Inclusive Design is underpinned by designing with, not for, the full breadth of human diversity. Co-designing with people, whose needs and experiences may be vastly different from our own, leads to products and services that allow equitable access to the digital world. It also challenges us to think differently. It’s this divergent thinking that acts as a catalyst for creativity and innovation that improves experiences and access for everyone, not just those who are typically excluded.
How inclusion drives innovation
Innovation is a welcome side effect of designing for exclusion, with evidence that this has been occurring for some time, and likely has since humans have had the capacity for both invention and empathy. The earliest example I’m aware of is from 1808. Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri, inspired by affection for his blind lover, invented a machine that allowed them to communicate — what I can only speculate were rather risqué — private messages without a human scribe. This was one of the first evolutions of the typewriter, which would go on to become indispensable for all humans, regardless of age and ability. It would even help shape how we communicate today.
Since the typewriter, history has produced countless examples of powerful and world changing creativity resulting from designing for exclusion. The curb cut, originally designed for wheelchairs, has benefited us all. We’ve used them while pushing prams, trolleys, suitcases and navigating the big and scary obstacles of the streets as our former, tiny, tricycle riding selves. Closed captions. Audio books. Potato peelers. Bendy straws. The list goes on and continues to demonstrate how designing for excluded communities benefits us all.
Digital accessibility and improving experiences for all
I’ve been fortunate to build and lead our Inclusive Design Practice in the UK over the last three years. During this time, I’ve witnessed how this approach, time and time again, inevitably leads to improved digital experiences, reach and outcomes. One regular example is how co- designing with autistic and cognitively disabled people often leads to the simplification of content. This in turn improves readability for children, the 22% of Londoners who speak English as a second language and anyone who doesn’t want to absorb unnecessarily complex content (aka everyone).
I’ve seen how increasing tap targets for people with Parkinson’s, makes it easier for others to navigate an app while on the move. And how heightened colour contrast for the blind and partially sighted, helps those who’ve lost their glasses or are sitting on the glary side of the bus. These examples only scratch the surface, but I’m yet to see a change driven by inclusion that’s not welcomed by everyone.
From charitable mission to an imperative for business
Despite this clear phenomenon, Inclusive Design is often viewed solely as a charitable mission, ‘the right thing to do’. While Inclusive Design should absolutely be centred on improving experience and equality for excluded people, viewing it alone can undermine the potential and often its prioritisation.
What if we were to view Inclusive Design as a selfish act? As a powerful tool that helps create simpler, more accessible experiences that benefits all users, reaches more people and drives innovative new ideas. Inclusive Design is not only socially and ethically right, but a business imperative that we’d be foolish not to embrace.
Published 15 Jul 2022