What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive Design

What is Inclusive Design?

Some of you probably have heard of the term inclusive design, because it’s been around for a while. But what exactly is it and how is it different from universal design and accessibility design?

Inclusive design is a design methodology that focuses throughout the design process on looking at excluded groups of people, or individuals from a design or service, and trying to create a design that works for a wider range of people.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the final result of the design will work for everyone, but is considering these people who are being excluded throughout the whole process, and intentionally deciding how people will use your design.

Inclusive Design focuses on adaptability, flexibility, and creating designs that can be used in multiple ways. Instead of having only one single way that it can be interacted with inclusive design also celebrates diversity. It doesn’t favor one group over another.

The purpose of inclusive design is not to pity or have sympathy for people who are different than the average person. But it’s to celebrate the diversity and to look at these groups of people and how they adapt in situations. A lot of times, excluded groups of people have creative solutions because they’re forced to find ways to adapt.

A key component of inclusive design is making sure that throughout the design process, includes a diverse range of people working on the project.

This is when the concept, nothing about us without us really comes into hand.

It really doesn’t make sense to exclude people who are the experts on the topic, and who knows better about being excluded than those who are excluded on a regular basis.

Designers really need to focus on making inclusivity a habit rather than a rare occasion, or something that’s an afterthought.

We shouldn’t just be doing inclusive design, because it’s a legal obligation, or we feel bad for a group of people.

The World Health Organization in 2011 said that disability is a mismatch interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live.

And an important aspect of inclusive design is that not all mismatch interactions are permanent conditions. There are also temporary and situational conditions, when a person will have a mismatch interaction.

Let’s use vision to illustrate the example of permanent, temporary, and situational conditions.

Now someone with a permanent condition with vision loss might be someone who is blind at birth, or they lose their vision later on. And so now they have that situation for the rest of their life.

However, there are people who have temporary vision loss, for example, if they have cataracts, or some type of condition that can be treated. So while they have that condition, they have a temporary period where they have a mismatch interaction with things that rely on their vision.

A situational example of vision loss would be if you’re in fog or a fire. If firefighters are out in a fire and they can’t see in the house, or your vision is blurred for a little bit. Because you have a migraine or you’re pregnant.

There are several temporary and situational conditions that make it hard for people to see. So not only designed for people in permanent conditions, it will also benefit people who are in a situational or temporary situations.

This really increases the amount of people that are designed can have an effect on whether it’s negative or positive.

Kat Holmes, who’s an inclusive design expert, who used to work at Microsoft, and now works for Google has written a book called mismatch. I highly, highly recommend this book.

I have done a full book review you can watch below or see the blog post here.

In her book, she talks about mismatch interactions. And it’s not about someone’s ability, but it’s how we design something in order for people to be able to use it.

Now let’s talk about the inclusive design principles.

There are a lot of different people who have defined the inclusive design principle. But today I’ll be referring to Microsoft’s three principles of inclusive design.

1. Recognizing Exclusion

The first principle is recognizing exclusion. The idea is if we can recognize who’s being excluded from a designer or service, we can better evaluate what we need to do to help this group of people to be able to use that design or service.

And when we look at excluded groups of people, the idea is that if we design for those groups of people, then it will make the design work for a wider range of people.

Now, it is important to know that exclusion is not automatically a negative thing. It’s also important to realize that people are always going to be excluded from things, no matter how hard we try to be inclusive to everyone.

And so as designers, if we can focus on creating designs that can be used in multiple ways, or we can provide an equal but different opportunity or situation for people who are being excluded from a design, just like exclusion is not always negative.

Inclusion is not inherently good.

If we try to be too inclusive, people who are being excluded in our designs, it might hinder the rest of her audience, we need to make sure that we’re aware of all the people who are trying to design for.

2. Solve for One and Extend to Many

The second principle of inclusive design is solve for one and extend to many. So as I mentioned earlier, if we focus on one group of people who are being excluded, and then we design for them, then usually we can extend that to a wider range of people and make it work better for a variety of people.

