5 Lessons That Super Mario Bros. Teaches Designers About Inclusive Design

One aspect of making any design great is making it inclusive. Inclusive Design embraces the notion that one doesn't size fits all and it doesn't have to; there’s plenty of room for everyone at the table. But the question is, how do we design the table?

Over the years, the technology available has grown by leaps and bounds but how we choose to integrate it into our lives still remains the same. Primarily because designers haven’t really found a way to inclusively help users create their own experiences.

So how can we design a better table?

Let’s go back to the year 1985. Super Mario Bros. became one of Nintendo’s most successful video games not just because it was sleek, cutting edge for the time but because everybody who played the game could play the game.

Here are a few lessons graphic designers can learn about creating inclusive design from Super Mario Bros.
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  1. Players can only go move forward, not backward In Super Mario Bros. players can only go forward because that’s the direction of progress. When it comes to usability we have a tendency to go backward or even stand still while expecting growth. It is human nature to go with what’s comfortable and familiar but if usability is to keep itself relevant, it needs to keep moving forward.
  2. Equal opportunity empowerment Many times in order to achieve inclusive design, web designers compromise the user interface by removing features that would give more access to less experienced users while leaving more sophisticated users wanting more. Super Mario Bros. achieves that “sweet spot” of accessibility to all without compromising for some by building an interface that empowered players to learn as they go. Whether you knew the game inside-out or were playing it for the first time, you learned how to play and reaped the rewards.
  3. It wasn't just black and white Figuratively or literally, black and white design doesn't leave much room for inclusivity. Bytes may be composed of zeroes and ones, people aren't, despite what many interface designers may believe. Designing for the spectrum of skill, expertise, even aesthetics make sure that everybody feels included.
  4. Inclusive design allows adaptation One of the coolest parts of the game is that standing still never accomplished anything. Moving forward or jumping up meant earning more and getting bigger. The game adapted to the user’s skill; as players learned what to do and how to do it, the interface changed to fit the newly acquired knowledge. The blocks with question marks got higher, the mushrooms got bigger and you took more chances.
  5. Great design is inherently instructive Apart from the occasional coin count, do you remember a lot of instructional text or audio in the game? Do you remember ever really needing any?

In our previous article, 3 Myths Web Designers Tell Themselves About Sophisticated Users we touched on how good design doesn't really need instruction; in fact the design is all the instruction a user should need. The fact that you can have users from all levels, from beginner to savvy, who are able to get something from the Super Mario Bros. highlights how inclusive great design can be.

So what are some other examples of great inclusive design? Apps, Games, Devices, let us know.