on standard usability tests, a company might conduct focused group discussions with underrepresented user groups to identify specific needs and preferences that feed into the design process.

Accessibility: catering to a diverse user base

Accessibility is about creating products that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. This is a critical aspect of catering to a diverse user base, ensuring that no user is left behind due to design oversights. 

To achieve this, our team and other designers employ inclusive design principles and methodologies of continuous product design, which serve as a framework for developing interfaces that accommodate everyone.

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Inclusive design principles

Inclusive design principles begin with recognizing the importance of diversity and seeing it as a resource for better, more creative solutions. 

They emphasize the necessity of providing the same means of use for all users: equivalent experiences that are equally effective for people with disabilities. 

This includes offering flexibility in use, simple and intuitive interfaces, perceptible information, tolerance for error, and low physical effort. You can find a broader list of inclusive design principles here.

As an example, a banking app may use clear icons alongside text to aid those with reading difficulties and offer voice commands for users with physical impairments.

Intuitive interfaces for all users

Creating intuitive interfaces for all users requires a deep understanding of different user contexts and capabilities. 

Interfaces should be designed to be understood quickly and used easily by any user, regardless of their prior experience with similar products or their cognitive and physical abilities. 

This could mean adopting common design patterns that users are familiar with, such as swiping gestures for navigation in a gallery app, which are intuitive and learned quickly, even by novice users.

Alternative methods of interaction

Alternative methods of interaction ensure that if one form of interaction presents a barrier to a user, another form can be used as a substitute. 

For instance, speech-to-text features can help users with motor impairments, while text-to-speech can assist those with visual impairments. 

Similarly, the option to navigate a website using a keyboard instead of a mouse benefits users who cannot use a pointing device.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

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Representation in UX design

Representation in UX design involves understanding the user base as a multifaceted audience with varying identities, experiences, and needs. It plays a pivotal role in shaping products that are not just usable but also resonate with a broad spectrum of individuals.

Incorporating diverse user personas in the design process

Incorporating diverse user personas in the design process is about moving beyond the average user model and creating a range of personas that mirror the diversity of the real-world user base. 

This includes considering different ages, ethnicities, abilities, genders, and other demographic factors. 

For example, a health app may include personas such as a young athlete with a disability, an elderly individual with limited tech knowledge, and a working parent with time constraints. 

These personas help designers empathize with varied user experiences and anticipate different needs and preferences.

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Avoiding stereotypes and biases

Avoiding stereotypes and biases in UX design is critical. It demands an objective approach that's informed by real data and user engagement rather than assumptions. 

A common pitfall is designing based on a 'default' user, which often reflects the biases of the design team. 

For instance, a fitness app, assuming its user base is predominantly young and able-bodied, might overlook the needs of older adults or those with chronic illnesses. 

To counteract biases, designers can engage with a wider user group through interviews, surveys, and usability testing that brings to light the true diversity of the user population.

Addressing underrepresentation in imagery and content

Addressing underrepresentation in imagery and content is about reflecting the full panorama of users in the visual and textual elements of a product. This can be quantified in a straightforward approach.

Addressing underrepresentation in imagery and content
Addressing underrepresentation in imagery and content

Inclusivity: fostering belonging and engagement

Inclusivity in UX design emphasizes the importance of designing products that not only reach a wide audience but also resonate with them on a personal level.

Designing for cultural sensitivity and diverse user needs

Designing for cultural sensitivity and diverse user needs is crucial in globalized digital interactions. 

This involves understanding and respecting cultural differences in communication styles, visual preferences, decision-making processes, and even color symbolism. 

For example, an e-commerce platform should be sensitive to cultural holidays and celebrations, offer local payment options, and provide region-specific customer service. It might also avoid using colors that carry negative connotations in certain cultures.

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Offering customization to accommodate individual preferences

Offering customization to accommodate individual preferences is a key component of inclusivity. Users should be able to adjust settings to suit their own needs and preferences, allowing them to interact with the product in a way that's most comfortable for them. 

This could range from changing the font size for better readability to altering the color scheme for improved visibility or choosing which types of notifications they wish to receive and how. 

A streaming service, for example, could allow users to create multiple profiles with individualized content recommendations and accessibility settings.

Ensuring an inclusive onboarding process for new users

Ensuring an inclusive onboarding process for new users is about making first-time interactions with a product as welcoming and intuitive as possible. 

Here’s a list of practices that can contribute to this goal:

  1. Use clear, jargon-free language.
  2. Offer video tutorials alongside text instructions for different learning styles.
  3. Provide multiple ways to complete onboarding tasks, such as using social media accounts to sign up.
  4. Allow users to skip certain onboarding steps and return to them later.
  5. Integrate accessibility features from the start, such as screen reader compatibility and keyboard navigation.

An inclusive onboarding process could be seen in a language learning app that allows users to select learning difficulty, preferred language interface, and offers a variety of interactive and accessible tutorials to get started.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

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Impact of equitable product design

Equitable product design is a powerful factor in shaping the overall impact of technology on society. It extends beyond the individual user to influence broader business outcomes and societal trends.

Enhancing user experience and satisfaction for all

Equitable product design ensures that every user finds value and ease in interacting with a product, regardless of their background or abilities. It involves creating interfaces that are intuitive, content that is accessible, and services that are convenient for a diverse user base. 

For instance, a navigation app that offers voice control, as well as large, easy-to-read visuals, ensures that both users with visual impairments and those driving can use the app safely and effectively. 

When users find a product that caters to their specific needs, satisfaction naturally increases. This heightened user experience can lead to positive word-of-mouth and higher retention rates.

Building brand trust and loyalty

A commitment to equity in product design can significantly bolster a brand's reputation. Below are factors contributing to this trust and loyalty:

  1. Consistency. Delivering a uniformly positive experience across all touchpoints.
  2. Transparency. Openly communicating the brand’s efforts in promoting equity.
  3. Responsiveness. Actively listening to user feedback and making necessary adjustments.
  4. Personalization. Demonstrating an understanding of different user needs through tailored experiences.

An example would be a financial service app that uses transparent language, offers personalization in terms of service, and consistently updates features based on user feedback. This behavior shows users that the brand values their input and is dedicated to serving their interests.

Expanding the user base and reaching new markets

By addressing the needs of underserved or overlooked segments, equitable design practices open up new market opportunities. A product that's usable and appealing to a wider range of people is naturally positioned to capture a larger share of the market. 

For example, a gaming company that develops games with accessibility options for colorblind users and control modifications for users with motor disabilities can tap into a wider audience, increasing its market reach.

Want your product to attract, engage, and keep customers?

Merge is here to help.

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Aligning with ethical and social responsibilities

Equitable product design is also a reflection of a brand’s commitment to ethical and social responsibilities. 

By ensuring products are designed with fairness and accessibility in mind, companies can address social inequalities and contribute to a more inclusive digital environment. It sets a standard for corporate responsibility, influencing industry norms and expectations. 

For example, a company in the US that not only complies with but exceeds the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in their digital offerings is actively participating in the creation of a more inclusive digital world.

Conclusion

In summary, equitable product design is not a mere trend; it's a comprehensive strategy that enhances user experience, builds brand integrity, fosters market growth, and aligns with a company's ethical compass. 

Its impact is wide-ranging, affecting individual user satisfaction, corporate reputation, market competitiveness, and social inclusivity. 

It's not just good design; it's good business - and it's the right thing to do. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or a product in mind that you want all of your users to appreciate.

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author

CEO and Founder of Merge

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

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