Jun 13, 2022
8 min read

A beginner's guide to inclusive UX design

Illustration of a group of diverse people standing together (Photo by Aleks, Adobe Stock)
Illustration of a group of diverse people standing together (Photo by Aleks, Adobe Stock)

What it is, why it matters and lots of resources

An extensive and growing resource list is maintained in the version of this article on Medium.

With the Internet, and the emerging metaverse, anyone can produce content and products that instantly have global reach. With that power comes responsibility to ensure products are inclusive and respectful of their global audience‘s diverse social identities.

People approach products and technology believing that a team of experts have implemented checks and balances to ensure the product was designed with them in mind. People expect to have experiences that have taken into account their product-relevant social identities — their disability, race, gender, skin color, age, size, language.

UX, accessibility, inclusion, oh my!

UX design is research-based with the goal of creating optimal user experiences. Historically, UX pioneers and thought leaders have not emphasized designing for a diverse range of user identities. So, UX design is often taught with little-to-no mention of inclusive design practices.

Accessible UX design minimizes barriers so that content and features can be accessed and used regardless of one’s permanent, situational or temporary disabilities in the areas: hearing, motor, vision, speech, and cognition. Since disability is only one aspect of identity, accessibility is one aspect of inclusive design.

Inclusive UX design minimizes alienation of any product-relevant social identity: disability, race/ethnicity, gender, skin color, age, size, sexual orientation, language, etc. Inclusive design commits to due diligence to ensure designs respect the needs and expectations of the diverse range of users the product serves.

When talking exclusively about accessibility, call it accessible design, not inclusive design. A product can be accessible and still alienate other product-relevant identities making the product ableist, mysogynistic, racist, heteronormative, cisnormative, xenophobic, ageist, body shaming, skin-tone biased, etc. Inclusive design is intersectional.

Why inclusion matters

When a design doesn’t account for a diverse audience, overlooked groups will encounter an alienating experience. Here are just a few examples:

Gender stereotyping

Screenshots of sample software engineer and receptionist job descriptions on Monster.com

The imagery used in marketing and advertisements is often the start of the users’ experience with a company or product. Showing two males for a software engineer job and a woman for a receptionist job reinforces societal stereotypes of gender roles.

Racial insensitivity

Screenshot of Nivea ad for their “Invisible” deodorant

This ad for deodorant with a White woman sitting on a bed in a white robe and text reading, “White is purity. Keep it clean. Keep it bright. Don’t let anything ruin it” screams racial bigotry. Colorism and racial oppression are known problems, worldwide, so there’s truly no justification for this type of design negligence.

Accessibility barriers

Screenshot of Zara.com homepage with accessibility overlay icon

When accessibility is an afterthought, businesses often resort to using accessibility overlays as a fallback plan. That little accessibility button in the bottom-right corner, it’s an accessibility overlay — a third-party tool that is supposed to improve accessibility. While it’s a noble attempt, a quick Internet search for “accessibility overlays” reveals how they are “deceptive,” “problematic,” and “can make access worse.”

Corporate cultural appropriation

Walmart’s Celebration Edition ice cream: Pride and Juneteenth (Photo by Laine Doss)

Companies sometimes try to present themselves as being inclusive by designing products to celebrate diverse identities. Walmart’s Celebration Edition ice cream is a perfect example of this anti-pattern. They released a Juneteenth flavor to “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope” and a Pride flavor  as “A sweet celebration of pride and the freedom to enjoy together.” This is what happens when companies commercialize cultures and design for, and not with, the people whom they are trying to reach.

If you’re designing a product, ensure it’s at least tested… and considered in the context of someone as different from you as possible.

— Florence Okoye

Inclusive UX Design Resources

As UX professionals, our design choices can inspire, motivate, connect, empower, and support goal achievement. They can also alienate, offend, marginalize, misrepresent, and create barriers, which obviously is not a good user experience.

It’s long overdue for UX thought leaders to normalize inclusive design as foundational to UX work instead of the occasional mention of it as a niche topic.

Since most UX education, 1st wave industry leaders, and content creators tend to overlook inclusive design, I'm maintaining an extensive and growing list of resources for learning how to design inclusive experiences on Medium...

Thumbnail of "A beginner's guide to inclusive UX design" article on Medium.

Final Thoughts

How can we design great experiences if we rely on our assumptions about people or we only engage with people who look, think and navigate the world like us?

Recognizing that our actual audience may be broader than our target audience and our assumptions about them are likely wrong, is a great first step in inclusive UX design.

Let’s stay curious, think broadly and design responsibly.


Thanks for reading. If you know anyone who would find this useful, please share. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me.

Headshot photo of Trina
written by
Trina Moore Pervall

UX For The Win, UX Researcher & Designer.

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