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Building an inclusive online world: the power of human-centered design

Online platforms and digital-first services are the current standard, yet navigating our digital landscape isn't easy for everyone. Nearly half of the 16 to 74-year-olds in Belgium face digital challenges. Do you want to launch successful digital products? Then ensure no one is excluded. Human-centered design is key. This design framework not only leads to more user-friendly applications but also makes them more accessible and inclusive.


Well-designed products and services exclude no one and require no training or manual. Therefore it is best to approach your product or service from two perspectives: a business and human-centered perspective. The business perspective assesses whether your proposition is sustainable (financially, organizationally, etc.) and technically feasible. The human-centered perspective validates the desirability of your product or service among your target audience, considering diverse user needs and abilities.

When designing new products or services it's crucial to approach them from both a business and human perspective.

Nearly half of the 16 to 74-year-olds in Belgium are digitally vulnerable, and 33% of young people lack sufficient digital skills.

Barometer Digitale Inclusie 2022

Human-centered design: 5 principles for inclusive design

Here are five fundamental principles of human-centered design that will guide you in creating more inclusive products and services.

1. Put people first 

Human-centered design puts the person and their experience at the center, going beyond the mere functional or aesthetic aspects of a product. In human-centered design, you also assess how a product integrates into people's lives, how accessible it is, and its impact on people's well-being and inclusion.

Human-centered design puts the person and their experience at the center, going beyond the mere functional or aesthetic aspects of a product.

2. Understand and involve your target audience

How well do you know your target audience? When was the last time you validated ideas and assumptions with them? Time constraints, budget issues, and the assumption that you already know your audience are common excuses to avoid user research. In the rush of daily operations, we tend to assume everyone is like us.

The earlier you start user research in the process, the better you can align your product with your audience’s expectations. 

Stéphanie Schaubroek, Head of Experience

You can gain a better understanding of your target audience by involving your users early in the design process and engaging in dialogue with them. Talking with your target audience uncovers not only surface-level needs but also deeper expectations and motivations. It helps to get a nuanced view of your audience, moving beyond the 'average user'. The earlier you start user research in the process, the better you can align your product with your audience’s expectations. However, regularly validating and testing your design throughout the design process is very beneficial too. It helps keep a pulse on necessary improvements or changes.

3. Prioritize usability

For many, the smartphone is the primary or even sole gateway to online platforms. Therefore, adopt a mobile-first approach in your design.

Clear and user-friendly products and services require looking beyond the 'line of visibility'. Map out your product or service from the entire end-to-end journey of your users. Identify where you can simplify processes and whether collaboration across different departments is needed. These actions result in fewer barriers and a more user-friendly interface.

Also, pay sufficient attention to language. 25 percent of Flemish people struggle with understanding language and instructions. Keep your message simple and to the point.2

4. Get everyone on board

Human-centered design aims for inclusivity and making products and services accessible to everyone. This requires awareness of diverse physical, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities, as well as socio-cultural and economic conditions, and norms and values. Many of these aspects are invisible and only emerge through conversations with people. Adopting a broad perspective during the design process prevents the unconscious exclusion of certain groups.

Human-centered design requires awareness of diverse physical, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities, as well as socio-cultural and economic conditions, and norms and values. Many of these aspects lie beyond the 'line of visibility' and only emerge through conversations with people.

5. Support as a key element

Even with an intuitive and validated user experience, people might encounter difficulties using your product or don’t fully understand certain aspects of it. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide an accessible helpline (phone, email, chat, etc.). One in three Flemish people cannot turn to friends or family for help with online platforms.3

One-third of Flemish people cannot rely on help in their immediate environment when facing difficulties.

imec.digimeter 2023

Towards a more responsible digital world

Embrace empathy, inclusivity, and a human-centered approach in designing your products and services. This allows you to create a product that has a positive impact on individuals and society as a whole. 

You are responsible for what you put into the world. And you are responsible for the effects those things have upon the world.

Victor Papanek

Be satisfied only when your target audience is. Design, test, measure, and improve. As people, technology, and communication evolve, continuously measuring and testing keeps your product aligned with the changing needs and expectations of your audience.

By Stéphanie Schaubroeck