Regardless of the sector you are in, the audience you create products and content for is likely to be highly diverse. This is undebatable.
By the very nature of the internet, everything you put on your website can potentially be seen by millions, even billions. Each person is different from the next in terms of race, age, background, identities, sexual orientation, disabilities, and so on.
All these variables have to be considered to ensure inclusivity for diverse audiences.
Diversity and inclusion have been key buzzwords in the design industry in the last couple of years. As the concept of global economies, digitisation and migration take centre stage, these quickly transition from buzzwords into fundamental design principles.
Design for diverse audiences goes beyond people, however.
Context of use for services and digital products vary as well. Similarly, the internet-enabled gadgets used by different people across that board differ.
Here are some pointers to help you design for diversity:
The most important part of your website is its content. Excellent content is what keeps site visitors on your site for longer, keeps them coming back, and sharing your content with others.
However, 254 million people globally have one type of visual impairment or another, making it harder for them to read your content. This is how many people you could possibly fail to connect with.
Instead, structure your content in a way that is easy for users with diverse cognitive, visual, and language perceptions to experience.
Some of the simplest things you can do include:
- Break text into small sections
- Use enough headers and subheaders to break up text and guide the reader
- Ensure adequate contrast between text and background
- Avoid fully justified text
- Maintain content at 80 characters per line
These seemingly simple tips can make it much easier for people with visual impairments to engage with your site.
For audiences with visual or motor impairments, the keyboard is their primary mode of navigation.
This makes keyboard accessibility fundamental.
Essentially, this means that if your website is not keyboard optimised, using your site can be extremely frustrating to these users. Consider a scenario where you are on a site but not able to fill out a download form, play a clip or click a tab easily.
Your keyboard navigation should allow users to select any tabs on your site using the tab key. For people who wholly depend on the keyboard, this is not optional.
Once your site is up and running, this is among the first things you should test it for.
Designing for a smaller, highly specialised niche or a well-defined target audience is a much simpler undertaking. This is because smaller, niche audiences have a lot in common and are much easier to study. Ultimately, creating a site that appeals to them becomes an easy undertaking.
Not so with a broad market segment.
These have more divergent needs that make it almost impossible to please everyone. The solution: go minimal.
You have to be very keen on certain design aspects that might be perfectly fine to certain groups but extremely offensive to others. You, therefore, have to be certain that:
To do this, go for simple narratives, globally acceptable slips, and colour themes.
The human brain processes visuals several thousand times faster than it does text. This should emphasise the need to use graphics, photos, pictures, and infographics to attract and keep readers interested in your site.
Aside from visuals being processed faster, they can also communicate much more effectively, even with existing language barriers.
The way you handle your images is important, however.
Seek to use images that represent diverse identities, but not in a stereotypical manner.
An example is using gender-neutral icons to represent persons and depicting people with different skin tones to cover different races.
As socially and culturally aware as you or your design team might be, blind spots are not uncommon.
This makes testing important.
As much as possible, invest in testing your designs continuously with as many individuals as possible. Make your test groups as diverse as possible as well.
This can bring forth the possible biases, stereotypes, and ways in which your seemingly harmless designs can portray out there. Check out our insights on web design mistakes to avoid. This will give you a clear picture of who you risk alienating and which audiences you will be catering to perfectly.
You will be surprised at how small details can be hurtful to certain groups. Consider oversights like only using the masculine form on a general site, using Christmas as the only celebration, and overlooking others.
These can seem like minor design infractions but can seem dismissive to certain groups of people. By excluding them, you also risk losing out on their business.
Granted, it might not always be possible to have a wildly diverse team, more so for smaller design agencies. However, every little bit counts.
What you would be doing with this is to create a team that brings together broad views and people whose individuality allows them to see things from different angles.
This blending of ideas can help pinpoint kinks in your designs that might not particularly promote inclusivity. When working with clients with diverse employees, you can use these as design testers before concluding the final design.
Remember, it's far much better and indeed cheaper to catch such issues in the development phase. If this does not happen, you risk having a PR nightmare if your designs are considered stereotypical, divisive, or discriminatory to some sections of your audience.
Ultimately, organisations need to design for diversity as this helps them offer more inclusive experiences to a broad audience. Business being a game of numbers, inclusivity can mean higher sales and increased loyalty. Ultimately, these impact your bottom line.