Inclusive UX Design: The Best Way To Reach Universal UX?

Gender inclusive UX design

Being as we are evangelists of accessibility and inclusion, it was about time we had an article on inclusive UX design, also known as Universal UX.

Here at Dorve UX we believe in total inclusion, regardless of race, creed, age or gender.

In the field of User Experience, it is very common to relate inclusivity to accessibility, as if they were synonymous.

However, although it may be valid in some cases, this relationship is not correct. And it is not in most cases, which indicates that there is some confusion on the subject.

So, first of all, let’s see how we define accessibility and how we define inclusion.

Difference between inclusion and accesibility

Inclusive Design

Inclusive UX Design Wheelchair
This wheelchair is an example of inclusive UX design: it solves a disability problem, but it also uses a special design that allows the user to integrate himself and play sports.

We say that a design is inclusive when the conceptualization aims for the design to be positively perceived, in all the forms of the experience that the product or service has, by as many people as possible.

Since inclusive UX design appeals to diversity, it is often referred to as Universal UX

Accessible Design

Accessible design, or Accessibility, is a final product of a process and conceptualization by which people with disabilities can equally perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with products, services or experiences in general.

Accesible design: Examples of buttons failing accessibility testing
Accesible design: Examples of buttons failing visual accessibility testing

So what is the difference?

There are several ways to define the differences, depending on the theoretical framework that we use. But in simple terms, we can say that inclusive UX design is a concept or guideline, while accessibility is an end result that such conceptualization (or others) can use.

To understand it more easily, let’s take an example: I can design a website or mobile application that is accessible and complies with all WCAG regulations at AA or even AAA level. By definition, my site is inclusive.

Now … is it?

What if my website is perfect in terms of accessibility, but the content is discriminatory for certain social, religious, or gender sectors?

So my site is ACCESSIBLE. But it is by no means INCLUSIVE.

Accessible UX design: the impossible just takes a little longer

One of the great struggles of UX designers is the need to create accessible experiences.

First, for human and empathic reasons.

But also because it is legally mandatory in many countries. It is mandatory in the United States, it is mandatory in the EU, it is mandatory in many Latin American countries.

There have been many lawsuits for reasons of lack of accessibility in many countries of the world.

An example of great impact happened in the United States: the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain renewed its website and mobile platform, at a cost of 7 million dollars. However, the design agency in charge of the work did not consider accessibility for the visually impaired.

A regular user of the chain who suffers from blindness sued the chain because he now he was no longer able to buy his prescriptions as he used to. Simply because there was no way, the developers of the site “forgot” something as basic as accessibility.

As a result, Winn Dixie was forced to go back to the original accessible site until it could offer a solution that complied with all WCAG regulations. Furthermore: since both the web and mobile applications interacted with 3 other websites, those 3 sites ALSO had to be redesigned.

The court in charge of the case estimated that making the site accessible would not have cost more than $ 37,000. That is, less than 1% of the total project.

In addition to the costs of rolling back the entire project (which we don’t know about, but must have been very high given the scale of the project), Winn-Dixie suffered a severe blow to its brand image. Currently, the company is in serious financial trouble and has already closed 3 branches. We do not know if there is a direct relationship, but we are sure that the trial for lack of accessibility did not help at all.

The funny thing about all this is that many people with abilities that we could call “normal”, resist accessibility as if it were something that negatively affected them. This is nonsense, since a small investment would bring them immediate benefits (there are countless studies that show that accessible applications increase their traffic and visits, in addition to engagement and loyalty). Or, in the worst case, the company would avoid paying the cost of a lawsuit.

Making a website accessible is not for newbies or amateurs. But for professional UX design companies it is extremely simple. Basically, a UX development company designs from the ground up with accessibility in mind, it comes naturally to any experienced UX specialist.

Inclusive UX design (or Universal UX)

On the other hand, inclusive UX design tries to include as many people as possible. Both in terms of accessibility and in psychological, sociocultural, belief and gender terms.

When it comes to user experience disciplines, inclusive UX design is typically carried out by specialists in areas such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, and social and political science. For example, two psychologists (a doctor and a doctoral student) work permanently in our UX team. But in some cases we have the help of a PhD in Anthropology and a PhD in Political Science specialized in Gender Policies.