Inclusive design is looking at people’s ability, their race, their ethnicity, their cultural background, their economic standing, their height, their age, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their education level, and many other factors.

And this just scratches the surface of covering groups of people who might be excluded from a design, we need to look at the full range or the full spectrum to make sure that we can be inclusive as many people as possible.

3. Learn From Diversity

The third principle of inclusive design is to learn from diversity. There’s so many different people in this world, and we’re all so different, no one’s the same. And we can learn so much from each other. It’s been shown that designers tend to design for their preferences and abilities.

And so if we can learn from other people, then it will make it so that we are more exposed to other ways of thinking. And this will naturally expand our ideation on how we think a design could work well.

Now, inclusion is not perfected, and it definitely has a long way to grow. It’s an ongoing process to figure out how we can be more inclusive and our designs, but it’s important that we try to find new innovative ways to push the status quo and to create new things that weren’t thought of before.

Now let’s talk about some powerful examples of inclusive design. I think one of the best examples to illustrate what inclusive design is, are curb cuts.

Now curb cuts are the dip or the ramp that’s cut inside of a sidewalk that helps you go down into the street. Now these were initially created to help people who are in wheelchairs, they weren’t able to get from sidewalk to sidewalk to cross the street. So it was created with people in wheelchairs in mind. This also helps people who are in strollers, it helps people with walkers, or cart, people who are carrying a suitcase with them, or people who just don’t have the mobility to walk up and down a step.

However, once curb cuts were created, and they started being added, people didn’t realize that it was going to become a problem that people who are visually impaired and blind wouldn’t be able to have the indication of where the curb begins and ends because it slopes down. And it makes it so gradual that they weren’t noticing when they were walking into the street. So this is one tactile truncated domes that you find on the corners that make it so blind people can fill it with their feet or their cane came into play.

This is also where the crosswalk signal came into play, to help people know when it’s safe to cross the street. Now, when it comes to urban design and the street corners, we need all of these different elements to help a wide variety of people to be able to cross the street safely. Without one or the other. There’s groups of people who would struggle to cross the street safely.

This is a great example of a time when a group that was being excluded was focused on and another group was neglected. And so then a solution for that other excluded group was created. And a street corner was continually worked on until it works. more effectively for a wider range of people.

Another interesting example is playgrounds. Let’s take a typical or normal average playground and look at some components that are there. A slide assumes that you have the ability to go either upstairs, or a ramp or some type of way to get up and then go down the slide on your bottom, as swing assumes that you have the ability to hold yourself up, and that you have arms. It also assumes that you have the mobility to move yourself to move up and down when you’re swinging. Have you ever noticed that there are groups of people who you won’t typically see in a playground because they don’t have the ability to use it? For example, how often do you see someone in a wheelchair in the playground by your house. Now there are designers who now take into mind, people of all abilities when it comes to playgrounds.

In my area, you can find several all inclusive playgrounds. This is a place where you can go No matter your ability, if you’re disabled or not. And you can play with people who maybe you normally wouldn’t play with. This makes it so anyone can play and have a good time. creating these types of playgrounds don’t exclude average or normal abled body people, but it simply includes people who don’t have the ability to use a normal or average playground.

A third example of inclusive design is video game controllers. Now initially, there was groups of people who weren’t able to use a video game controller, for example, if you had no movement, and your arms or your hands, then you wouldn’t be able to use it effectively. And so now they have remotes that work well for people with less movement. There’s also ways to use a controller with your voice or different parts of your body than the traditional way of using your hands. You no longer have to have two working hands to use a video game controller.

If you want to learn about other approaches to accessibility in design for those with disabilities you can read my post on accessibility design or universal Design.

You can also see my post where it compares and contrasts the difference between these three approaches.

I hope you can take some key points here, and it will motivate you to work on being more inclusive and your designs, whether that’s a birthday party that you’ll design or if you’ll take it into your career.


Mismatch by Kat Holmes, 2018