Insights

5 Principles for Facilitating Greater Accessibility Within Product and Service Design

By John Stanyon, Senior service Designer

08/02/2024

As designers we must ensure that the products and services, we put out into the world are usable and inclusive for all individuals, regardless of their abilities. 

Here are 5 principles to help you design, develop, build, and maintain accessible products and services.

1. Apply a User-Centred Design (UCD) Approach and Perform Inclusive Research

By adopting a user-centred design approach, we ensure that a wide range of user needs are captured and reflected within our design process.

We must ensure that user research includes participants with various abilities and backgrounds to gain insights into their specific needs, preferences, and challenges. Without this valuable insight, we may design solutions that are not accessible by all users.

2. Use Clear Communication and Simple Language

It is vital that users can easily, (and with no prior knowledge or training), use our products and services effectively and efficiently. 

Using clear and concise language helps users easily understand how to navigate and use our products and services. We must avoid jargon, abbreviations and specific industry terminologies as our users may not be familiar with these phrases and terms. The use of such language can lead to confusion and service abandonment. This is especially important for those with diverse cognitive abilities and varying language proficiency.

Where possible, we should strive to provide information and documentation in multiple formats, such as text, audio, and video to accommodate different learning styles and disabilities. Modern technologies have facilitated the fast, easy, and cost-effective production of multi-format and multi-language content creation, making this a viable option for more projects.  

Products and services should adhere to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards to ensure that websites and applications are accessible to people with disabilities.

Search engines (such as Google) will often favour content that is WCAG compliant, aiding searchability once a service has gone live. One of the key Good Services** principles is that a service should be ‘easy to find’ — so, improving searchability is a great step in the right direction. 

Offering accessible customer support channels, such as text-based chat, asynchronous messaging, or support through video relay services, accommodates diverse communication needs. 

Digital channels offer a vast array of benefits to both users and service providers; however, it is important that we ensure that users can easily reach out for human assistance should they require it. 

3. Facilitate Adaptive and Inclusive Technologies and Physical Spaces 

Choosing technology and tools that are compatible with assistive devices, and software interfaces that are navigable using keyboard shortcuts and other assistive technologies is a key step in ensuring products and services are accessible to users with additional needs. 

In these instances, the flow of a page or screen should be carefully considered as this will have a dramatic effect on the useability of the content for users that are using keyboard inputs to navigate between input boxes or on-screen UI interfaces. 

A comprehensive Design System considering; default, focus/ selected, hover and pressed states for user interaction elements is essential for all users, but especially for those using assistive keyboards as this will help them navigate digital products more successfully. 

Easily switchable user interfaces such as; language selection, subtitle toggling, type size options, voiceover activation, contrast preferences and light/dark modes should also be considered as part of our best-practice approach to accessible design.

Ensure that physical spaces are designed with accessibility in mind, (including; ramps, elevators, accommodation, and other adaptations), as not to exclude users with mobility challenges.

If a physical space is not accessible, (due to an un-adaptable building), then it should be clearly sign-posted within the appointment booking or pre-attendance phase to avoid wasted journeys and undue distress to users with mobility needs.  

4. Provide Training and Build Awareness of Accessibility Within your Organisation

We want to build a culture within our organisations that sees serving users with accessibility needs as business as usual, and not an exception. Providing training to staff members on accessibility awareness (including how to assist individuals with additional needs), helps to promote and normalise accessibility within our products and services. 

Accessibility is increasingly being written into law, so staying informed and complying with accessibility standards and laws applicable to your industry and region, is essential to ensure user’s legal needs are being met and to avoid fines. 

5. Establish Feedback Loops and Seek out Collaboration with Advocacy Groups 

When we establish mechanisms for users to provide feedback on accessibility issues, we gain valuable insight into real-world, user experiences of our products and services. We can review this insight and use it to inform future design choices and programs of work, to ensure user needs are being met. 

Collaborating with advocacy groups and organisations can help product and service providers gain valuable insights, feedback, and guidance on improving accessibility for their users. Services such as the UK government’s Find a Community Support Group or Organisation can help you connect with advocacy groups pertinent to your product or service. 

The world is constantly evolving, so employing continuous improvement processes such as regularly assessing and improving the accessibility of your products and services based on user feedback, changes in technology and the latest best-practices helps ensure your products and services are fit for purpose and continuing to meet our user’s needs. 

In Summary

When creating a new service, or reviewing an existing one, we should consider the above points to ensure that we are creating experiences that will benefit all our users. 

By incorporating accessibility principles into the design and delivery of our products and services, our organisations can create more inclusive and equitable experiences for all users, fostering a positive impact on the overall customer experience and perception of our organisations. 

Want to know more about what digital evolution means for your organisation?