Inclusive design is all about understanding the needs of your customers. And that means all your customers – whatever their needs. For a product to meet the criteria it must be functional, usable and viable to produce. And when it's desirable as well, then you have all the elements of not just inclusive design, but good design. Just ask Kerry Broom.
Apple is celebrated the world over for its innovative design. And quite rightly too. The Apple iPhone and iPod Touch have come to symbolise a new level of personal gadgetry. The sleek look and effortless navigation in a world full of must-have apps has elevated this family of products to iconic levels.
For many these devices epitomise great design – even inclusive design. But not everyone was convinced.
"I never thought touchscreen would work," said Kerry Broom, who works for BT in Cambridge. Like many people she thought the touchscreen application of the Apple iPod Touch would make it difficult to use for blind or partially sighted people. Not any more.
"My iPod Touch – it's the best ever. It comes with a screen reader app that reads whatever I touch. I can navigate by flicking my fingers or moving them around the screen and tapping the screen. And it talks to me. It's a different way of working.
"Before, technology for the blind tended to be big ugly things with massive buttons and really cumbersome. My Touch is small and nice. It's normal and very cool looking."
Designed for life
What's more it's brought a whole new world to her fingertips.
"I'm now skint," she jokes. "I can't stop buying things from iTunes. It's just so good. I can listen to tracks or sit on the sofa and go shopping. Before, if I wanted some music I would have to go with someone to a shop and they would have to tell me what each CD was. Now I can do this on my own. I don't have to rely on anyone else for this.
"Even simple things like the calculator. A few taps of the screen and I can work things out. I can read and write emails although it's taken a bit of getting used to. And the internet can sometimes be fiddly. That said, I love my Touch. I've become so used to it that I know where things are. Although I can't see it, I can imagine where the icons and apps are.
"Of course, it would be great if some of the apps were more accessible. For example, flow charts are completely inaccessible on computers. But because the Touch allows you to gain a picture of the screen by touch, it would be good if Apple could develop this more and allow me to use my hands to navigate and understand a flow chart and it read what was linked to and the type of boxes. This would be fantastic for people working in business and would open up many more doors for us.
"And I would love to be able to take a picture of a menu, for example, and then the reader could then read it for me," said Kerry.
That was Kerry in 2009. Eighteen months later and she now sports a rather nifty iPhone 4 – complete with camera. So, has her wish come true?
"Yes, the camera on my phone allows me to scan a menu and then the voice software reads it out aloud to me. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to for me to get the idea what's on the menu.
"I also find that Skype is easier to use on my iPhone rather than a computer."
And what about the shopping are you still skint?
"No, it's not as bad as that," she laughs. "But it is nice just to be able to go shopping on my own, or to browse just as sighted people do. But I suppose the biggest thing for me is that Apple have made normal everyday things accessible to blind people and that has to be a good thing."
Inclusive design for all
According to Dave Barrett, Senior Inclusion and Accessibility Manager, BT Retail, Kerry's story highlights the importance of inclusive design. And it's part of the reason why BT commissioned inclusivedesigntoolkit.com – a website designed to encourage designers to be more inclusive in their approach to product development.
"As Kerry said, the idea that people with sight problems would be able to use a touchscreen device might, at first, seems odd. And yet, because of the way these products have been designed – and the way that apps work together – they build on that good design and can be enjoyed by so many more people.
"I accept it's not easy. To succeed with something like this, you have to think about the design, you have to think outside of the box. You have to push the envelope – within reason – to ensure that whatever you design reaches the greatest range of people. And when you realise the impact this can have on the lives of people like Kerry, what designer wouldn't want to embrace inclusive design?"