Building great experiences means being able to engage individual guests, customers, or users in a way that they can manage according to their individual needs and capabilities. It’s developing products from a viewpoint of not only accessibility but inclusivity.
With all apologies to the composers of the song “Be Our Guest,” when it comes to building the best experiences, there is one principle that designers should aspire to. Be your guest.
And, that means all of them.
This requires the willingness to thoroughly understand the needs of users and designing products with the varying nature of individual constraints in mind. In a McKinsey & Company article, “Accessible Design Means Better Design,” the authors write that:
Many companies aren’t fully aware of the benefits of weaving accessible design principles into their digital strategy. Designing for users with varying levels of impairment and exclusion ensures that all user interactions are perceivable, understandable, operable, and robust.
From this perspective, the idea of exclusion can be situational or permanent. Even without a permanent disability, people can respond very differently depending on the situation or environment. Someone might have their arms occupied trying to carry luggage or a child. They might have a leg in a cast and have their mobility limited. The noise and size of a crowd might disorient them.
There are so many situations that can make it difficult to interact or navigate. Consider short-term injuries, environmental conditions, being in unfamiliar places around people who might not speak the same language.
When these factors are identified through user research such as surveys and interviews, designers can use the opportunity to learn to accommodate individual constraints and pull principles that can be universally applied to create more robust, friction-free, and pleasant experiences for all guests. Businesses themselves can benefit by turning the lens of inclusive design on their own processes.
There are other approaches like the concept of progressive enhancement. Aaron Gustafson writes that designers can create digital experiences level by level, ensuring that a wider range of people can access them:
Progressive enhancement doesn’t require that you provide the same experience … nor does it preclude you from using the latest and greatest technologies; it simply asks that you honor your content (and your users) by applying technologies in an intelligent way, layer-upon-layer, to craft an amazing experience.
In the end, constraints do not impede great experience design. They are an ingredient for truly creative solutions. A problem solved for one guest today can be another incremental step toward experiences that everyone can enjoy. It’s part of a virtuous cycle that leads to more successful, appealing, and accessible products.