Fostering Inclusive Design in Industrial Automation, Part 3

Enterprise UX

Designing experiences for people at work

June 3, 2024

In Part 1 of this series, we defined inclusive design and acknowledged its ever-growing impact, including in industrial automation. We then described inclusive-design challenges in industrial automation and previewed how we solve them. In Part 2, we delved more deeply into a few of these design solutions, focusing on human factors in designing hardware, how we’ve evolved our terminology to be more inclusive, and some best practices for incorporating accessibility into our common design system.

Now, in Part 3, we’ll wrap up this series by covering the following topics:

  • making our public-facing Web sites more accessible and inclusive
  • recruiting diverse users to obtain their feedback
  • adhering to localization best practices that support diverse users
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Making Our Public-facing Web Sites More Accessible and Inclusive

As we mentioned in Part 1, our challenges are not limited to the plant floor or industrial operations. Other practical challenges come from Rockwell’s simply being a large company with many stock-keeping units (SKUs), and our Web site boasts hundreds of thousands of individual pages that reflect this product breadth. Broken links, missing alt-text for images, poorly tagged HTML elements, and noninclusive terms can be easy to miss on such a large site. Our team that manages has developed a process for mitigating these challenges, so Joanna Motrunecs, a UX Design and Research Manager on our Global Digital Marketing Experience team, helped us to understand them, saying:

“The scope of our responsibility goes well beyond proper. With the collection of sites we must actively manage, which include our purchasing portal, knowledgebase site, and several other related external properties, it becomes untenable to manually track the variety and quantity of accessibility issues that may arise. This is especially challenging given we have many content creators worldwide who continually author content across dozens of sites. So we must automate our ability to foster accessibility as much as possible, and we now have some helpful tools for doing that.”

“One such tool is Crownpeak, a digital-platform vendor with capabilities [that are] dedicated to scanning [for] and reporting accessibility issues. There are a couple of fronts [on] which we use Crownpeak: first, automating scanning and reporting, and second, exposing widgets that allow users on to customize their experiences to meet their unique needs. Our scanning-and-reporting method evaluates our performance against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance, suitability toward assistive technologies, and terminology that could be flagged as noninclusive. Regarding terminology, our strategy has greatly evolved over the past few years, thanks to Elena Dunne’s inclusive-terminology initiative.”

You might recall that we synced up with Dunne, a Senior Manager of Industry Insights and a former terminologist, in Part 2 to get the latest on her company-wide inclusive-terminology strategy. Figure 1 shows examples of noninclusive terms that Dunne helped source. Motrunecs and her team now actively track and report on them.

Figure 1—Example of flagged, noninclusive terms that our team tracks
Example of flagged, noninclusive terms that our team tracks

Motrunecs continues:

“Crownpeak’s capabilities allow us to cast a wider net than just focusing on the content itself. “We’re also able to scan for empty alt tags, absolute positions—which can wreak havoc for users in certain contexts—and poor nesting of various elements that negate search engine optimization (SEO) and greatly disadvantage users who use assistive technologies like screen readers.”

You might be surprised by some additional factors that Motrunecs and her team take into account, as shown in Figure 2, which include paragraph length, string length of hyperlinked text, and the use of uppercase text formatting, all of which could conspire to impede any user and become especially detrimental to users who have physical or cognitive limitations. As Motrunecs aptly states, “If you prioritize accessibility and inclusive design, you automatically improve SEO performance and overall usability.”

Figure 2—Custom checkpoints we track across all our public-facing sites
Customized checkpoints that we track across all our public-facing Web sites

Motrunecs concludes:

“Finally, we don’t just focus on behind-the-scenes activities, but we meet users where they are when they visit our Web site. A key way we do this is through a user-initiated widget that Crownpeak offers, which is embedded within and allows users to adjust the site to their accessibility needs and preferences. With a click of a toggle switch, a user with vision impairments can receive an experience that enables larger text and more significant color contrast whereas a user who suffers from epilepsy may view the same content with more subdued colors and affordances, which would help them avoid an event that triggers their symptoms and causes them harm. Furthermore, there are dozens of custom adjustments any user can make—whether toggling between dark and light themes, adjusting content alignment, or removing various elements such as images or sounds that they may find distracting.”

Figure 3 shows the accessibility widget on, which the user can access by selecting Accessibility Settings in the global footer. Figure 4 shows an example after a user has enabled the “Seizure Safe Profile,” which subdues color contrast.

