A smiling woman with reddy brown hair , they wear a black top and jeans

Inclusive design – It’s finally being brought to the table

We have been thinking a lot about inclusive design recently. We’re seeing it being it discussed from multiple angles, from our FMCG clients adding inclusivity metrics as a design requirement, to some recent stretching projects with organisations whose explicit intention is to support people with impairments. Our CDO, Craig Wightman, recently curated a discussion at the Global Innovation Forum, discussing with Matt May (Adobe), and Jenny Lay-Flurrie (Microsoft), who head up inclusive design and accessibility at their respective organisations, they gave great examples of how focussing on the needs of people with different capabilities improved design for all.

Inclusive design – What is it?

Put simply, inclusive design is the design of products or services to be used by as many people as is possible.  A common misconception of inclusive design is that it is the design of products to facilitate access for people with specific impairments, when in fact, these ‘assistive technologies’ are often a result of poor inclusive design.

A table of women in a white room with two smiling, sat around a white table with sticky notes and laptops.

An easy example of this is ‘tactile microwave stickers’, this assistive technology has been created to counteract the poorly considered design of many microwaves that use flat panels and homogeneously sized and shaped buttons. If the microwave interface designer had applied inclusive design principals to their work the assistive technology would not have been required. I’ve seen these types stickers in the home of many people with visual impairments, and whilst they’re a great functional tool, I always think it’s a shame that the aesthetic presence of their product has been impacted.

To understand inclusive design properly we need to think about the social model of disability.  This model takes the stance that it is the environment around us that disables the users and not anything about our physical or cognitive selves.  This means that the products, services and environments that we use dictate our engagement with the world and as designers and product decision makers, it means we have the ability to enable or disable our potential users.

Why would you ignore a market larger than China?

Sam Latif

Accessibility Leader for P&G

Why are you talking about it now? 

Inclusive design is not a new concept.  However, I can’t help but feel it dropped off the agenda, with sustainability taking over as the more common ‘ethical driver’ for good design.  But it appears to be coming back to the forefront.

Two things are driving this:

  • Firstly, the impact of the ageing population is undeniable.  The scale of the ‘Over 65s’ impact on our economy is huge and only set to grow.  And many marketing teams are beginning to shift their focus towards the “silver spenders”.  However, within an ageing population also comes an increase in impairments, such as limited dexterity and limited vision which could lead to us being disabled by a product, service or environment.
  • Secondly, a general growing awareness of the need for empathy with people who are different to ourselves.  Representation and equality issues are higher on our cultural agenda than they have been previously and whilst there is always more to do, awareness is growing.

These two drivers together mean no matter what your motivator; company profit, an ethical desire to include, or both… there’s really no excuse to ignore it.  And after all, with an estimated population of 1.85 billion and a disposable income of $13 trillion* it’s no surprise that people with disabilities is a market of interest.

Do we have some good examples? Of course.

Kellogg’s and RNIB collaboration

Three boxes of accessible Kellogg's cereal, cornflakes, special K and coco pops
RNIB collaboration with Kelloggs

The  Kellogg’s  and RNIB partnership is an inspirational example in the application of  both low-tech  inclusive features such as simplified graphics  and  braille and technology solutions (the use of  Navilens)  to make the packaging easier to navigate for  people  with sight loss. But it is also an inspirational example of a partnership, Kellogg’s recognised their existing packaging was excluding a particular  audience and so sought out experts in the area to support development.

A close up of Nike's go flyease hands free shoes in white, green and pink

Nike Go FlyEase 

Nike’s  Go FlyEase trainers incorporate an innovative hinge mechanism that allows a hands-free experience of putting your shoes on and taking them off.  I like this product because the designers have clearly looked at how people with upper limb impairments are forced to interact with the existing product (i.e stepping on the heel to remove shoes) and they’ve designed it in so you don’t damage the shoe as you do it.

A person standing on a red carpet with green socks putting on Nike Go FlyEase trainers with their other foot
Nike Go FlyEase shoe - Nike's first hands free shoe

However, I also think this is an interesting example of the difference between usability and accessibility and how inclusive design should consider both.  Yes, it’s usable by a broader audience,  but, if you only release it on a limited run and they get bought up by sneaker heads who will never wear them anyway, it’s not accessible to the broader audience.

Unilever – Sure Inclusive

A montage of a photo of of a person with short brown hair with no hands holding a Sure deodorant and a photo of the deoderant
Sure Inclusive deodorant

Sure Inclusive is a really great example of pushing inclusive design thinking beyond age related impairments and into the broader population.   Their deodorant is designed with people who might experience more severe difficulties in mind; as this is a smaller market segment, this is a great example of a company who are demonstrating motivation beyond the financial benefits of the ageing population alone… well, it will be when we see it on the shelf.

So, what can we do?  

There are many great resources available online.  Cambridge Universities’ ‘Inclusive Design Toolkit’  is a useful and thought-provoking resource.   But most importantly, you should talk to people.  

During the development process share your designs with as many and as diverse a selection of people as reasonably possible. If there are particular communities that you are concerned may be disabled by your product/service, or that you specifically want to receive feedback from, seek out good representatives from these communities. Or if you do not have capacity to do this yourself, speak to us about how we may support you.  

Disclaimer: This blog is intended to introduce and educate around the concept of inclusive design.  I myself do not live with a disability and I do not wish to be perceived as speaking ‘on behalf of’ any community. If you wish to know more about how your product or service may be perceived and used by particular communities we always recommend speaking to someone with lived experience.  The experience that I bring to the table on this subject is over 10 years of researching and designing products, including a PhD focussing on the how and the why of engaging people with visual impairments in the design of products for mainstream markets. 

Find out more?

Get in touch with Kelly Dawson, our Head of Insight & Innovation.