Hilary Stephenson: Inclusive digital design: a vital component for customer service
by Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director of user experience (UX) agency, Sigma
Great online experience is – naturally – a key facet of any customer-facing business. From booking healthcare appointments and controlling our central heating to ordering a taxi or managing our finances, customer experience has been dramatically disrupted by technology in the past 10 years.
As a result, many people’s lives are easier, more streamlined and convenient. However, what of the 13.9 million people in the UK with ranging abilities and conditions? This group is often excluded from using and accessing goods, services and information via digital channels due to poor design. Ironically, then, platforms that are supposed to make our day-to-day tasks run more smoothly, have the opposite effect.
Non-inclusive digital design is a particularly relevant issue following news of a landmark case won against Domino’s Pizza – which must now take steps to ensure its mobile app is accessible to all.
The benefits of inclusive design on a business’s bottom line are clear. Indeed, in the retail sector alone, it’s estimated that thousands of retailers could be turning away the custom of as many as one in five people by being inaccessible to people of ranging abilities; a loss of up to £11.4 billion.
But more importantly, inclusive design helps people with ranging abilities to access equal quality of life as everybody else. Designing for inclusivity is therefore not just a commercial obligation, but a moral imperative.
How to make digital platforms fully accessible?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that inclusion not only applies to the organisation’s audience and service users, but also to its employees. Nationally, 10% of working adults are without essential digital skills like communication and information management. Inclusion therefore extends to making digital products and apps user-friendly and inclusive to those working for businesses, as well as those using them.
All customer-facing organisations must meet the accessibility standards outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, however, in reality, it’s about more than that.
Retrofitting accessible features to try and make websites, apps or other digital platforms fit for purpose is often not enough; companies must go back to basics to ensure that they are designing and coding inclusively, from the ground-up:
- Invite users with ranging abilities and needs to take part in usability sessions throughout the site’s design process. This will help assess how effective certain features are and highlight areas that need to be improved.
- If a customer has a physical or motor impairment, websites should keep typing to a minimum, make clickable interactive elements large without demanding precision, and should be designed with mobile and touch screen in mind.
- For those that have impaired vision, websites should use a readable font size and a combination of colour, shapes and text, while ensuring to publish all information on web pages as opposed to other document types such as PDFs.
- Customers with sight loss often use screen readers to consume content, so it’s important to structure your page clearly and consider that not everybody uses traditional devices like a mouse to navigate.
- Those with autism require websites to use sentences written simply and in plain English – avoiding figures of speech and idioms. The colour scheme should be simple, and layouts must be consistent and uncluttered.
- For customers who are hard of hearing, or fully deaf, provide access to subtitles or transcripts to accompany videos, content should be broken up with sub-headings, images and video, while complex layouts and menus must be avoided.
- Constrain choices and actions so that people aren’t overwhelmed by too many options.
- Make content easy to understand. Try to use language that people use day-to-day.
- Consider the digital skills of those accessing the website or app, to remove any barriers to engagement. Ask them for feedback regularly.
- In navigation, give people quick routes to the information they need, and minimise the number of steps needed to complete an action so that people can achieve their goals quickly and easily.
Driving forward with equality
Moving forward, it’s vital that all customers are treated with equality in the UK. Of course, there are many organisations that are already doing some very positive work in this space – but this needs to become, the rule, not the exception. We still have lots of work to do to ensure that the UK’s online community is a completely welcome place for all.
The Domino’s ruling is an important one – and will hopefully help to shine a light on how vital inclusion is to the millions of people across the country navigating life with ranging conditions every day.
Through our work, we find that companies often want to do more but haven’t made their accessibility policy a priority, or perhaps don’t know how to go about implementing one. This needs to change. Sigma helps organisations to design products and services with their intended audience, test their apps and websites with users, and train design and development teams in accessibility. For example, we recently completed a project with Mind to create a website that delivers the best possible experience, for a diverse range of users.
Hilary Stephenson is the managing director of Sigma, a leading digital User Experience (UX) agency that she established back in 2007. The company designs, develops and supports information-rich web sites, intranets, mobile solutions and applications. By putting users at the heart of its solutions, Sigma helps to add genuine business value and bring people together.
Notes to editors
For additional details, please contact:
Brodie Hayward at PR Agency One T. 0161 871 9140 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abi Smith at PR Agency One T. 0161 871 9140 E: email@example.com
Established in 2007, Sigma is a leading digital User Experience (UX) agency, which
designs services and digital products that help people to live and work better. By putting users at the heart of its solutions, Sigma helps to add genuine business value and bring people together.
Sigma works with companies large and small, in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, nationally and internationally. The team believes strongly in developing long term, mutually beneficial strategic partnerships with its customers, with key clients including InterContinental Hotels Group, Sport England and the BBC.
In addition, Sigma also runs the North’s leading digital UX event – Camp Digital. Now in its eighth year, Camp Digital attracts world-class speakers who discuss the most important topics and trends in the UX and digital community.
Sigma is part of Sigma IT Consulting – a Swedish IT Services firm with over 4,000 staff throughout the world.