Figma

Idean is a design consultancy that has recently joined frog, a global design and strategy consultancy and part of Capgemini Invent. Last year, they built Cards for Humanity, an online card game that helps teams design accessible, inclusive products. We interviewed them to learn more about how they built the Figma plugin, what they learned, and the power of inclusive design. Hear from Product Designer Eva Tkautz, Lead Developer Sidd Vadgama, Lead Product Manager Charlie Wileman, and Marketing Manager Imogen Lees about the game-making process.

When creating new products, it’s crucial to build empathy for people with a wide range of needs. Designing solutions that everyone can use and access is a must-have, not nice-to-have. Early last year, Idean released Cards for Humanity, a card game for introducing inclusive design in client workshops. Once the working world went remote, the team quickly moved the game online to make it more accessible, both as a Figma plugin and as a website.

Into the game

The game features two kinds of cards: one set of cards shows a person’s name, age, and personality trait, while a second set includes a corresponding need, disability, or personal challenge.

The game mechanic is simple: deal a pair of cards to create a character, then figure out how to meet their needs. Clicking a card reveals written considerations for listed traits, challenges, and disabilities.

These considerations help curb any possible assumptions about different conditions and disabilities. The game’s open-ended style of play makes it a flexible tool for workshops, brainstorms, and casual conversations about accessibility and inclusion.

By putting humans at the center of the design process, the cards solve one of the design industry’s key problems: “We found that it was really difficult to raise inclusive design in a way that was tangible to our clients,” explains Charlie. Designing inclusively doesn’t have to be difficult—it just starts with empathy.

Designing for all

Cards for Humanity required an inclusive and accessible design process from the jump. The team began their journey with internal research, asking each other if they'd be open to sharing their own traits and disabilities.

Next, they requested input from the online product community to craft a wider list of attributes. The game took off with a lot of momentum, which created some pressure as the team discovered changes they needed to make over time. “Making it as accessible as possible has been the most uphill challenge,” says Sidd. “An inclusivity and accessibility tool needs to itself be inclusive and accessible. We’ve done our best to listen to feedback and iterate on top of it.”

Feedback is rich and varied, partly because the game’s audience was broader than they had initially anticipated. “When designing inclusive products, your audience might not be the audience you’re expecting,” says Eva. The team had expected strong reception among primarily designers and developers, but was surprised to hear from lawyers, gamers, clinicians, and educators who found it useful. “That just highlights how important it is to consider different audiences and how important it is to make it as accessible as possible through the use of language and avoiding jargon.”

“When designing inclusive products, your audience might not be the audience you’re expecting.”

Balancing client needs with internal priorities

Working in a creative agency involves two types of work: external client work and internal projects that helps promote the business. Client work is billable, but internal work lacks a direct ROI. Even at Idean, where inclusion is a stated goal and a passion point for the team, there’s a natural tension between billable work and developing tools like Cards for Humanity. Considering the agency’s bottom line, it may seem obvious to focus narrowly on client work. But great product design is the bottom line. Building accessible and inclusive products is part of making better products, better outcomes, and happier clients. “Designing products and services that benefit everyone can only be, or should be, a business imperative, because those products and services can only impact and benefit more people,” Imogen says.

On an individual level, balancing the work boils down to personal investment. “This is specific to the way things work within our team,” explains Charlie. “There’s been a blend of actually having time for it and people just doing it in their own time, which goes back to the team’s passion for creating tools like this.” And this investment has extended into client work as well. “We see this tool ingrained in our process and therefore ingrained in the work that our clients do,” adds Charlie. “If every client we work with uses this tool, the impact that could have among all the people they’re designing products for is absolutely massive. Seeing clients use it is amazing.”

The conversation must move beyond profit and resources eventually, though. “Inclusive design is more than just a business case, a missed opportunity, or the right thing to do,” says Eva. “Inclusive design is about inclusion in society. It’s about thinking about the products that we generally design and their use. We as makers, designers, and developers have a responsibility, and we’re hoping that Cards for Humanity will highlight what’s important.”

Inclusive design is more than just a business case, a missed opportunity, or the right thing to do.

Above all, Cards for Humanity is a way to begin the conversation with your team about accessibility and inclusion. Eva says, “Cards for Humanity doesn’t have to be used in a really specific way; just talking through the cards becomes a really great opener for inclusive design.”

Learn more about inclusive design or simply get the conversation started by checking out the Cards for Humanity plugin on the Figma Community. To dig deeper into how the team built the tool, read Eva's blog post.