GuidesProduct developmentWhat is inclusive design?

What is inclusive design?

Last updated

16 April 2023

Reviewed by

Jen Lee

We are all unique, from our psychological make-up, culture, personality, hobbies, appearance, and the food we eat. We naturally have varying cultural backgrounds, geographical locations, ethnicities, genders, ages, and abilities which provides a colorful marketplace to represent our needs and desires and how truly diverse we are.

Our differences in values, belief systems, and cognitive or physiological requirements influence how we perceive information. What’s more, we have subtle aesthetic preferences in addition to our genetic makeup and other factors which influence our behavior and the choices we make.

In product design and development, there’s generally a strong desire to make human-centered platforms and user experiences. It can be a challenge, but very rewarding, to increase your platform's adoption across the diverse variation of people who meet your target segment's unique requirements.

Usability and accessibility problems can arise when not enough attention is given to human diversity and how everyone needs to interact with your platform.

A lack of inclusion in design can prevent some people from accessing your platform—a problem not just for the customer, but for your business, too.

Inclusive design: what you need to know

Inclusive design is often seen as synonymous with other terms such as accessibility and usability. According to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), accessibility, usability, and inclusion are all closely related, but inclusive design is distinct.

  • Accessibility allows people who experience disability to understand, navigate, and perceive digital products.

  • Usability means the end user can easily complete tasks and solve problems on the platform.

  • Inclusion is defined by WAI as being “about diversity, and ensuring involvement of everyone to the greatest extent possible.”

Inclusion refers to accessibility for those who experience disability, but it is about broader inclusion as well. This includes people with varying computer literacy, economic situations, cultures, locations, ages, and languages to ensure that design caters to everyone.

Ultimately, for design to be considered inclusive, it must be both accessible and usable by as many people as possible.

Inclusive design vs. universal design

Inclusive design is often referred to as universal design, but there are subtle differences between the two.

Universal design relates to design—whether physical or digital—which can be adopted by the widest range of people across several segments.

Inclusive design, on the other hand, was coined initially in relation to digital products alone. It’s not as well defined as universal design because it’s a newer concept. However, inclusive design tends to put a greater emphasis on everyone being able to use the platform regardless of their background and differences. No one is excluded based on their age, race, education level, and abilities in the user experience.

You could say that universal design provides a general benchmark for all platforms and environments, whereas inclusive design is more concerned with digital products and the user experience.

Why is inclusive design important?

As we’ve discussed, people are naturally all different, so the users of digital products are diverse. People who experience cognitive or physical disability should be considered and included when you’re creating a digital platform.

The number of people potentially impacted by non-inclusive designs is greater than you might think. Roughly one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience a form of disability in their lifetime.

Physical or cognitive disabilities tend to be the first benchmarks that are considered for inclusive design, but it doesn’t stop there, as humans are diverse by their very nature. This means a person’s level of education, cultural background, and language all impact their ability to engage with digital platforms.

This is why, when you’re thinking about your target segments and personas, inclusive design has a key role to play. Large parts of society are excluded if products don’t consider usability beyond a small subset of people. Inclusive design grants as many people as possible the opportunity to use and benefit from digital platforms.

For businesses, inclusion is also of enormous benefit, as it ensures their products are accessible to as many people as possible.

The three considerations of inclusive design

There are three main elements to inclusive design that are helpful for companies creating and implementing inclusive design plans.

Recognize diversity and uniqueness

Humans are unique. We don’t all have the same abilities, skills, understanding, or backgrounds. These variations can drastically impact how we access and interpret digital design.

For design and development teams, one critical starting point is the recognition that the human population is diverse. Designing and getting user feedback from people with a disability and/or who are often marginalized or not included in the design process can ensure inclusivity is baked into the platform from the beginning.

Use inclusive tools and processes

Design inclusivity means creating tools and processes that are easy to use, seamless, and take the diversity and uniqueness of the human population into account.

The best way to do this is through testing and learning with diverse groups of people. When conducting research, ensure your participants represent a group of society that is marginalized or has a physical or cognitive disability. Choose people from different cultural backgrounds, ages, education levels, genders, and physical and mental abilities to design truly inclusive products.

