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Customer Experience and Design

A Designer’s Role in Bridging the Digital Divide

With access to the internet on our phones, watches, cars, and fridges, getting information is easier than ever. This isn’t the case for everybody though. We have a digital divide that exists between those who have access to these advancements, those who don’t, and those who have access but still can’t use them to their full potential.
At the start of my career, I considered myself a “traditional” graphic designer but quickly realized how important it was to learn web standards. I was spending less time designing for print with InDesign and spending more time designing for the web with Photoshop or Sketch. I also recently added Adobe XD to my skill set. With this change in focus came new insight. What types of people were visiting the site I was designing? How do they have access? What web standards should I follow? For me, these questions tie into the digital divide.

Digital Divide in Developing Countries

More than 52 percent of people around the world are unable to access and utilize digital technology because of economic and educational factors. Though affected by the digital divide and with limited access to the internet and certain devices, there are a lot of smartphone users in these areas. Taking responsive design into account can help at least make navigation a little easier for those limited to mobile-only internet access, and is just overall a good web practice.

Digital Divide in the US

On an educational level, we have issues with lack of technology in the classroom and digital illiteracy even in the United States. The unfortunate truth is that many kids are in schools where computers aren’t part of the daily routine, which gives their counterparts the technical advantage. The goal would be to bridge this gap by giving kids better access to a range of technology, but what happens when they have it? Not all young people are born tech savvy.

Bridging Usability & Web Accessibility Divides

As a designer, I feel we can help bridge those gaps by focusing on usability. Is it easy to get lost in the navigation? Does a button look like a button? Is it easy to tell when you’re on a new page? Does the website keep people’s attention? A “simple” feature may not be as simple to a person who doesn’t have a strong technology background, regardless of their age and other skills. Providing the option of viewing user tutorials for your website and using brief, clear, and simple language in your content could benefit all users.
Even when you have the technology, the internet isn’t completely accessible to all its users. We have to take web accessibility standards into consideration. These standards make it so a diverse audience has equal opportunities when going online. Sites like W3C and WebAIM provide resources on treating text, color, audio, and video to make them as widely accessible as possible. With various types of needs out there, we also need to take into consideration the importance of having a writing style based on simple grammar and making content easily searchable and readable. Well-defined tags, well-defined links, shortcuts on text fields, simple sentences, and bulleted lists provide clarity. Following general accessibility standards not only helps people in need, but should make the website easier to navigate in general.
Tackling the digital divide by putting technology into the hands of people in need is one thing, but the digital divide is an issue that designers and agencies can also help tackle by keeping these design standards and viewpoints in mind. Though these are truly just good practices, we can still use them to create beautiful experiences and possibly provide an extra beam in bridging the digital divide.
Check out these TEDx Talks and work from Jim Sevier and Roopal Kondepudi for more insight on the digital divide.

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