Figure 3—Accessibility widget available on
Accessibility widget available on
Figure 4— site for users who have seizures
The Web site for users who suffer from seizures

Recruiting Diverse Users to Obtain Their Feedback

To understand how we meet the needs of our products’ diverse users through research and recruiting, we checked in with Katie Arnold, UX Research Team and Practice Lead at Rockwell. Katie touches on the following:

  • understanding the importance of diverse user perspectives
  • using customer relationship management (CRM) technology to track accessibility outreach
  • incentivizing diverse user-research participants

Understanding the Importance of Diverse User Perspectives

According to Katie Arnold:

“You must talk to your users through interviews, surveys, or usability testing to design the best products. The voice of the customer is extremely important to design for what they need. Often, it can be easy to talk to people we know or have gathered feedback from in the past, but we know that it is important to gather feedback from a diverse group of people to ensure we are truly designing for all users of our products. At Rockwell, we strive to create a diverse panel of participants for the research projects we study. We currently have a limited amount of data and the ability to track specific participants [through] their unique qualities, but you’ll learn how we’re aiming to improve our practice.”

Using CRM Technology to Track Accessibility Outreach

By using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology, we can track accessibility outreach. As Arnold tells us:

“User panels are a great way to keep track of who we are researching with and their qualities. We currently ask our panel participants various questions to help us better understand who we’re talking to and ensure we have a variety of backgrounds for people, whether that’s region, years of experience, [or] company type…. We have recently added a question about their assistive-technology usage to better understand their abilities without directly asking about disabilities—[to accommodate] those who aren’t comfortable sharing. We aim to add further questions around types of assistive technology [they use. We’ll] be able to use this [data] to track better how diverse the group of users we are talking to truly is.”

When we asked about tips that UX designers and researchers can use to recruit diverse participants, Arnold offered the following insight:

“When adding participants to your research panel, the information you collect can be sensitive to the participant, so be sure you have specific consent forms in place to be clear on how you’re using their data and personal information.”

Incentivizing Diverse User-Research Participants

In conclusion, Arnold told us:

“Ensuring that your users are properly incentivized is essential to successful research outcomes. Companies can do this in many ways, but one of the easiest is through tools such as Tremendous that give out gift cards of the participant’s choosing, which can foster more inclusive offerings for users with diverse needs. This practice of incentivization is also important in helping find diverse talent.”

Adhering to Localization Best Practices That Support Diverse Users

Suppose we designed out-of-the-box solutions with only the Western mindset in mind. In that case, we might put our global users at a disadvantage, which could become more fraught in contexts and environments where dangerous machinery and processes are running. This situation could become even more challenging for diverse users, whose needs often get overlooked. While Jon and Elena Dunne delve into this topic deeply in Jon’s UXmatters column “Supporting Localization,” the following factors are just a few examples we’d like to touch on:

  • dates and times
  • color
  • numeric values

Dates and Times

According to The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, 20% of the population suffers from dyslexia, and a whopping 80–90% of people with learning disabilities experience this disorder. We wrong this large population of users if we assume that we should format dates and times in ways that meet the needs of only neurotypical users or simply feel locally appropriate to us. For example, in the United States, we tend to represent dates numerically, with the month preceding the day. We might write August 7 as 8/7. However, users in other countries are used to seeing the day preceding the month. For those users, August 7 would be as 7/8. While this is a localization consideration, it has accessibility implications, too. How so? Using numeric formats for dates, in general, could cause users with dyslexia to misinterpret them because the numbers are interchangeable and could form incorrect dates that still look valid.

Therefore, it’s best to represent the month with text instead of numbers, greatly reducing their ambiguity. Plus, this could work for elements of dates in any order. For example, even an abbreviated format such as Aug 7 or 7 Aug is more comprehensible for English-speaking users, regardless of their location or context, and would be more inclusive of users with dyslexia.


Color draws users’ subconscious attention because they process it so quickly. Plus, they’ll often apply meaning to color, regardless of whether that meaning is accurate. As Jon describes in his UXmatters article, “UX for the Industrial Environment, Part 2,” color often carries cultural significance, too, so it’s best not to assume it means the same thing to users across the globe. As shown in Figure 2, redundantly coding UI symbols with icons and labels greatly assists users who must overcome color-deficient vision. With red-green color blindness chief among such conditions because 10% of all males deal with it, many indicators of system status happen to use either red or green. Figure 5 shows a progression of symbols and values that are increasingly supportive of diverse users, with Example C being the most supportive.

Figure 5—Progression from least-to-most supportive status symbols
A progression of status symbols and values, from least to most supportive

Moreover, allowing our users to customize a software user interface to their regional and cultural needs also lets them adjust for users with disabilities—a win-win.

Numeric Values

Users in industrial environments must often rely on engineering units and live numeric data to make informed decisions. We must ensure that such values are well afforded and appropriately sized to better serve users who have poor vision or battle temporary eye fatigue—indirectly helping all users and making operations safer. Arial Bold at a large size, which the International Society of Automation (ISA) 101 standard advocates, is a good choice for differentiating values from the surrounding content.

