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Inclusive UI and UX design in life sciences

A starter guide
Over the years of envisioning, designing, and delivering user-focused life sciences experiences, one consistently recurring theme, we have noticed, centers around serving equitable user experience. In life sciences, designing interfaces and optimizing usability for diverse patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) on the front lines directly impact health outcomes. Fostering empathy-driven development processes that dismantle assumptions, identify exclusion risks early, and empower teams to build intuitive interactions, therefore, becomes increasingly critical for life sciences organizations.
In this detailed guide, we analyze inclusive design priorities for life sciences while detailing scientifically validated best practices that you, and your organization, can implement to ensure the inclusivity of user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX), as we look to the future of experience-driven digital outcomes.
Psychology of exclusion in UX design
The accurate framing of any analysis on exclusion in UX design requires examining the psychology behind the dynamics of exclusion in interface design with support from related research. Research by Sara H. Wachter-Boettcher crystallizes frequent oversights that have contributed to blinding developers to accessibility obstacles.
As her work conveys, cognitive shortcuts called heuristics, and the limitations of perceptions surrounding them, are often to blame. When facing convoluted technical constraints, engineers narrow their focus toward solving immediate complexities in front of them rather than holistically empathizing with a heterogeneous user base.
As per Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, on encountering with problem-solving, our imagination relies upon prioritizing one’s own experiences with navigating systems as being typical for broader audiences. Coupled with homogeneity in team-building tools, exclusion occurs less from overt bias than from underdeveloped awareness of alternate experiential vantage points. Solving this challenge means doubling down on the concept of inclusive design immersion.
Inclusive design research methods
Combating exclusionary heuristics demands instituting participatory design explorations as a standard protocol across the design and build phases with a supporting ecosystem in place. At Indegene’s UX Center of Excellence (CoE), project approvals typically require that proposals outline qualitative plans soliciting input from key, vulnerable life sciences business cohorts early, often, and intimately to enable the due support systems for comprehensive and cohesive solutioning.
Several playbooks exist for structuring inclusive inquiries. These include incorporating open-ended questioning through targeted focus group discussions as well as through experiential activities that serve to elicit firsthand user sentiment on existing or proposed designs. These are managed sessions tactically geared toward mitigating exclusion risks for participants with physical or cognitive disabilities, with regular feedback collected from cohorts such as the elderly or economically disadvantaged participants who face severe illnesses. This will help identify solution considerations as their lived experiences serve to empower designers and consultants with invaluable context.
Let us examine some specific areas of focus in the sections below.
UI text recommendations
Beginning with writable elements and employing plain language editorial principles enhance comprehension for several at-risk demographics who find themselves inherently challenged with navigating dense prose. At Indegene’s UX CoE, our designers practice building well-thought-through and definitively structured user guidance text that avoids passive voice, complex vocabulary, and excessive technical jargon when building digital properties.

Studies on health literacy have shown that patients grasp instructions and perceive experiences better when they are delivered through

