Inclusive design

Building accessible chatbots is a great first step for any organisation. However, there is more you can do to open up your business to a wider audience, and in turn, welcome more customer types into your product experience using inclusive design thinking.

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design is the creation of products and services that are accessible, and usable by as many people as reasonably possible, without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.

It is a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.

We often design with the needs of the many in mind and forget to include the needs of the few. While this may at first make sense from a business perspective, by reframing our thinking, we can see the benefit of taking an inclusive design approach.

'Solve for one, and extend to many'.

Empathising with your customers

Inclusive design is about understanding your customers; not just their age, where they are located in the world, or the last product they considered purchasing... It's about understanding the diversity that exists within them, how they experience their world, and their frame of reference.

By better understanding the constraints they might experience, we can in turn leverage those constraints to make more informed choices as to how content is presented, and what features and interaction patterns we provide within a digital product experience.

To put this into context, the electric toothbrush, now common in every home and bathroom around the world, was originally developed for people with limited motor skills. This is a great example of the power of inclusive design, and how solving an inclusive need has benefits to a wider audience.

Let's look at a digital example

Typing on a device is often a task that most people complete with 2 hands. However, thinking inclusivly, this might not always be the case.

Imagine we have:

Someone born with one arm - Who uses their device in a very different way

A new parent carrying a child - Attempting to operate a device with one hand

A customer with an - Who is limited to using a less dominant hand

Whether they are a person with disabilities, experiencing a situational need such as parenting a child, or a circumstantial need such as an injury, considering the needs of customers that don't fit the expected paradigm of 'two working hands' lets us think about what features (such as speech to text) would best support these types of customer, in turn, allowing us to include a wider variety of people within our product experience.

Developing design solutions with this approach in mind means more people will benefit from the decisions we make - Solve for one, and extend to many.

It's not about focussing on individual circumstances

You may feel the need to think about edge cases and scenarios that may affect 0.1% of your customers. While this is good practice, instead, it's best to think about it from a kinetics perspective and consider how your customers interact with society and the world around them.

It's worth considering:

• Sight - do they perceive the world using sight? If not, how might they interact?

• Touch - do they explore and interact using touch?

• Hearing - do or can they use sound to communicate?

• Speech - when they communicate, are they verbal or nonverbal?

Making inclusive choices in conversation design

These considerations will help you make more inclusive design decisions, to better consider the types of content, questions and requests you make from your customers when designing conversations.

Inclusive design is a journey, not a sprint - therefore it may take time to adopt this process in your organisation.

Recognise the need for inclusive design

Undertaking inclusive design practices is a shared responsibility. While much of the duties will lie with conversation designers, you must commit to it as a business. Take time to educate the team on what this could mean for them, and what the process might look like.

There are plenty of great resources to further your knowledge of inclusive design and start building conversations suitable for customers of all frames of reference. Remember, what's good for the customer, is good for your business.

Learn more about your customer's experience

To support your customers, you need to better understand how they experience the world around them. Depending on the industry you work within, their needs could be quite different. For example, within health industries, customers are likely to be differently abled and have situational or circumstantial needs that alter their experience.

Take time to understand how this might impact their interaction with a digital product, and use these findings in your conversation design.

Define conversation design principles

As you commit to inclusive design and learn more about your audience's needs, it's important to have guidance you can refer to as your conversation grows, and develops over time. Conversation design principles are a great way of defining value statements that describe the most important goals, that you can refer back to throughout the product life cycle, and support with your design decisions.

These might look like:

We are always cooperative - everyone participating must do their part

We are context-aware - avoid over-automation or making assumptions

Think quality over quantity when creating your principles, and make them unique to your business.

Allow customers to interact in different ways

The Open Dialog platform already allows customers to interact in multiple ways, such as:

• Text input

• Speech-to-text

• NLU interpretation

Within our message types, there are also alternative input formats such as button messages and forms which can reduce the cognitive load on customers, better supporting them to complete the task at hand. Think about what is best for your customers.

For example, if you offer several options within a response, consider adding another option for 'I'm not sure' or 'I need a bit more help' in case they do not understand.

Use inclusive language and phrasing

There are some common miss conceptions related to how we describe or talk about disability that are worth noting, in particular how best to refer to a disability or specific disability. For many groups, there is also an aspect of tribe mentality that defines how best to describe a group.

For example, customers who would consider themselves Deaf or hearing impaired refer to themselves as 'part of the Deaf community' with a capital D to emphasise their deaf identity.

There are also specific words and language that should be avoided to not label or incorrectly refer to someone within a specific group.

This inclusive language resource is incredibly helpful.

Provide context if the subject matter could be confusing

Conversations are complicated. If we take the example of insurance industries, there are lots of instances where the language or phrases used may not be clear to some customers. For example, 'Excess'. People with varying levels of cognition may struggle to understand what this means to them.

Provide methods and means for them to better understand things using simpler terminology or phrasing.

Welcome feedback, iterate and improve

With all digital products and services, it's important to take time to iterate and improve. What works today may not work tomorrow as customers' expectations of digital products and conversational technology develop.

Ask customers for feedback and collate the findings into improvements. When you make new decisions or alterations, reconsider your conversation principles and ask whether the changes you are considering still align with the original principles you defined.

Further considerations

For design inclusivity to be a success - it has to become part of your company's DNA. It can be difficult to get teams on board, however, we need to recognise that the world is rapidly transforming.

Design should too.


Microsoft - inclusive design resources

Nielsen Norman - product design principles

Marvel - conversation design principles

.gov - inclusive language

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