SFDW Recap: Universal Inclusive and Accessible Product Design

Nancy Samahito ·

The primary function of design is to make something useful. Unfortunately, many digital products out on the market have been developed without universal accessibility in mind. As designers, we have the unique opportunity — and responsibility — to help shape the next generation of inclusive and accessible technology. 

For the second consecutive year, Carbon Five teamed up with San Francisco Design Week (SFDW) to host a panel discussion, this year on Universal Inclusive and Accessible Product Design. Panelists at the event included:

The speakers revealed how design can help improve product engagement with users that have different learning styles and access needs, and explored how designers can be more mindful of both biases and opportunities to better provide universal accessibility for all. 

Q&A highlights from the discussion: 

What’s your working definition of universal inclusion and accessibility? Is there anything you think is often overlooked? 

“It’s all about taking the opportunity to help people thrive with any product or experience they encounter.” – Rachel Young, IDEO

“Allowing people to perceive, interact, and understand your product without barriers.” – Shabi Kashani, Google

“Inclusive design not only means inclusive for your audience, but also your team. It’s figuring out how you can bring different parts of your organization together to work towards effectively helping the greater community.” – Annu Yadav, Avametric

How do you balance speed with quality as it relates to accessibility? For example, trying to be first to market, what do you sacrifice?

“It can be time-intensive, but you need to start from the very beginning with accessible design. It’s more work to start with, but it will pay off in the end. Reverse engineering to make things accessible is grueling and extremely difficult.” – Treyce Meredith, Carbon Five

“Strategizing with engineers is key. Accessibility is inherently engineering. Work with the team to triage and prioritize appropriately.” – Shabi Kashani, Google

How do you think about socio-economic status when designing for accessibility?

Designers need to be aware that those with low socio-economic status run into challenges that others might not realize. For example, having limited access to modern devices and limited mobile data plans. Individuals are often worried about going over data limits, and sometimes don’t have a consistent phone number, so features like two-factor authentication are not a great option. 

Today, most job opportunities require candidates to apply online. Without access to the Internet, these individuals are often put at a disadvantage. So it’s not always only about design, it’s about working in an ecosystem and as a greater team to make things more accessible. – Rachel Young, IDEO

What are some easy to apply principles that all designers should apply in their design?

  • Use appropriate color contrast
  • Be aware of terminology being used with UI
  • Find out how efficient your user can be
  • Think of edge cases as extremes and find inspiration in their challenges
  • Never take things for granted. Something you can do, your user cannot. Be aware that different people have different challenges
  • Don’t make assumptions about people with disabilities, take time to learn and converse

Where will the future of design go as it relates to inclusion and accessibility?

“There currently isn’t much legislation around accessibility. In the future, the definition of disability will likely be rewritten and, like architects, our work will include accessibility by law.” – Treyce Meredith, Carbon five

“Accessibility will no longer be an afterthought. Accessible and inclusive design often lacks beauty and dignity, every person in the world deserves that.” – Annu Yadav, Avametric

Are there any resources you would recommend to get more informed on inclusion and accessibility?

  • Understood.org – Non-profit providing support to parents of kids with reading, writing, math, organization, attention issues and more.
  • Reddit and Facebook have communities for every type of person. These are great places to do research and engage the community.
  • Decolonising Design – Supporting the work of designers, scholars, and activists who share an interest in politics of this platform. 

About San Francisco Design Week

SFDW is a week-long city-wide festival that showcases the unique intersection of ideas, design, business and entrepreneurialism that makes the Bay Area the birthplace of the future. Through studio tours and events, SFDW provides unique access to exhibitions and conversations with the designers who are shaping the future. 

All proceeds collected at the event at Carbon Five were donated to AIGA San Francisco in support of SF Design Week. 

Interested in attending our next event? Visit www.carbonfive.com/events to view our calendar and save your seat. 

Now hiring designers, developers, and product managers. Apply now: www.carbonfive.com/careers