Universal DesignHave you ever sighed with relief when you saw the moving walkways at an airport, the thought of lugging heavy luggage after a long-haul flight seeming like a step too far? What a great design! However, there are plenty of examples out there where the user seems like a distant afterthought. Maybe you have wondered whether the instructions that come with flat-pack furniture were written by aliens? It’s not just instructions, think packaging - have you experienced the frustration of trying to open packaging that was supposed to be toddler-proof but also happens to be adult proof? What about electronics? Does it feel like you need an electronics degree just to operate your TV? It’s not just products, good or bad design affects your service experience as well. Maybe you felt like you weren’t treated like a normal customer just because you requested a vegan or gluten-free option?

What do all of these situations have in common? They all highlight the experience of the user or the customer. User experience is often thought of in terms of website design but it extends beyond your website to every interaction with your business and can provide you with a competitive edge that sees customers queuing at your door.
One of the key ingredients to a good user experience is to move beyond understanding your customers at a superficial level. It’s important to also learn about the barriers they encounter using or accessing your product or service as well as the things that surprise and delight them. In fact, by having a truly in-depth understanding of your customer you can design new products, services and sales strategies to increase your sales per customer.
The first part of getting to know your customers better is to be respectful of diversity. Your customers come in all shapes and sizes, abilities and capacities, gender, culture, ages, sexual orientations and states of health.
While it sounds overwhelming and expensive to cater to all these different needs, Universal Design theory provides strategies to help you design for variations amongst people. Universal Design provides some guiding principles to help you create products, services and environments that are usable by the widest range of people without requiring special modification. These principles can be applied to all areas of your business, from your shopfront to your marketing, product design and even human resources. It’s not an all-or-nothing process, sometimes all that’s needed is a few tweaks to a website to make it easier for someone with a hearing impairment to watch your promotional video (or the person sneakily watching it at work with the sound turned off).
Applying Universal Design principles can also spark innovation, for example, those moving walkways in the airport provide options for walking or standing and are great for people with mobility issues, weary travellers with lots of baggage or those travelling with young children.
So, how do you start?

Step 1: Who is and who isn’t using your products or services?

Do you have a clear idea of who is using your products and services? Look beyond Google Analytics to see the diversity (and opportunity) amongst your customer group. Have you inadvertently discovered a niche because you make it easy for a certain group to access or use your product or service? For example, your opening hours make it attractive to shift workers; you have plenty of space and wide aisles for mum’s with prams or people in wheelchairs, or your website provides easy to read information for people whose first language isn’t English. Equally, are you excluding certain groups of customers because they find it hard to access or use your products or services?

Step 2: What kind of experience are you offering them?

You may think that you are providing stellar customer service, but are you putting obstacles in place for your customers to overcome? Understand the customer journey by looking at the experience through their eyes. Some of the common obstacles businesses unintentionally put in place are things like inadequate lighting or signage; worn or slippery surfaces; stacking items that obstruct aisles; not providing information in a range of formats; and using decorative fonts and hard to read text on websites.

Step 3: Identify improvements that can be made

Improvements can happen at any level of the organisation, at any time and in any area. For example, you might identify changes needed in strategy, marketing, HR, product design, admin or ordering processes. You will need to look at the list of possible improvements and determine what is feasible to tackle first in terms of cost, effort and resources and then compare it to the potential return on investment. This could be increased sales, cost savings, reputational benefit, employee morale etc.

Step 4: Have a plan

Work out what improvements you would like to tackle first and then develop a plan. Is this something you have the resources to tackle in-house or do you need to bring in an outside expert? Is it an opportunity to upskill some of your team? Can you access funding to help with some of the costs? For example, the ACT Office for Disability offers grants of up to $20,000 to enable organisations to become more inclusive and accessible to people with disability.

Step 5: Don’t forget to involve your customers

Now that you have identified a need and possible solution, don’t forget to involve the people you are designing for. This can be as formal as setting up a reference group or conducting a survey, to simply having some informal conversations or observing how people use your product or service.
Remember, designing for all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability makes for better design; and better design is good for business.

Want to join other small businesses looking at how they can incorporate Universal Design Principles in their business? Join our FREE Mastermind group.
Our small business mastermind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members solve their problems with input and advice from the other group members. Our Mastermind group looks at a range of topics such as innovation in products and services, anticipating trends, finding new product lines, cutting costs, efficient communication and marketing strategies. Contact enquiries@lighthouseinnovation.com.au to find out more.


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