In other words: inclusiveness in user experience is much more complex than accessibility. As we already said, any UI designer or UX consultant with some experience can generate accessible experiences almost automatically.

But inclusive UX design has so many complexities, subtleties, and sub-texts, that relying on our own knowledge without data obtained by UX research professionals is practically the same as rolling dice and hoping for luck.

Let’s take a very common example that is usually given in as an example of cross-cultural UX: for Westerners, red represents danger. But in many Asian countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines (among others), red not only does not represent danger, but it is the color of luck!

Cross-cultural UX: China stock markets colors
Cross-cultural UX: in China, green means losses. Gains are in red. You can also see the graph bar, with ups in red and downs in light blue. Image: South China Morning Post

Gender Inclusive UI: the Argentina’s case

Inclusive Web Design
Inclusive UX design: a form by Argentina’s government using gender inclusion (in Spanish)

With regard to inclusivity, we already said that it is much more complex than accessibility. And in the same way, it is also much more resisted. Even by users in some cases.

This is a point of great importance, since no user is going to complain because the design of a website or mobile application is accessible. But in some cases, they WILL complain if it’s inclusive.

As an example, let’s see the case of the form in the previous photo. This photo shows an official form from the Ministry of Culture of Argentina for registration to the National Visual Arts Hall.

The form asks for different data, but the most striking are the sections referring to gender self-perception. The form begins by asking “Sex assigned at birth”, with the options of female or male.

Then it is the turn to “Sex”. In this case the options (only one is possible) are:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Intersex
  • Transsexual

Finally, we have a section that asks “Gender and / or sexual orientation”. From top to bottom we can read:

  • Woman
  • Male
  • Transvestite
  • Transsexual
  • Trans woman
  • Trans male
  • Queer
  • Non Binary
  • Heterosexual
  • Lesbian
  • Gay
  • Bisexual
  • Other (with a free text input)

An important detail of the user interface (UI): while in the previous two sections only one option could be selected, in this last part of the form, more than one option can be selected. In other words: we are in the presence of an inclusive UX design conceptualization that involves a conscious choice that affects the user interface.

This user interface is inclusive in terms of gender (or at least tries to be). However, it is not in terms of accessibility, which is really curious. In this case, we can say it’s a partially inclusive design, just not Universal UX.

However, what matters to us in this case is gender inclusiveness.

User Experience Research: measuring user’s reactions.

We were very curious about the reaction of users to such a decision from an official entity.

First of all, let’s put a bit of context: within Latin American countries, Argentina has always been characterized by being a little more at the forefront in relation to disruptive thinking. Self-perceived gender identities have been legal since 2012 (meaning that people can legally change their gender in official documents).

On the other hand, the current government encourages policies of greater freedom regarding personal decisions. Only days before this form came to light, the law that legalizes free and gratuitous abortion was enacted.

In this context, such a form may surprise, but not too much. Especially when we talk about the art scene.

But outside Argentina (and Uruguay), the Latin American reality is very different, and Catholic values ​​have a strong influence on people’s thinking.

In fact, this is also the case in Argentina, only on a smaller scale, or more limited to the interior of the country.

Based on this scenario, we decided to do cross-cultural UX research through a summative experiment in social networks.

What follows are the data extracted from this social experiment.

Perception about inclusive design in Latin America and Spain

Methodological description

  • We did a quick guerrilla research type using Facebook groups.
  • We shared the images on 4 different groups for Spanish speaking designers.
  • The groups have a total of 220,000 users (combined). Groups have repeated members.
  • We built a robot to scrape data from the pages to speed up the process.
  • Given that the responses were qualitative, we established a Likert scale assigning 1 point to the completely negative responses, 2 to the negative with exceptions, 3 to the indifferent, 4 to the positive with exceptions and 5 to the completely positive
  • Additionally, we include a measure of emotional assessment by analyzing the use of emoji reaction. In this case, 5 points were assigned to the heart, 4 points to the hug, 3 points to the thumb up, 2 points to the surprise and 1 point to the disgust and laughter emojis.
  • Once we had all the data from the posts, we extracted as much data as possible from public profiles. This data included: country, age, education and gender. We tried to extract information for those people who published religious values on their profiles, but it wasn’t reliable.
  • The study was not controlled and no baselines were drawn, so the data may not be accurate. The intention of this study was to carry out a rapid investigation of the “guerrilla testing” type, without any major claims of depth in the data obtained.
  • The post ran for 7 hours and was then deleted by us. One of the posts was previously deleted by a group administrator.
  • The rest of the investigation and data collection took 3 days
  • The total answers were 116
  • The total reactions were 401

