People won’t always say this out loud, but there’s a lurking assumption that making learning content more accessible is going to mean making it less beautiful. Obviously you want to make your content work for the widest and most diverse audience of learners. But does that necessarily mean a compromise on aesthetics?
I say no. And luckily for me, all the best authorities on design agree. Here’s why.
Let’s start with ‘What is good design?’ Good design is not only about the look and feel of a thing, it’s also about fitness to purpose. And that is true whether the thing in question is something functional like a potato peeler, or something innovative and slightly abstract like a virtual reality experience. It’s there to get the job done, whether the job in question is to peel you spuds or blow your mind.
50 years ago design pioneer Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer responsible for Braun’s consumer products, asked himself: is my design good design? In answer to his question he created 10 principles of good design (sometimes known as the ‘10 commandments’).
According to Dieter Rams, good design:
- Is innovative
The possibilities for progression innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
- Makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
- Is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
- Makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
- Is unobtrusive
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
- Is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
- Is long-lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
- Is thorough down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
- Is environmentally friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
- Involves as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
Although consumer products and technology have changed massively in the past 50 years, Dieter’s ‘commandments’ can still provide valuable guidelines when designing digital interfaces today.
It’s also interesting to note that, while the focus on inclusion and accessibility for design of everyday objects and interfaces is a fairly recent development, inclusion was ‘baked in’ to Dieter Rams’ design principles already, when he originated them back in the 60’s.
Achieving an inclusive environment
Dieter Rams is not the only authority supporting the view that good design has to be inclusive.
According to the UK Design Council’s guide, The principles of inclusive design:
‘Good design is inclusive design. Design should always be judged by whether or not it achieves an inclusive environment. Design which does not do this is not good enough. Good design should reflect the diversity of people who use it and not impose barriers of any kind.’
Inclusive design – also known as Design for All (Europe) or Universal Design (USA) – is not about assuming a ‘one-size-fits-all’ user experience. It is design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to gender, age, language and ability.
Neither is it about creating a new design genre or a separate specialism, but about a general approach to good design and designing products and services that address the needs of the widest possible audience.
Definition of inclusive design
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as:
‘The design of mainstream products and / or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’
Inclusive design does not suggest that it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of the entire population. Instead, inclusive design guides an appropriate design response to diversity in the population through:
- Developing a family of products and derivatives to provide the best possible coverage of the population
- Ensuring that each individual product has clear and distinct target users
- Reducing the level of ability required to use each product, in order to improve the user experience for a broad range of customers, in a variety of situations
What’s the difference between accessibility and inclusive design?
Traditionally the term ‘accessibility’ means making special considerations for people with disabilities. Wikipedia states: ‘Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both ‘direct access’ (i.e. unassisted) and ‘indirect access’ meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).
The key to inclusive design is that from the very beginning we consider creating something that is easily accessible, useful and enjoyable for as many people as possible. Inclusive design doesn’t specifically target people with disabilities (unlike assistive devices).
According to US Design firm Eone: ‘While assistive devices fill in the gaps left by exclusionary design practices, inclusive design aims to evolve products beyond their conventional definitions, changing our standards for products. Assistive devices aim to remove a barrier for people with disabilities. Inclusive design strives to fundamentally redesign a product so that the barrier does not exist in the first place. Assistive technology is reactive. Inclusive design is proactive.’
How Lumesse Learning is approaching accessible and inclusive design
We believe in putting our clients’ people and their future first, to unlock their potential to grow and be the best. To do this we:
- Have appointed a company champion for diversity and inclusion (D&I)
- Regularly develop D&I learning for clients
- As standard, create accessible scripts and accessible PDFs for a number of our clients
- Develop accessible learning training courses for clients’ internal learning designers
- Carry out internal accessibility testing / QA
- Partner with the non-profit Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) and other independent consultants to deliver best practice in all our products and services
- Produce the online edition of our magazine The Curve as a fully accessible PDF
- Run regular features on D&I themes in The Curve
- Feature D&I themes in our Lounge Talks series at our annual Learning Lounge event (check out Emily Hall-Strutt, Ministry of Justice on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace)
- Are setting up an accessible component library for the development of CourseBuilder and HTML5 products
- Are developing XD wireframe templates for our Learning Designers to create wireframe builds for our clients and will be modifying to have an inclusive / accessible component version
Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how we put diversity and inclusion at the heart of what we do.
Interested in Design? Read our Interview with Chris Hildrey, Designer in Residence at London’s Design Museum, in The Curve magazine.