One for All: Inclusive Design

5 Mins Read

One for All: Inclusive Design

 What makes for a good design? For consumer-centric brands, user experience (UX) is central in design, and that calls for a balance between aesthetics and functionality. Hang on – most of us may associate UX with the digital realm, but it is not limited to a digital product. Beyond the edges of our screens, UX serves to enhance the overall user experience. But who exactly benefits and how? Is anyone left behind as a result of a particular design?

UX in product design

When it comes to UX in product design, it includes reading product labels and descriptions; unwrapping the packaging; and using the products. The able-bodied can differentiate identically shaped products by reviewing the labels on them.

Photography by Charisse Kenion via Unsplash

But how about packaging that even the able-bodied struggle with? (Think: cable ties, layers of sticky tape and the hard plastic packaging that encases many things.) Difficult and inaccessible packaging can easily throw anyone into a “wrap rage” – a coined term for the heightened levels of anger and frustration from the inability to open packaging. For the same packaging that causes a nuisance to the able-bodied, it is beyond impossible for people with certain disabilities to get to their product. If we made packaging accessible to the disabled, wouldn’t it bring increased convenience to all other consumers as well? So, why not?

Catered to the masses

Despite one billion, or 15-percent of the world’s population experiencing some form of disability, design has always been catered to the mass market for its profit-driven nature. For example, there may be greater focus placed on sustainable design because it is a common issue faced by people from all around the world. Since we do not experience the effects of disability firsthand, designing accessible packaging is not something that comes naturally for people without disabilities.


Image by InfographicNow via Pinterest

So, what is inclusive design?

Inclusive design is a concept that allows as many consumers, regardless of age, gender, disability or any other differences, to use the product – without difficulty. Currently, product design revolves mainly around the use of sight e.g. colours and visual patterns – giving us room for further sensory exploration to facilitate user experience. This includes Braille packaging or tactile marks in the form of shapes that utilise our sense of touch, and talking packaging that maximises our auditory senses

Tactile labelling?

In 2018, Procter & Gamble introduced a change to their Herbal Essences bottle labelling to cater to people with visual impairments. To differentiate the two common hair care products, they indicated four vertical lines on the base of the shampoo bottle and a grid of eight circles in the same place on the conditioner.

Image by Quartz

By embedding the value of inclusivity in the designing process of these bottles, people with visual impairments are able to overcome their disabilities with tactile labelling – especially when they are unable to rely on mobile apps designed for the visually handicapped in the shower. This is not only useful for people with visual impairments. There have been instances where the fully sighted mix up their shampoo and conditioner bottles because they look similar.

Tactile labelling also assists consumers with bad eyesight and are unable to wear corrective lenses and glasses in the shower. On the consumer level, individuals need not come up with an alternative system to identify and navigate around their daily necessities. The same goes for bio-reactive tactile expiry dates.

Photography by Mimica Touch via DesignWanted

Colourblind-friendly design

As for individuals with colour blindness, they lack the ability to distinguish red, green and blue lights. Through their lenses, colours lie closer to one another and tend to blend together. Due to this reduced colour perception, designs that rely on colours to convey certain messages e.g. red for error, are not accessible to this group of people.

At the same time, designing for accessibility need not translate into compromising design aesthetics. For example, including symbols and icons to supplement colour-coded messages, warnings and alerts can improve UX for the colourblind or for anyone else when the sunlight is reflecting off our screens.

Fun fact: Facebook’s predominant blue colour scheme was chosen because their founder Mark Zuckerberg, colourblind, was able to distinguish blue best. Image by Usabilla

Use of other graphic features, such as textures, pictorial descriptions and large fonts also help to increase legibility in design. An optimised design then allows the product to be used by everyone in all situations.

Beyond 2020; beyond braille

Product testing is also part of the design process. Since it is difficult for the able- bodied to fully empathise, putting together a team of individuals with a diverse range of disabilities allows us to find out the pain points of their UX. Just like how Microsoft’s Packaging Design team worked with gamers with disabilities to design and test out the Xbox Adaptive Controller and its packaging.

Technology also offers limitless possibilities in smart packaging. Powered by the use of technology, the project spearheaded by the Korean Packaging Centre on “talking packaging” allows product labels to be read out. Information is relayed through a smartphone and this enables consumers with visual impairments or poor eyesight to shop independently. What was thought to be a simple purchase experience for the able-bodied is now transformed into an experience of empowerment for people with disabilities. With the constant advancement of technology, all we need is to instil empathy through our design thinking process to create designs for everyone.

As the Content Creator at The Outsiders Co. (now Superminted), Jasmine is a storyteller who translates her love for learning into content that is entertaining and relatable for the audience. She believes in connecting with the audience through the words she pens – or types.

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