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How to Use Inclusive Design to Create Great SaaS Products

Web and mobile apps for rehabilitation provider
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A missing button, a strange workflow, a bad color palette, or unreadable text can lead to frustration and a negative customer experience. Now imagine how people with disabilities must feel trying to use such products (and many of you reading this can relate, even if temporarily.) The best attitude change an owner of any SaaS product can do is to accept the fact that their product will almost never be used exactly as intended. Instead, it will be used in a wide range of scenarios by very diverse people — and they need more than one way to perform any operation within your product.

Inclusive design is a methodology of designing and developing products that draw from diversity, which enables inclusion and learning from a wide range of perspectives. People are different and can have permanent or temporary disabilities or limitations. Imagine a mom holding a toddler or a man trying to order a cab in a loud bar, etc. — they should still be able to use your software.

More importantly, inclusive design widens our conception of problems worth solving. Dealing with edge cases instead of catering to the average majority has produced multiple inventions that changed the way we live and do business. Here are just some examples:

  • Remote controls were initially meant as an aid for people with limited mobility. Now we use them everyday, from opening our garage doors to switching TV channels or controlling the AC units.
  • Email visionary Vint Cerf, who has hearing impairment, promoted emails as a way to precisely express your thoughts. Email helped replace phone calls as the main means of sales — and changed our lives forever.
  • Bendy Straw was a way to help Joseph Friedmann’s short daughter to reach her milkshake.
  • Cruise control is an invention of a blind engineer, Ralph Teetor. His driver changed speed whenever Ralph was talking, so to help prevent a crash and ease the driver’s task, Ralph designed a device to keep the speed at a certain level, which was one of the first steps towards modern autonomous driving.

Accessibility limitations are a part of our daily lives, so using inclusive design to overcome them is the main task and a popular and lucrative trend. Thus, inclusive design is not for edge cases only — it is a way to ensure any user can have positive experiences with your SaaS product. More importantly, by designing from the margins the business can more easily innovate and find new ways to serve their customers.

“Actually, inclusive design helps cater to the needs of 4x more than your intended audience.”

Every software product is used by people with permanent or temporary disabilities. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

Just try to wrap your head around such a fact: there are nearly 20 million people with permanent disabilities in the US, and this quantity can be doubled when we also count people with various temporary disabilities. These people possess almost $500 billion in disposable annual income. When we look at the situation worldwide, these numbers grow to nearly 1 billion people with $8 trillion disposable annual income. This economic power surpasses the combined GDP of several EU countries.

This is why your SaaS products should cater to the needs of people with disabilities or accessibility limitations to provide better customer experience for all your users! Read on to discover how to implement 12 principles of inclusive design to improve your product and ensure a superb user experience.

12 inclusive design principles and how to use them

The most important part of inclusive design is that it does not offer recommendations carved in stone. Instead, it sets a framework for asking questions and looking for answers that will ensure a vast improvement of your product accessibility. The particular steps can vary depending on your company’s market segment and operational maturity, but the general mindset remains the same. By designing while keeping people with special needs and disabilities in mind, your team creates better designs for everyone.

1. Start with points of exclusion

Instead of thinking about how an ideal customer will use your product, think from the start how to ensure a permanently or temporarily disabled person can use it. This way, your SaaS products will be inclusive by design and not have inclusivity as an afterthought. Answer such questions:

  • Can a blind person use this product and the entirety of its features?
  • Can a deaf person do it?
  • Can a person who gets migraines and hurt eyes from bright flashes and color palette changes use the software without repercussions?
  • Can a product be used efficiently with one hand only? With the right and left hand? etc.

The best way to achieve this is to consult with people with disabilities, who act as UX/disability designers. If they can get paid for trying out your product and providing invaluable feedback on the sources of frustration, this will be socially rewarding for them. However, it is important to work with passionate people who want to help, not simply disabled people with no incentive to improve your product.

This partnership will be instrumental in improving the future customer experience for your audience while you will be able to cater to the needs of 4x more customers.

2. Be proactive, not reactive

Think of at least three ways your customers can perform some action within your app. Include voiceover for all workflows to assist with impaired vision, enable captions to overcome impaired hearing, design button locations to allow using the app with one hand.

By predicting various situations and proactively designing for them, you show empathy. As a business owner, empathy is one of your biggest competitive advantages. Show the customers you care about them, so they will care about your brand.

3. Be aware of situational challenges

Disabilities can be permanent, temporary, or situational. A person might have impaired hearing from birth, can be temporarily deaf after ear surgery, or just be located in a loud place like an airport, a nightclub, a sports bar, you name it. However, this should not stop them from being able to efficiently use your software and achieve the expected result.

The above-mentioned captions or subtitles for videos, as well as textual commentaries for actions, can help overcome situational impairments. Actually, the research found that 80% of people that actively use subtitles in the UK are not deaf. It just helps them to understand the videos better, concentrate on the meaning or just study English by reading video subtitles. This is an example of how an inclusive feature helped cater to the needs of a vast audience.

4. Exclude personal biases and stereotypes

Even if you think you know what the customer’s pain points are, you will never be able to predict all the situations where they will need to use your product.

Thus, do field research and include feedback from people with permanent or temporary disabilities to avoid building your product on assumptions. Working with UX/disability designers is essential here, too.

