Sophie Abdi

Business Director, CXM Group, dentsu Singapore

thought leadership

Understanding what inclusive design is

In the world of design and user experience (UX), there are many jargons, which can be used loosely.

The topic of inclusive design is no exception, even practitioners and clients tend to use it interchangeably with accessibility and universal design, but they each describe a slightly different concept.

For the purpose of this article, I will define inclusive design as a noun, with the notion that a specific audience was considered during the design process. Both universal design and accessibility describe an end-product, with an emphasis on how successful the product or service is in serving everyone universally. Universal design and accessibility guidelines are standards for spaces, products and services to include people with disabilities (PWDs). 

Why us inclusive design important?

Inclusive design is a process and a journey

Inclusive design shifts our focus from product to process. It is a human-centred design process that embraces diversity from end-to-end. While universal design and accessibility guidelines are valuable for auditing spaces and digital services respectively, these guidelines are prescriptive, non-contextual and don’t account for emotion. That’s where the process of inclusive design brings value - it helps us to empathise with human stories and emotions - the bedrock of lived experience.

Driving innovation and business growth

We embrace inclusive design when we expand our target audience to people who we once excluded, and involve them in the design process. While this is not limited to PWDs, some of the most striking examples focus on this community, and it is a clear business case for inclusion.

OXO’s cooking tools are a classic example of great design inspired by disability. Known for ease of use, the cooking tools were created because Founder Sam Farber saw his wife struggle to use a standard peeler given her arthritic condition. After more than two decades, the homeware brand continues to be known for reinventing kitchen gadgets.

On the digital front, auto-complete technology aims to help the physically-impaired type faster and YouTube’s automatic text captions were initially designed for those with hearing-impairments. Yet, many including yourself have benefitted from these advances.

Not only have companies created customer delight for more people, they have also expanded their customer base and pushed the boundaries of inclusive design.

Who is inclusive design for?

Inclusive design considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference.

Besides inclusive design for PWDs, one group of people to consider is the transgender community, for example. In a case of a transgender woman who had rented on Airbnb for years as a man, the tech company had not provided settings for her to fix people’s comments. While other renters were confused by old reviews with “he” pronouns, it certainly was not a pleasant experience for her.

3 practical steps to get started with inclusive design

Here are three steps which will help you put theory into practice:

1. Include a group that you’ve previously excluded as part of your target audience

A myth about inclusion is the need to serve everyone. This is an ideal end state, but it might not be realistic in the business context due to the amount of time and effort required to execute on any inclusive design project.

Each time we consider the needs of a new group of users whom we had previously excluded in our design, we make our product or service more inclusive than it was before.

2. Conduct contextual research to identify the problem

Be it contextual inquiry, in-situ research or ethnography, contextual research methodologies drive empathy as you immerse yourself in the context and environment of the user. It creates opportunities for you to see the world through a different lens. It is a meaningful way to help our clients to be more human-centered in their ways of working.

3. Collaborate with your target audience in the design process

Collaboration allows the diversity of experiences and perspectives to build on each other. This opens the space for ideas and decisions that can only come through conversations.

Beyond driving innovation and business growth, the greatest reward of inclusive design is doing social good. If you believe in the value of your service vision, it’s time to improve - reinvent and innovate with inclusivity as your mandate.

Dentsu Singapore is a Force for Good and Growth. We are committed to achieving meaningful progress towards a sustainable future by addressing the needs and challenges of consumers and businesses, the society, and the environment, creatively and innovatively. We are a lighthouse of creative ideas and a beacon of data-driven and tech-enabled solutions as we come together with like-minded partners to create a truly sustainable world for all.

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