Graph 1: Degree of acceptance vs Age

ux design for inclusion: Age analysis

The first chart was the one that surprised us the most. Although we do not start from a predetermined hypothesis, we assume that the youngest age groups would have the highest degree of acceptance of an inclusive design interface.

However, data analysis showed that the younger the age, the more resistance to inclusion, while the older age groups were the more open to this type of interface.

Important fact: what we mentioned in the previous paragraph may be influenced by the fact that this age group was the minority, with only 12 cases over 40 years old

Graph 2: Degree of Acceptance per Country

Graph displaying acceptance of inclusive user interfaces in Latin America and Spain

When it comes to countries, we think there may be some deviation in the data for Argentina, given that the form used for the analysis was from the Argentine government. However, it is not possible to say whether this deviation was positive or negative, as it is possible that some people responded negatively in opposition to the government.

With respect to the other countries, we estimate that they are more or less within what we expected, with only Argentina, Chile, Nigaragua and Uruguay exceeding 3 points (that is, the baseline for positive assessment). However, we must remember that this experiment was not controlled, so the figures could vary by doing other types of research.

Graph 3: Degree of Acceptance by Gender

Inclusive UX Design: The Best Way To Reach Universal UX? 1

In the case of the analysis of the use of inclusive UX design in user interfaces, it does not throw surprises and is within expectations.

In the case of people who recognize themselves as non-binary, acceptance was almost complete, with some comments about the accuracy of the options chosen for the interface, especially the distinction between gender and sexuality.

Graph 4: Degree of Acceptance by Education

Inclusive UX Design: The Best Way To Reach Universal UX? 2

In the case of the acceptance of gender inclusivity in user experiences, we had a superficial hypothesis that the lower the educational level we would encounter greater resistance. And in the same way, the higher the educational level, the less resistance to a change that many might consider disruptive.

The hypothesis that we were handling was verified as true. This is not surprising, since there is a causal relationship between studies and openness to new experiences.

Inclusivity in User Experience: Conclusion

We continue and will continue to insist on the need for inclusive experiences that adhere to the Universal UX model. We believe that UX design should be inclusive and accessible. And we can demonstrate this fact objectively (there will be an article about this demonstration soon).

However, we are in a transition stage where the values ​​of the new generations collide with the values ​​of the older generations, which are more deeply rooted. And of course, these generations dominate the media, which makes it difficult for more “open” values ​​to get the place they deserve.

Because of this, it is an objective fact that a significative group of the population is not ready for Universal UX. The differences generated by the inclusion of groups perceived as “different” (by race, beliefs, gender, age, abilities and so on) are still a major obstacle.

However, the history of humanity shows that the most conservative thoughts have always been gradually replaced by new ideas, which feed back these conservative values ​​to form new, more inclusive values.

From there, the use of tools such as Sensorial UX (or Sensory UX) inclusive UX design, total accessibility and Universal UX are key to redefining the aforementioned values. And at the same time, they are the way through which we will obtain more vital, rich and complex experiences.

Additional Resources on Inclusive Design

Universal UX Design: Building Multicultural User Experience (PDF), by Ferreira A.

Design-inclusive UX research: design as a part of doing user experience research by Vermeeren, A., Väänänen, K. and Roto, V.

Making the case for inclusive design by Waller S., Bradley, M., Hosking, I. and Clarkson P.

Argentina Gender Identity Law Diana Conti et al

Court Decisions Brief: Gil v. Winn-Dixie by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Formative vs. Summative Evaluations by Alita Joyce

We can improve your business!

Let us help you with the best solutions for your business.

It only takes one step, you're one click away from getting guaranteed results!

I want to improve my business NOW!