Consider the broad benefit

Designing with inclusivity in mind can have a broader impact on society. By creating inclusive designs you are enabling more of society to access your platform. This can have a positive effect on innovation and encourage other leadership teams and small businesses in the industry to do the same as more members of society contribute to inclusive digital designs.

Inclusive design should be part of the business strategy and vision of your company. Having inclusive design as part of the vision will ensure user feedback is being provided from marginalized communities. This makes accessibility an integral part of your platform instead of a nice-to-have.

The five key principles of inclusive design

Getting started with inclusive design might seem overwhelming if it’s something your team hasn’t considered before. Let’s look at some key principles to put you on the right track.

Discover current exclusion

A good starting point for all designers and developers is discovering where current exclusion exists—who is being left out and why? It could be in your own platform, or others in the marketplace.

Realizing where exclusion is—and how widespread it is—helps a team see where the gaps are and what can be done better.

Avoid personal bias

Bias is tricky to avoid because we all have it, even though we do our best not to. To overcome and reach a place of not having bias or preconceived notions and ideas, challenge your team’s assumptions and include a broad range of users in the research process, including people with cognitive and physical disabilities or those who are marginalized.

Engaging diverse voices and viewpoints to shape your platform will help your team better identify whether your user experience is helpful for a broad range of the population, or whether more inclusivity is needed to raise it to a standard at which everyone can adopt it.

Identify environmental challenges

Some inclusivity challenges may only occur in certain situations. Testing in a broad range of situations, and asking your participants lots of questions, can help identify potential niche issues.

Certain lighting, for example, may make visual elements harder to perceive for some people. Noisy environments may be more challenging for others.

Recognizing where and when your customers will use your products will help you design for those situations, taking into account varying degrees of perception, ability, and understanding.

Provide options

For those who require extra assistance to get an optimal experience from your platform, offering options can be helpful.

A video platform, for example, should offer captions for those who have challenges hearing the content. Alternative color schemes, navigation assistants, and spoken content are all common options that can help users access your products.

Provide equivalent experiences

Inclusivity isn’t about providing a mediocre experience so users can just get by with your platform. To really offer inclusive, user-centric designs, it’s important to offer equivalent-value experiences with alternative options such as dark or light mode for light-sensitive users.

In the video platform example, captions should be easy-to-use, clear, and visually appealing. A navigation assistant should be helpful, seamless, and as effective as using a visual menu.

Your platform will make a true impact on all your users when the experience is equal, regardless of who is using your product.

Best practices for inclusive design

When it comes to inclusive design, there are a few important best practices to keep in mind. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains some top-level practices to ensure your platform is inclusive.

Write inclusive copy

Your users must be able to easily understand your messaging. To increase adoption, write copy that’s simple and easy to read, to meet the broader human population.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Pay attention to terms: common terms can be very un-inclusive when applied to a particular population as a whole. Sex and gender, for example, are not the same thing. When speaking about disability, it’s more inclusive to say that a person ‘experiences disability’ rather than saying they ‘are disabled.’

  • Write shorter sentences: long sentences, complex words, and higher-knowledge-based messaging and design can be challenging. Using shorter sentences and simple language can help make your copy more inclusive so it can be adopted by more users.

  • Use summaries: highly technical content—such as medical studies or developer documentation—may only be accessible to people with relevant industry knowledge. Use short summaries and plain language to allow more people to understand the message.

Consider voice diversity

You may have noticed that voice assistants lack diversity; most are female voices with a similar tone. This was intentional as some research showed people found female voices more appropriate than men as the voice operator.

This preference, though, doesn’t represent all of society as not everyone took part in the research. If a more inclusive design approach was undertaken, the options of voices would have different genders, ethnicities, and accents. By enabling different options, you can ensure voices are inclusive and representative of your users.

Use inclusive images

When it comes to the use of media images representing people, inclusion is often ignored. Depictions of Caucasian, able-bodied, healthy people—especially males—in iconography and imagery are common. However, these images form a representative sample that doesn’t represent all types of men in society. This can result in representation exclusion due to the consistent characteristics of a few ethnic groups used for marketing which doesn’t reflect the diversity of society as a whole.

Another option is to use more neutral imagery that doesn’t depict people or illustrations showing diversity to allow all users to feel welcome to use your product.