5. Provide multiple ways to do anything

If a user has to use a mouse to do something within your web or desktop product, try to enable keyboard navigation. Can your product users perform checkout through voice assistants? Think of several alternative options to enable the users to engage with every feature. The more variants your users will have, the more diverse and positive their experience will be. Think of it as upgrading your hardware in order to let your customers do more, just like in the HP ZBook vs. EliteBook battle. HP has given their customers many options to choose from when buying a laptop so anyone could opt for a workstation that meets their requirements, while not pressing hard on their pockets. Hence, give as many options as possible. Your customers know best what fits them.

6. Test the product with different users

A huge portion of the population is now elderly (at least 700 million people worldwide, and this number will grow to 1.5 billion by 2050, based on WHO reports.) Thus, designing your SaaS products to make them easy to use for senior people and not only tech-savvy youth is a wise choice that can dramatically increase your customer base. However, based on OECD research, no more than 10% of people are tech-savvy, and more than 50% find doing various computer or smartphone-based tasks challenging.

Thus, test the software with different users — your parents and elderly friends and acquaintances. You should have enough patience to explain how things work and they will have enough incentive to try everything out and try to achieve some meaningful goal. Just don’t give explicit hints. Instead, ask questions like: “ What screen are you currently on? What do you think should happen next? What should you do to make it happen?” Their doubts and thought process will be quite demonstrable and will help adjust your software product to the needs of an aging customer base.

For example, Psytech, one of the global leaders in psychometric assessments for workforce and applicants, has recently finished a complete redesign of their products and website to provide a more inclusive experience for their customers. Larger fonts, multimedia materials, user-friendly product UI and various other improvements were met with approval by customers and end-users. This allowed them to grow their customer base by 25% in 6 months.

7. Ensure comparable experiences

When designing for accessibility, make sure all the paths you provide to every goal provide equally positive experiences. Otherwise, they will feel like an afterthought. Meeting compatibility requirements does not necessarily mean providing positive and rewarding customer experiences.

To do that, try using your screen reader (Narrator for Windows, TalkBack for Android, VoiceOver for iOS.) It can be usually activated in the Accessibility section of the device settings — and we recommend exploring this section in detail. Once the screen reader is active, try using some of your product features while being blindfolded. This helps evaluate the comparability of user experiences quite well.

8. Solve real-life problems and extend to everyone

Once again, able-bodied people will also benefit from the ability to keep their hands free while doing something in your software. There are many situations when voice control or handsfree mode will be useful for people with perfect eyesight. At the same time, a soothing color palette is equally important for people with various nervous conditions and any other users.

Here is a list of tools that will help you quickly check if your inclusive design features are aligned with industry standards.

Ensure your SaaS product does what it should and meets accessibility requirements.

9. Allow the users to personalize their experiences

There are multiple ways people want to organize the content they consume and the software they use. Provide as much control as you can for them to personalize the product UI and ensure these settings and preferences are securely stored. There is no need to say how frustrating it is to reorganize the SaaS products you use daily after some updates — you have definitely been in this situation.

10. Offer clear choices

Make it clear from the start of using your software that there are multiple ways to achieve any goal with it. Let your users choose the most appropriate way for them, so they create their unique customer journeys. This shows empathy and builds strong loyalty bonds. To do that, organize layouts in grids or table lists, offer an option to bulk select and delete some items, instead of swiping them one by one, etc.

11. Be consistent across platforms

No matter if your users install the desktop version of your software, browse the web for it or use the product on their smartphones or tablets. The design and feature layout should be as consistent as possible, to reinforce confidence and ensure a positive user experience. Keep the page architecture the same wherever possible to make using your SaaS products intuitive on all devices.

12. Provide more value by using device functionality

Geolocation, orientation sensors, camera, vibration, voice control, integration with wearable devices, and secondary screens — there should be multiple ways to deliver value to your customers using their device functionality. Controlling multimedia with voice or wrist movements, automatic connecting to any smart TV after tapping a single button, joining a network by scanning a QR-code instead of manually entering the login and password — all of these are examples of adding value to your product by effectively using device functions.

Creating better user experience drives customer satisfaction

Applying the principles of inclusive design will allow to create better SaaS products and provide important competitive advantages for your business:

  • Better UX. This means better product and more satisfied customers, who strengthen your brand positions and attract new customers.
  • Accessibility compliance. Complying with WCAG accessibility requirements is essential for meeting and exceeding expectations of your customer base. It is also crucial for product promotion and brand positioning, as it is a hot trend lately and will remain hot for the years to come.
  • Future-proof. As a major part of the Earth population is aging, you have to be ready that they will form a larger chunk of your audience from now on.
  • Bigger revenue. More customers means better monetization and bigger revenue.

Inclusive design has been a hot trend in software development for the last 10 years or so, as people are quite conservative. Thus, the business that will be the first to provide the best customer journey for them will receive loyal users for years. Adapting your products to the needs of all users, whether they are kids, elderly, disabled or any other users is often overlooked due to a variety of reasons — time and budget limitations, development capabilities, etc. Nevertheless, making your products inclusive from the start will save you from having to adapt them post-factum, removing extra costs on redesign.

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