22 November 2022 Martin Cheetham

Inclusive design describes methodologies to create products that understand and enable people of all backgrounds and abilities. Inclusive design may address accessibility, age, culture, economic situation, education, gender, geographic location, language, and race.

I’d like to specifically talk about accessibility for people that have colour vision deficiency (CVD – otherwise known as colour blindness) as this is something I can relate to.

When it comes to designing user experiences, colour is often utilised to indicate how a user should ideally interact with an interface. For example, red meaning closed or not functioning, while green indicates open or ‘good to go’. But the fact that the user may not actually be able to discriminate between these colours, is often forgotten. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with public restrooms and not knowing whether a stall is occupied or not (cue many awkward knocks and answers over the years).

“When we design for disability first, we often stumble across solutions that are not only inclusive but also are often better than when we design for the norm.” – Elise Roy, TEDTalk

I recently had the experience of complete confusion upon entering a parking garage where the guard told me I would know where I could park. There were lights above each parking bay with a green light indicating an open bay and a red light indicating that it was occupied… but they all looked identical to me. Had they looked at inclusive design, I think they would’ve been able to find a much simpler solution. Why not simply have all the lights off, with only a light on above an empty bay? This would not only make it much easier for anyone to see an open spot but also save on power in the process.

Red (or blue) Dead Redemption

More and more applications are adding colourblind modes into their design (some more successfully than others). This is particularly evident in gaming. We all know how Wordle recently took the world by storm (I’m still hooked). Some versions of it provide a colourblind mode where the colours differ greatly, which is really helpful. Other versions don’t and are literally unplayable for someone like me. In a game like that, it is such a simple addition that can have a huge effect.

Red Dead Redemption is a great example of inclusive design done well. Usually, the route on the map is red, which is really difficult to see, but on selecting their colourblind mode, it changes to blue which is immediately identifiable. They even go so far as to change menu colours, and even the branding on the home screen.

Colourblind people account for more than 350 million people worldwide, which is not a small statistic by any means. 1 in 12 men is colourblind, meaning 8% of your male users may be struggling with your app or website even as you’re reading this.

Sometimes it’s a nice-to-have. But sometimes it means the difference between being able to use the application or not.