Let’s build inclusive products

Umesh Pandya says it’s time to set an example and stop making products and services that exclude certain users

The world of ubiquitous computing is close, and it will bring huge opportunities for designers, engineers, city planners and social scientists to work together and shape a world we all want to live in. As we continue to weave computers more deeply into the fabric of our lives, more than ever we need to create digital products and services that are inclusive — not exclusive.

Over the years, I’ve worked for clients on mobile products where accessibility was seen as a bolton feature. I often found myself thinking that if accessibility had been integral from the start, costs would have been smaller and the number of potential customers much greater.

I also know that companies don’t choose to ignore accessibility. I believe that we — as makers of digital products — need to take responsibility for educating our clients on the relatively low implementation effort and the high value to be gained from making products accessible.

It is easier to talk to clients about the importance of an inclusive approach when you are working on projects that put people at the heart of the design process. One outcome of thinking inclusively could be that the digital product utilises the assistive technology that is already built in by the smartphone vendor. I have seen first-hand how this approach has contributed to the commercial success and ‘brand warmth’ of mobile products we’ve developed — from banking through to retail sector clients.

The purple pound

The spending power of disabled people and their families — otherwise known as the ‘purple pound’ — is estimated at £212bn. The case for inclusive design becomes even more compelling when you combine this figure with the fact that three-quarters of disabled customers have ceased using a product or service because it was inaccessible or failed to understand their needs. We must all strive to ensure our digital products and services are accessible to disabled people too.

When developing Wayfindr, we took an inclusive approach from the start. A joint venture between ustwo and the Royal London Society for Blind People, Wayfindr’s mission is to empower vision impaired people to independently navigate around the world. Whilst we started with blind people as an extreme user, the standard we have created is one that everyone can benefit from, meaning many people can reap the rewards from one product that is inclusive, not exclusive.

Umesh has been working as a designer for over 15 years. He is the co-founder and CEO of non-profit startup Wayfindr and a senior member of staff at ustwo London

This article originally appeared in issue 277 (march 2016) of net magazine.