Furthermore, it’s important to show users which data is live versus static. At Rockwell, we advocate for showing live data on human-machine interface (HMI) screens in blue, to indicate dynamic information that could change. This also helps users who have vision impairments more readily discern which values are live versus static. Figure 6, from the Rockwell Automation Process HMI Style Guide, shows an HMI screen with live data values.

Figure 6—Example of live data values on an industrial HMI
An example of live data values on an industrial HMI

Image source: Rockwell Automation

Finally, Elena Dunne and Jon described, in brief, the following additional takeaways that any UX designer can use to foster more localized, inclusive experiences, in their UXmatters column, “Supporting Localization”:

  • Use standard language. Avoid idioms and slang.
  • Make containers responsive. Minimize the use of containers with fixed dimensions.
  • Use familiar icons whenever possible. For example, Save, Help, and Delete have easily recognizable icons.
  • Avoid setting fixed positions to ensure that content flows naturally. Frequently test user interfaces in other languages.
  • Avoid hardcoding text strings in the user interface. Consider alt-text, titles, toolbar labels, and menus.
  • Avoid specifying units in the user interface. Ensure that your user interfaces can adapt to the Imperial or the Metric system, which impacts the formatting of dates and measurements.
  • Take care with images and videos! Avoid showing symbolism that might be offensive or confusing to users in other cultures.


Designing for inclusion in the industrial automation domain is challenging for several reasons, as we shared in Part 1. Among them is the prevalence of devices, machinery, and processes—including software—that must constantly be on and available. This reality has led many customers to retain dated solutions for fear of causing downtime or disruptions to their operations. Therefore, we must continually incentivize customers to adopt our latest offerings, which are beginning to cater more to diverse users who might have disabilities. This is a win for customers, too.

One way in which we encourage customers to adopt our modern, inclusive solutions is by clearly demonstrating the value they provide. We achieve this by doing the following:

  • recruiting diverse users—Thus, we reflect the makeup of our customers’ workforces and let them thoughtfully shape products that meet their needs.
  • providing tools that aid usability—On our public-facing Web properties, we provide tools that are usable for everyone, making customers more likely to have a positive experience and, consequently, desire to engage more with our company and its products.
  • meeting geographically dispersed customers where they are—Through our localization best practices, we can also foster inclusion for those who have disabilities such as dyslexia.
  • making ergonomic hardware products—Our products are more ergonomic, friendly to use, and easy to access.
  • using terminology that represents the diversity of our users—By ensuring that the terminology we use in our products represents the diversity of the customers we serve every day, we make our products accessible to everyone. We cannot succeed if we do not speak all our customers’ language.
  • creating an accessible design system—By imbuing our common design system and processes with accessibility and inclusive design best practices, we can lower the barrier to success—at scale. All our teams can easily use our design system for free.

This concludes our series on inclusive design—for now. Can you think of any other solutions that we should consider or that you are implementing at your company? Please share them in the comments! 

Director of User Experience at Rockwell Automation

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Jonathan WalterJon has a degree in Visual Communication Design from the University of Dayton, as well as experience in Web development, interaction design, user interface design, user research, and copywriting. He spent eight years at Progressive Insurance, where his design and development skills helped shape the #1 insurance Web site in the country, Jon’s passion for user experience fueled his desire to make it his full-time profession. Jon joined Rockwell Automation in 2013, where he designs software products for some of the most challenging environments in the world. Jon became User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell in 2020, balancing design work with managing a cross-functional team of UX professionals, then became a full-time User Experience Manager in 2021. In 2022, Jon was promoted to Director of User Experience at Rockwell.  Read More

UX Designer at Rockwell Automation

Denver, Colorado, USA

Amber WestlundAmber is a versatile professional with degrees in Computer Science and Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her journey began with an internship at Ford Motor Company and a Co-Op at Rockwell Automation, both centering around continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD), and DevOps, or software development and IT operations. Returning to Rockwell in 2020, Amber joined their Leadership Development Program for Software. Over the course of two years, Amber has undertaken diverse rotations in backend development, User Experience, product management, and industrial automation hardware and software training and support (EIT). This multifaceted experience has given her a holistic understanding of the automation industry. In 2022, Amber transitioned to the role of UX Designer within Rockwell’s software team. Her contributions extend to multiple products, and she currently serves as a lead designer for a simulation product, showcasing her proficiency in delivering user-centered design solutions. Amber assumed the role of Accessibility and Inclusive Design Lead at Rockwell in 2022. In this capacity, she has been instrumental in raising internal and external awareness and leading efforts to comply with inclusive-design principles within the software and hardware automation space.  Read More

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