Short, active sentences averaging from 15 to 20 words
Second-person narrative that prioritizes personalization through the use of “you”
Numerals substituted for complex numeric wording
Commonly used vocabulary (region-specific) and simplified for reading ease
Definition links of unavoidable niche concepts that allow users to self-research/read more about with ease
Demonstrations of supplemental video that simplify and explain concepts
It is perceived and advised by industry experts that optimizing your copy for an average 8th grade reading level ensures the broadest reach. Although the exact thresholds remain debated, succinctly clarifying and simplifying complex medical ideas have been found to empower diverse patients.
Visual design inclusion
Similarly, studies in neuroscience reveal that interfaces that exclude this important need risk alienating huge swaths of users. According to the WHO, at least 2.2 billion people globally live with some form of visual impairment, and this number will only increase with rapidly aging populations. When our designers build digital properties, considerations for accommodating contrast, size, and color are always crucial, given the global demographic shifts.
To enhance perceived brightness between foreground and background elements, W3C directives target a 4.5:1 ratio as the baseline. Generous negative space, when used well, prevents crowding and underscores the UX law of common regions. Industry standards recommend font resizing, which can comfortably stretch to 200% of the original scale along with allowing for user adjustments. Such modifications ensure that those relying on assistive magnification, retain the effortless reading capability when viewing content – data intensive or otherwise.
Choosing color also requires addressing common forms of color blindness in users (protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia) causing challenges with distinguishing certain hues. This impairs millions globally. Applying accessible palettes purposefully avoiding red/green combinations enables comprehending critical indicators for vital system coordination points that are otherwise taken for granted.
Interactive elements and input methods
For interactive components, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) checklist stresses on matching visual indicators with written cues and spoken translations from screen readers to prevent confusion. In addition, the imperative for keyboard accessibility cannot be overstated, given how motor difficulties prevent the use of pointer devices for millions.
By designing natively hosted applications (or apps) that toggle seamlessly between mouse and keyboard inputs without an impact on performance, life sciences brands can guarantee that patients of all dexterity spectrums can smoothly interact with their properties. Native app development also affords an experience otherwise unavailable to web counterparts by harnessing smartphone capabilities to assist users, such as with voice command parsing, magnification gesturing, and haptic vibration.
Users challenged by time constraints and reading difficulties can be accommodated via tools summarizing long-form prose into concise callouts. Utilizing and emulating legal disclosure features pioneered by finance apps can ensure informed consent stays truly informed for all literacy levels.
Auditing and iterative improvements
As tremendous as it would be if more development teams globally model inclusiveness, post-launch auditing often uncovers residual barriers. The simplest tactic for ongoing optimization involves directly employing differently abled users to navigate through interfaces under development alongside a designer partner and a usability testing specialist from our teams for effective reviews and inputs.
Monitoring obstacles for effective access emerges in real time that better equips creative specialists to implement remediations and deliver compounded utility over time. Structuring such tests for transparency and respecting the needs of users can further bind institutional commitment to equity in ways that technical compliance alone simply cannot achieve.
Bringing it all together – An indicative case study
To anchor the takeaways of this report into a realistic scenario, imagine a major life sciences consulting partner and developer creating an app for patients who have been prescribed newly approved immunotherapy infusions. The expected users of the app could span diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, given that the new therapies promised significant levels of effectiveness for certain cancer mutations
An in-house design team is tasked with crafting highly usable tools to educate patients on biweekly medication protocols, symptom tracking, provider messaging, and potential side effects. The product team wants to emphasize widespread accessibility in alignment with the brand values of the organization.
On evaluating the existing app, the partner development team noted numerous improvement opportunities around accessibility for patients with special needs. The lack of font scaling required precise hand steadiness among senior users experiencing typical dexterity decline, and paragraphs laden with medical jargon inhibited easy comprehension.
Various interactive components lacked complementary identification support for the users of screen reader. Lastly, the developers observed that color contrasts between neutral gray background and blue hyperlinks measured just 3.2:1, falling significantly short of advisable visibility thresholds.
In response, the core team convened an advisory panel including patients recently prescribed with the new infusion, alongside specialists on comparable apps. The development team directly participated in these calls to answer questions from users and map out priorities in real time.
This feedback steered the building of a best-in-class interface scaffold, which included enlarging text across the board, tuning background color to hyperlinks and buttons to hit an 8:1 contrast ratio and writing short form summaries of medical terminology that were accessible by clicking the button. Introducing a consistent heading structure benefited screen reader flows, and all interactive elements were enabled with display text labels that included both audio and well-thought-through iconography.
After launch, the team scheduled monthly meetings with brand advisors, allowing product analysts to identify lingering issues that were initially missed. Successive iterations were planned to leverage upgraded analytics, tracing how patients of varying abilities engage with key digital properties, allowing teams to further tailor designs to suit the evolving behavioral patterns of users.
Accessibility standards in UX at Indegene
At Indegene, our extensive experience and insights are gathered from multiple projects that help to plan and optimize for accessibility from the very beginning, aligning with modern interface standards outlined in initiatives such as the WAI. These extensive toolkits guide our designers in constructing complex systems that navigate irrespective of visual acuity, dexterity, neurological function, and other inherent capacities of the users.
While accessibility protocols have, in the past, been perceived, as inhibiting creative engineering, robust research has disproved this notion. The late Ron Mace, a pioneer in barrier-free design, emphasized how choices that benefit individuals facing significant functional challenges ultimately enhance usability for everyone. For example, curb cuts, initially designed for patients who use wheelchairs, now provide everyday convenience for parents with strollers and travelers or shoppers carrying heavy loads.
In digital health interfaces, features such as enhanced legibility through high-contrast visuals, transcripts providing context for images for visually impaired users, and consistent page layouts aiding motor-impaired patients who rely on memorization of repetitive motions, all contribute to a superior user experience compared with exclusionary designs falsely labeled as innovative. Accessibility fosters creativity by compelling designers to practice radical empathy in our work.
Life sciences organizations and leaders, as part of their growing commitment to equity, must prioritize inclusive design as essential, rather than optional or discretionary. Ignoring the needs of users with impairments can result in real-world consequences when apps, portals, and connected platforms overlook their circumstances. By actively seeking input from diverse user groups, organizations can significantly enhance experiences for everyone through accessibility.
At Indegene’s User Experience CoE, we engage in ongoing inquiry and prototyping sessions with populations facing functional challenges. We incorporate their feedback into standard build protocols, driven by both ethical considerations and commercial interests. Recognizing that one-size-fits-all user journeys are inadequate for an increasingly diverse user base, we continuously educate ourselves as advocates for assistive tools and observe their deployment firsthand. This approach is crucial for making meaningful progress that aligns with the scale of global demographic shifts. Reach out to us to learn more about inclusive UX and UI, and how we can help you make meaningful progress in the space.


Vittal Iyer
Vittal Iyer
Nikita K. P.
Nikita K. P.

Insights to build #FutureReadyHealthcare