Everyone loves a good analogy, so here’s one. Creating accessible digital products is like baking chocolate chip cookies.

Say you’re baking a batch and forget to mix chocolate chips into the batter. You don’t realize you’ve done this until you’ve taken the cookies out of the oven. Sure, you can add the chocolate chips to the hot cookies while they’re still soft. But the hot cookies will melt the chocolate chips and make a mess. The chips won’t be well-distributed as when you mix them in from the start when the recipe calls for it.

If you forget an ingredient like salt or vanilla, it will be nearly impossible to add after baking. You could sprinkle salt on the baked cookies, but they won’t taste the same because salt will be the first thing people notice in their bites. And it could be too much salt for a single cookie.

And vanilla? You can’t begin to sprinkle a teaspoon of vanilla across 48 cookies. Vanilla is not meant to be consumed this way. It will taste bitter. It needs to be stirred into the batter. 

The Value of Accessibility as an Ingredient

Much like the chocolate chips, salt, and vanilla, accessibility efforts taste the best when they’re worked into your product from the start. When you plan for accessibility before a single line of code is written, you and your team are able to create a recipe that adds all the ingredients into the product at the right time. This can potentially save you valuable time and revision cycles during each phase of your project.

Moreover, a well-researched design can play an important role in your overall strategy. Inclusive digital experiences enable you to expand your audience reach as your product will contain far fewer barriers than one that isn’t designed with accessibility in mind.

So where do you begin?

Start with Empathy

Before you build, you must first understand. What do my users need? What do they want? Where do the barriers exist, and what can I do about them?

Accessibility offers benefits that go beyond compliance. Accessible digital products enable you to reach a broader set of your target audience. When you design for the margins, you design for everyone. Consider closed captions. Many people who are not deaf or hard of hearing use captions. In fact, an Ofcom report has found that 80% of people who use captions are not even deaf or hard of hearing.

Another important ingredient is to involve multiple people with disabilities in your product development process. That and obtain support from your leadership team to engage as many people as you can. One person cannot represent their entire disability. All disabilities are a spectrum.

Do the Research

You may think you know your users, but you’d be surprised what you learn when you engage them. Working on assumptions is like throwing darts at the dartboard without seeing the dartboard. It’s a risky move that will rarely pay off. Hence, doing the research will get you cold, hard data on what works and what doesn’t work. You have a few options for how you conduct your research.

A few research strategies you can use include:

  • Competitive analysis: Look at competitors and offerings
  • Research for discovery: Understand challenge from user’s point of view
  • Research for evaluation: Understand how well the solution meets needs
  • Surveys: Determine priorities for the solution

Your goal for this research is to challenge your assumptions. Seek to unearth new truths. Get excited about brand new learnings that will help you make informed decisions!

Assemble Your Toolkit

There are a ton of design tools out there. The actual tool doesn’t matter as much as how you use it. 

Whether you use Figma, Adobe XD, InVision, or another tool, start stocking your digital arsenal with accessible components and templates. These components will save you so much time in the long run. They can be shared with members of your team, which ensures consistency across projects. Include annotations, labels and descriptions for each component to aid in the pass-off to engineers. This speeds production, cuts meetings, prevents confusion, and describes the designer’s intent.

Create a Design System

Taking the toolkit a step further, continue to templatize and centralize by converting your brand style guide into a digital user interface (UI) format. You’re essentially creating one source of truth for anything related to your brand. This ranges from colors and fonts to approved and accessible code snippets.

Over time, your team members should be able to consult the design system for any component they need. And you’ll rest easy knowing that the snippets they are cutting and pasting meet your organization’s standards.

It takes time to create a recipe and perfect it. The design process that integrates accessibility will save you a lot of time as it’ll be like a recipe. Ready each time you create and iterate. Soon, accessibility and inclusion will be permanent ingredients in your product design recipe.

Want to learn more about inclusive product design?

To learn more about this topic from a seasoned expert, sign up for “An All-Inclusive Approach to Product Design” webinar on June 23, 2022. Save your spot here.