The business case for inclusive design

We all know that we should design products and services that let all users access them. But this doesn’t always happen. Why?

People putting their hands together as part of a team

About 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability according to the World Health Organisation. In the UK, it’s thought that some seven million people of working age have a disability. That’s an estimated £212 billion in potential spending you’re missing out on if you don’t design inclusively.

Inclusive design is the design of mainstream products and services that are accessible to as many people as possible (without the need for special adaptation). Universal design, design for all and accessibility design are terms used in the same vein as inclusive design, they have slightly different focuses, but they all work towards a common goal — creating equal opportunities for all.

Accessibility is the most well-known, probably because of the web accessibility guidelines. They make sure we use accessible colour palettes and let users change font sizes on websites. Although this is hugely important, inclusive design goes beyond accessibility. It’s a mindset we need to adopt to make sure services and products (both online and offline) are open to everyone.

Inclusive design is still seen as an add-on, a nice to have, something we’ll get around to at a later date. It’s often hard to persuade clients that we need to consider how their new service will be used with screen readers, or how a product can be used by someone with a hearing impairment. It generally comes down to budget, surprise surprise. There’s a general lack of understanding about how to design for inclusivity and the benefits it brings.

This article outlines the business case for embedding inclusive design into all products and services and round it off with some practical tips.

Inclusive design increases user acquisition and retention

Argument: “They’re not the user group we’re trying to reach anyway.”

Response: “Ok, so you don’t want our vast aging population to be able to use this? 34% of the UK adult population have an impairment… that’s quite a lot of people.”

Longer life expectancies and an aging population mean there will be more users with impairments in the future. If you don’t design your product or service inclusively, you’re losing out to a very large and ever-increasing market segment.

Inclusively designed services and products are better for everyone. By designing products and services to be used by people who might be excluded (like disabled, or racial and sexual minorities) we create better solutions for all. Everyone experiences temporary impairments at some point in their life. That could be holding on to a handrail on the tube and trying to use your phone one-handed, or trying to decipher wayfinding signs when you’re distressed.

In fact, if you’re reading this on a phone or laptop, you have lots of accessibility tools at your fingertips. The pinch zoom functionality on phones was first created for users with vision impairments — and now it’s something many of us use daily. This is how inclusively designed products benefit all users.

Inclusive design is nothing new. The approach has been developing for years and has helped to guide services and products, especially within governments. (The public sector has had to make sure their services can be used by everyone. The private sector doesn’t have to the same, but they should.)

Three-quarters of disabled people and their families have left a shop or business because of poor customer service or a lack of disability awareness, according to the Extra Costs Commission. But some businesses are pioneering inclusive design. In the financial sector, Barclays are working towards becoming the most accessible and inclusive FTSE organisation. And Oxo Good Grips was one of the first mainstream brands to begin designing utensils with an inclusive design approach in 1990. (They’re still one of the few companies designing inclusive utensils, along with Joseph Joseph)

There’s an upfront cost but you’ll make a return on your investment

Argument: “We don’t have the budget for that.”

Response: “If you don’t design this inclusively, you’ll be missing out on a large amount of spending power from a large percentage of the population.”

Often organisations believe designing inclusively will cost more. In reality, the true costs of bad design (like warranty returns from unsatisfied customers) costs far more: they have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the brand.

Some organisations only begin to design inclusively near the end of the product’s development. This can be very expensive. The cost of change increases exponentially throughout the design and development lifecycle. In 1994, Mynott found changes after release cost 10,000 times more than changes made during conceptual design. For example, creating accessible code for screen readers, to begin with, will save you hassle and money later on.

If you don’t design inclusively from the start it’ll come back to bite you. If you do design inclusively from the start, you have the potential to tap into the “purple pound”. It’s better for your return on investment and it's better for the brand.

Five tips to help you design inclusively:

1. Embed an inclusive mindset within your team

Educate and engage your team and senior stakeholders in the reasons for designing inclusively from the start. The key thing here is to build empathy. Here are some helpful resources:

2. Make sure you understand all of your potential users and their context

A way to make sure you’re not designing something for yourself is to create personas or user profiles — fictional characters based on user segmentation. Here are a set of user profiles highlighting common barriers users face when accessing digital services, with tips for designing services everyone can use. You should create your own for your product or service and make sure these represent the true demographic and range of impairments your users have.

3. Design with your users, not just for them

When you’ve started to create propositions and concepts, you should further co-create these ideas with your user groups ensuring to include users with varying impairments. There are also many designers, makers, and technologists with impairments that you should strive to include as part of your team as they can bring depth and understanding to projects.

4. Evaluate your ideas with users

There are lots of tools to help you assess how accessible or inclusive your product or service is. These are useful to a certain extent, but, it is important to also observe users that have varying levels of impairments in the context that they might be using the product or service. This will help you to further understand how this product or service may impact their lives and how you could improve it.

5. Continuously iterate and update

To create any good service or product, the key is continuous iteration and improvement. This is particularly important when you’re designing an inclusive service. Technology changes, integrations change, contexts change and your product or service needs to continually meet users needs.

Interested in exploring this further? Come along to a workshop we’re running at SDFF on the 19th October at 10am. Sign up for the workshop here.


I’d really like to thank Amanda Sampson and Meg Roberts at Idean for providing some great additions and eyes on this.

I’d love to hear if this post has been helpful to people? Please let me know if you have found any other tips for designing inclusively. I’m @charleypoth on twitter.