4 tips on inclusive digital service design for charities

We break down how charities are embracing user-centric service design principles to create digital services that people really need and feel supported by.

Chloe Green | 2nd Jan 20
user-centric digital service design

2019 has been a landmark year for charity service delivery, with both the launch of The Charity Digital Code of Practice, developed by a consortium of organisations across the sector and the Digital Design Principles from CAST (Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology).

Both of these sets of best practice guidelines explain how charities venturing into the use of online services can stay on track to deliver digital products that are truly useful and easy to use for everyone they’re trying to reach.

Here is a quick guide to the lessons we learnt.


1 – Embrace user-centric design

What does it mean to be user-led when designing a digital charity service? The second principle in The Charity Digital Code of Practice states: “Charities should make the needs and behaviours of beneficiaries and other stakeholders the starting point for everything they do digitally.”

It’s essentially about remembering to keep users’ needs at the heart of whatever shiny new tool you’re creating. It may sound simple but this does not happen in a vacuum.

Developing empathy with your users means using design thinking to respond to their real needs and motivations, and not just guessing, as this article from UX Matters explains.


 > See also: Lessons from the Charity Digital Code: Culture


2 – Make use of data to inform services

Core to user-centric design, making use of data means ensuring that you have mechanisms in place so that the communities you serve can contribute to and inform your work, and that you can accurately test any assumptions and continually respond to changing needs and behaviours.

This can take many forms, as CAST’s Digital Design Principles explain: “To truly understand user behaviours, it’s better to spend a lot of time with a smaller number of people, rather than one moment with lot. So rather than surveys, you use techniques like semi-structured interviews or shadowing.”

Zoe Amar, Chair of the Code and trustee of Charity Digital, spoke to Giselle Cory and Tracey Gyatend from DataKind UK about how they use data they already collect on the various groups they work with to help build better services.

The Code also explains best practice on this for both small and large charities.


3 – Build for accessibility

Digital can remove barriers to communication for people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive abilities. How do you ensure your services can be easily used by all and remove any potential barriers?

The World Wide Consortium provides guidance on digital accessibility and introduces accessibility requirements and international standards.

The Government also provide some clear introductory guidance on creating services that take into account the one in five people who have a disability.

“Designing for inclusivity should begin from day one – by starting with users who have different needs you’ll understand what your service needs to do be inclusive for all who use it,” says CAST.


 > See also: The best tools for service delivery


4 – Don’t do digital for the sake of it

If your users are telling you – either directly or through your research – that they would not use a digital service, then don’t just build one and hope they will come.

Philippa Leary, Digital Inclusion Lead and trainer from Superhighways says:

“Let’s face up to the fact that the offline community of 11.3 million people who are also often on low incomes, generally older and/or have a disability, are significantly representative of the very communities that we support.”

It’s essential to recognise the extra help that some people may need in accessing digital services and take into account the needs of those without basic digital skills or willingness to engage digitally.

Charities can make use of resources such as Digital Unite, which provide free step-by-step training resources and consulting to help train digital champions to bridge that gap.