As we have moved through a series of crises over the last few years, from pandemics to the cost of living, the suffering of others has become more and more visible and felt closer to us than it has before. Our shared experiences of hardships and people's willingness to talk about them have raised awareness of a range of issues that affect people's everyday lives, from mental health, disability and financial hardship.
With this awareness, there has also been a growth in the understanding around the need for care and the role we play in supporting each other, not just on a one-to-one level, but as something that happens across society that groups, communities and businesses play a role in.
Some good examples of digital innovations connecting people to care and support are of course the nationally adopted NHS app, the mental health app Headspace and the plethora of latest GP apps.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Businesses have a role to play in this rise of understanding by broadening access to digital services. In web design, this has often been thought about as ‘accessibility’, and for a long time has really been defined as a set of binary guidelines to ensure things like colour contrast and type size were considered for people with visual impairments. But now we can see the rise of the importance of considering accessibility in a broader sense, to ensure we, as businesses, are aware of and designing for both people’s emotional and physical needs.
The benefit to business is, of course, to widen access to your goods and services, but also to build positive affinity with customers through experiences that they enjoy using; by and to make them feel supported, so that they are happy to come back to again and again.
One way of thinking about moving beyond base-level accessibility is to consider the mental wellbeing and emotional needs of your customers.
Key aspects of this strategy include:
Broadening access by thinking about different ways to deliver your content, voice activated search, audio recordings of written content and vice versa; such as with Microsoft adaptive accessories.
Simplifying your User Interface with an emphasis on reducing stress and cognitive load, breaking difficult tasks and decisions into manageable pieces. Great examples of this include Meta Workplace and the language learning app, Duo Lingo.
Brand evaluation; consider using illustration to convey inclusivity and to set a friendly, helpful tone. Also consider the use of your colour palette for disability, not just sight.
WORK IN PRACTICE
At UNRVLD we designed the National Autistic Society’s website to enable users to choose their own colour scheme.
We have also invested in our own accessibility toolkit, which provides guidance and context for our designers and wider team. This gives some rules and best practice to follow, but also aims to remove individual bias and promote awareness of the context and situation of different types of users.
Any business doing their own design should consider how they might instill this thinking and think about design not just as an aspect of brand, or a way to deliver a conversion, but as something that can make people’s lives that bit easier.