IBM’s Bo Campbell On The ‘Win-Win’ of Designing Truly Accessible Products

by Patrick Faller

posted on 10-04-2017

Bo Campbell is a world leader when it comes to designing for people with disabilities. As a UX designer at IBM, he focuses on making the company’s products accessible, and works with designers and others at IBM to promote inclusive design thinking on their agile product teams; everything from coaching new hires to helping established teams create accessible products.

At Adobe MAX, Bo Campbell will share his advice for building accessible products from the ground up in his talk, Integrate Accessibility into Each Phase of Your Designing Framework. We asked Bo for some of his insights on accessibility in product design and why it’s so important to keep users with disabilities top of mind.

What are the key accessibility considerations UX designers should keep in mind, when designing products and systems?

First, accessibility needs to be integrated into the development framework from start to finish. This keeps the designers and developers on the same page throughout the process. My advice is to make accessibility more expensive to remove than it is to implement. To do this, designers need to know when and how to design inclusively from the start.

Second, designers need to build their own empathy for people with disabilities by looking at the world through the lenses of a diverse group of users and understanding them. Designers should understand the primary people with disabilities that their designs impact. This can be a difficult task, but there are resources out there. I advise any designer to take advantage of usability testing or demos done by a person with a disability; it is nearly always enlightening.

How have you integrated accessibility practices into IBM’s products?

IBM Accessibility and IBM Design work together closely on the IBM Design Thinking framework to make sure accessibility is integrated into our design language and practices. We don’t have separate sections for accessibility because we feel that it should be done at every stage.

Our new designers go through a rigorous training process called IBM Bootcamp for Designers, which includes a week long accessibility-focused hackathon. IBM Accessibility also moderates an internal Slack channel devoted to accessibility, and we host product design critiques so we can spread our knowledge about accessibility.

Many of us are also part of a public Slack channel anyone can join called Web A11y.

Why is it important for UX designers to consider ‘accessibility’ when designing?

Charles Eames, a pillar of IBM Design history, talked about constraints and a designer’s enthusiasm to create within them. Accessibility is one of those constraints that needs to be recognized at the inception of an idea in order to include everyone as a user. It typically takes very little effort to create empathy for people with disabilities within the design community, which is a luxury for people like me who advocate inclusive design. They just need to understand that it comes into play each and every step of the way.

What is the biggest mistake designers make that affects people with disabilities?

Designers generally have great intentions to include all users. But if there is a gap in understanding how users with disabilities converse with technology, the design may suffer.

For instance, if a designer doesn’t fully understand how a user would traverse an interface with a keyboard, then it may be difficult to reach a successful outcome for that user. There are many facets of accessible design and I think perhaps the biggest mistake is not taking the time to understand as many of them as possible. Inclusive design goes much deeper than achieving a certain color contrast ratio for your text.

Why is designing for people with disabilities important to you?

IBM has a very diverse workforce and I am privileged to work with several people with disabilities. Successful companies know that diversity leads to innovation and I’m very passionate about delivering great experiences for everyone.

By doing inclusive design and building accessible products, we all benefit. People with disabilities enjoy great experiences with technology, and our workforce gains the knowledge and diversity necessary to succeed.

To learn more about Bo and see his work at IBM, follow him on Twitter or come see his talk and meet him at Adobe MAX.

Topics: Diversity & Inclusion, Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design