Diversifying your imagery is a great start to inclusive design. Using images of people who are diverse in gender, sexuality, ethnicity, cultural background, and ability provides a more inclusive approach and is valuable platform design practice for the business and its users.

Consider all touchpoints

When adopting inclusive design, it’s not just the platform that you should consider, but all the touchpoints of your business. This will ensure each aspect of engagement is inclusive.

To bring inclusivity across the business, start with a few questions such as:

  • Is our signup process as inclusive as it can be?

  • Can people quickly find the information they need, regardless of ability or disability?

  • Are we making sure that inclusivity is baked into our platform from the start?

  • Are there multiple ways for our customers to get in touch, including phone, email, text, chatbot, online chat, and mail, to suit their preferences and needs?

  • Do we have clear inclusivity guidelines as a business?

  • Do we already have, or are we considering, inclusivity in our workforce?

Continual learning for better inclusivity

Platform design and development is not a linear process. Once platforms launch their minimum viable product (MVP) to create beneficial experiences that solve a problem, there are constant future iterations to make. This provides lots of opportunities to continue collecting user feedback from people with a disability or a marginalized group, to ensure their needs are being met.

As you further develop and optimize your platform, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to consider inclusivity that might have been forgotten at the earlier stages.

Improvements may be inspired by new learnings, customer complaints, reviews, or further research. By being willing to learn, adapt, and make iterations, you have the chance to keep evolving your users’ experiences and make your platform more accessible and usable for everyone.

How inclusive design benefits business

Inclusive design isn’t just beneficial for customers, it makes good business sense too. Increasing inclusivity widens your potential market, giving you the chance to increase your customer base, profits, and share value.

Inclusivity can also have a wider impact. As more users can access digital platforms, more people can contribute to and participate in society. For example, the problem being solved by a particular platform may relate to social or environmental impact, and the company plants trees or funds conservation groups to save wildlife and species. The more people who can access the platform, the more trees can be planted and species saved.

This is the power of inclusivity. It also increases innovation and UI/UX researchers' understanding of user needs. The more they learn about how to design for everyone, the more we can enjoy an improved economy, a better quality of life, and a bolstered workforce including groups that are often left out.

By being inclusive as a company, you’re ensuring everyone is included and that your business reflects our naturally diverse society. You’re opening your doors to job placements for everyone, and you’re contributing to our understanding of the optimal digital environment designs.


What are other words for inclusive design?

Inclusive design is often referred to as universal design, accessibility, usability, or diversity in design—though there is a subtle difference between these terms.

Who invented inclusive design?

No one person is credited with having invented inclusive design. However, the term universal design was coined by Ronald Mace in 1980. Since then, many people and organizations have expanded upon the idea to bring inclusive design to where it is today.

What are inclusive concepts?

Inclusivity means providing equal access opportunities for the broader population. The concept of inclusivity is that, regardless of gender, sex, religion, language, cultural background, geographical location, race, and ability, you have the right to equal access to information and products.

What does an inclusive designer do?

Inclusive designers pay attention to the diversity of the human race to ensure designs are accessible to as many people as possible.

To do this, designers and product developers work with a diverse range of people to research, test, and create designs that are naturally more inclusive.

What is the opposite of inclusive design?

Exclusive design is the opposite of inclusive design. This is design that only considers a particular type of person. Typically, exclusive design is associated with able-bodied, white, cis-gendered people. Designing in this way may prevent many groups of society from accessing the products.

Get started today

Go from raw data to valuable insights with a flexible research platform

Start freeContact sales

Editor’s picks

What are release notes?

Last updated: 8 April 2024

The ultimate guide to product naming

Last updated: 18 April 2024

What is an AI product manager?

Last updated: 18 April 2024

What is a product concept?

Last updated: 18 April 2024

Stakeholder interview template

Last updated: 26 May 2023

Latest articles

Related topics

Product developmentPatient experienceResearch methodsEmployee experienceSurveysMarket researchCustomer researchUser experience (UX)


OverviewChannelsMagicIntegrationsEnterpriseInsightsAnalysisPricingLog in


About us
© Dovetail Research Pty. Ltd.
TermsPrivacy Policy

Log in or sign up

Get started for free


By clicking “Continue with Google / Email” you agree to our User Terms of Service and Privacy Policy