How to Achieve Inclusive Design

In our diverse world full of different cultures, designing products and service has become more and more challenging, especially when the aim is to meet the needs of a variety of types of consumers. Our world’s diversity indicates the increasing importance of using inclusive design, sometimes called universal design. Inclusive design aims to create products and services that are usable and accessible for all individuals regardless of their varied age, education, location, culture, gender, and experience. Inclusive design aims to fulfill the world’s need for simple yet universal design approaches where flexibility can be implemented to set a design that satisfies all current and future consumers.

The Design Council’s report about inclusive environments defines an inclusive environment as one that welcomes everyone, responds to peoples’ needs, is intuitive to use, offers choices to meet all needs, and which has a design that can be used without undue effort or special separation. The report indicated that 1 billion GBP is the annual cost of all inquiries among older people, in addition to the 212 billion GBP estimated spending of people with disabilities in the UK. This article will explore the principles of inclusive design and how to implement it within the design process.

The Three Dimensions of Inclusive Design

In order to ensure you are applying the inclusive concept in design, the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University identified three dimensions of inclusive design. These dimensions contrast inclusive design and other forms of design while providing a guide for designers to follow. This will ensure that the product design is inclusive and meets the variety of consumer requirements and needs. These three dimensions include the following:

1- Recognize Diversity and Uniqueness

Unlike with targeted design solutions that focus on one of more market segments, inclusive design provides a process that considers the diversity and uniqueness of every person. This diversity includes all range of demographic differences such as the age, language, ability, gender, and others. The needs of all consumers should be met by the products’ design, which can be achieved through flexible and adaptable tools like 3D printing technology, which can achieve “diversity-supportive design.”

2- Inclusive Process and Tools

Building an inclusive design process requires diversity of ideas and perspectives; this can be achieved through the involvement of diverse individuals inside the team working on the design process. The team should include members who actually had the same experience as the target consumer and they should have experienced the same circumstances as the target consumers, such as the living environment, the same education level, and the problems faced. Each of these factors needs to be addressed before implementing the design solution, product, or service.

3- Broader Beneficial Impact

While current designs target one or more market segments, inclusive design broadens the target of the product or service to reach all types of consumers and broaden the beneficial impact of the design. Applying the above two dimensions contributes to achieving the third.

The Steps to Achieve Inclusive Design

Many design process models have been introduced in general design projects. In the inclusive design process, four main stages are involved: manage, explore, create, and evaluate. During these stages, the three dimensions of the inclusive design process should be considered. The aim of these stages is to achieve both consumer and business goals. The below steps have been presented by the Inclusive Design Toolkit in association with University of Cambridge.

inclusive design
The inclusive design process (Source: Inclusive Design Toolkit)

Manage

This first stage is where the target plan and strategy are set based on the project requirements and available resources. This controls the resources and ensures the product meets with the determined goals. Additionally, this stage aims to improve the product and refine the process to ensure it achieves the inclusive design goals. The tasks in this stage include managing the progress, improving the product, and building a solid communication between all the stakeholders.

Explore

This is the research phase where all information is collected and analyzed regarding the project. The team should aim to understand the project and its consumers. This understanding should include information such as how the consumer uses the product so the team can target all consumers. Any number of tools can be used to collect and organize this information, including the following:

  • List the stakeholders involved in the project
  • Observe consumer behavior and organize the relevant information
  • List the product features required to fulfill the consumer’s needs

The explore phase should include intense observation and analysis of the consumer behavior and usage to the product in order to build a design that meet the needs of all types of consumers. This can be achieved using tools such as the persona empathy maps.

Create

In this stage, the information is put together to build the design for the product or service and create a prototype that can be evaluated and tested in the next stage. The created prototype will not necessarily be the final product, because it may result in improvements and changes based on the evaluation stage results. The design concept should meet with the above three dimensions of inclusive design to be simple and flexible for all consumers.

Evaluate

In this stage, the prototype is tested and evaluated to determine if it meets the necessary requirements. The evaluation should be applied based on predefined criteria and be conducted by groups of both experts and consumers in order to get accurate feedback. In this stage, the evaluation criteria are selected, the product is tested, and the results and feedback are collected to improve the concept. One of the tools that can used to evaluate the project is the SWOT Analysis.

Conclusion

Design solutions need to be universal and provide innovative solutions to a broader range of people. This can be achieved through implementing inclusive design, which aims to serve all people regardless of their demographic information. This approach can be achieved through the three dimensions of inclusive design identified by the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University: recognize diversity and uniqueness, use an inclusive process and tools, and broaden the beneficial impact.

The above process can be used to implement inclusive design, which can be achieved only through involving both experts and consumers in the process as a stakeholder in order to achieve the maximum amount of understanding for the users and meet with their needs.


Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.