Inclusive Design

Inclusive Design Research Centre


What is Inclusive Design

What do we mean by Inclusive Design?

We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.

The Three Dimensions of Inclusive Design

At the IDRC and the Inclusive Design Institute we stress three dimensions of inclusive design:

1: Recognize diversity and uniqueness

Inclusive design keeps the diversity and uniqueness of each individual in mind. As individuals spread out from the hypothetical average, the needs of individuals that are outliers, or at the margins, become ever more diverse. Most individuals stray from the average in some facet of their needs or goals. This means that a mass solution does not work well. Optimal inclusive design is best achieved through one-size-fit-one configurations. Flexible or adaptable systems such as digital systems are most amenable to this but the emergence of 3D printers and other mechanisms of bespoke manufacturing and component-based architectures can also achieve diversity-supportive design. This does not imply a separate, specialized or segregated solution. Segregated solutions are not sustainable economically or technically. Inclusively designed personalization and flexible configurations must be integrated to maintain interoperability and currency. This also does not imply adaptive systems that make choices for the user. Inclusive design recognizes the importance of self-determination and self-knowledge. Design choices or configuration choices vest with the user and the adaptive design fosters the growth of self-knowledge wherever possible.

2: Inclusive process and tools

The process of design and the tools used in design are inclusive. (This dimension is in line with Scott Page’s observations regarding the performance of groups that include diverse perspectives.  Scott Page has empirically shown that a group that includes diverse perspectives, especially perspectives from the margins, trumps a group of the “best and brightest,” in decision-making, accurate prediction and innovation). Inclusive design teams should be as diverse as possible and include individuals who have a lived experience of the “extreme users” (as coined by Rich Donovan) the designs are intended for.  This also respects the edict “nothing about us without us” without relegating people with disabilities to the role of subjects of research or token participants in design exercises. To support diverse participation and enable the design to be as closely linked as possible to the application, the design and development tools should become as accessible and usable as possible. This dimension does not denigrate the skills of professional designers but calls for those skills to become more accessible and for the design process to become more inclusive of diverse designers and consumers.

3: Broader beneficial impact

It is the responsibility of inclusive designers to be aware of the context and broader impact of any design and strive to effect a beneficial impact beyond the intended beneficiary of the design. Inclusive design should trigger a virtuous cycle of inclusion, leverage the “curb-cut effect”, and recognize the interconnectedness of users and systems. To realize this broader positive impact requires the integration of inclusive design into design in general. This third dimension supports the healthier, wealthier and wiser societies Wilkinson and Pickettobserved in their research of more equal communities.