Bringing Inclusive Practices to Product Design

Inclusive design isn’t an industry fad — it impacts how product teams make vital feature decisions.

Ashley Walls
Aug 30, 2018 · 4 min read

When you want to try out a new recipe, how do you get started? Do you automatically head to your pantry? Do you watch a video online? Or do you sign up for a cooking class?

Everyone approaches learning differently, depending on the circumstances or task. If you’re an expert chef, you would probably start immediately. But if you’re pretty new to cooking, you may want a video tutorial or hands-on instruction.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to learn. The reality is, we all have learning preferences and we don’t wake up suddenly knowing how to do everything.

At Microsoft, we use our products day-in and day-out, which can create a blind spot for the friction that others, who aren’t as familiar with our products, may experience. We also know that some people like to dive right into something new, while others like to be walked through it. That recipe analogy may have seemed far-fetched, but we learn from real-world scenarios and apply those insights into interactions with devices. And so, we designed a new preview feature called Cortana Show Me with our inclusive design principles at the forefront. Check it out:

Cortana walks you through pairing a Bluetooth device.

Now let’s take a step back and look how we got here.

Our team went through an immersive inclusive design workshop, where we learned about the three principles of inclusive design. We met with real customers to discover how they learn, and brainstormed features we could build into the experience to make it more inclusive.

When we sat down with customers, they answered the same questions I proposed to you at the beginning of this article — where do you start with a new recipe? Some dove right in, others chose to watch a video, and some preferred going to a cooking class. By sitting with actual customers and hearing how they sought out new information, we gathered insights that fueled our product decisions. In particular, the folks that wanted that step-by-step guidance helped us figure out what design considerations we needed to make for our product to be inclusive and successful.

We set out to build an experience that first and foremost earns (and keeps!) your trust by honoring your intent and keeping you in control. We also wanted to make sure that this was a learning experience, and not a troubleshooting tool.

When we thought about how Cortana would speak to you in this experience, we focused on empathy and respect. We never belittle or condescend to customers, because we recognize that varying levels of computer confidence mean that one person may find a task extremely simple, while another may find it debilitatingly difficult.

We approached each guide with the understanding that this may be your first time interacting with a setting, while also making it palatable for someone who may have used the setting several times but wants to know more about it. On top of that, we:

  • Accommodate for different learning styles by adding in controls to pause and play the experience. You can also replay guides immediately, in case you didn’t catch something the first time.
  • Control the actual settings pane so you can interact with the feature on your actual machine, instead of watching a video and then applying it on your own.
  • Added in a progress bar to the bottom of the screen, so you can track how far along in the guide you are.

At the end of the day, inclusive design isn’t just a fad or an industry buzzword — it matters. This work enabled product teams at Microsoft to take action and it fundamentally changed the way we think. And, we’re using those insights to make better products for you.

Give Cortana Show Me a try and let us know what you think! It’s still in development, and we’re working to expand the customization of the experience for future iterations, so your feedback is critical.

For designers and developers looking for additional information on learning styles and corresponding design recommendations, download our booklet, Designing for Guidance.

This feature is possible because of the hard work of the Cortana team, the Inclusive Design team, our user researchers, engineers, and program managers.


To stay in-the-know with what’s new at Microsoft Design, check out our new website, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. And if you are interested in joining our team at Microsoft, head over to aka.ms/DesignCareers.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

Ashley Walls

Written by

UX writer @ Microsoft. Subaru-driving Seattleite with hiking stickers on my bumper. All views are my own.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

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