The thing with design, is it’s never really finished. That feature you’ve been working on for months could always run more smoothly, or your process map could do with one more little tweak. But when it comes to inclusive design, there’s a sense that we haven’t really even gotten started.
Of course, there are some fantastic practitioners and designers who promote inclusive practice, and there are also reams and reams of pixels on the internet about how designers can make their products more accessible and inclusive. But on a day to day basis, as a community, we’re not designing inclusively. We as a company also recognise a hole in our process in this regard, and want to do better.
Instead we’re learning and talking about inclusive design as a mindset and a philosophy that becomes a methodology. It’s a mindset that understands the importance, as Susan Goltsman said, of ‘Designing for a diversity of ways to participate so everyone has a sense of belonging.” Additionally, it’s a way of thinking that is rooted in equity rather than equality: giving more to people who need it which is proportionate to their own circumstances.
Circumstance is a useful way to translate what can feel like a nebulous idea, into something concrete. Microsoft has developed a framework that understands that designing for people with disabilities results in designs that benefit people universally. This is because everyone is affected by their circumstances or as the design world prefers to say, constraints, in daily life either on a permanent, semi-permanent or moment-to-moment basis.
For example, designing for someone with one arm also benefits the new parent holding a baby and someone carrying their shopping back from the shops. Some people have one arm all the time, even if you have two you might have to carry a small child or a pet at some point, and even if you don’t have to do that, you’ll most likely have to carry your shopping home in your life. Therefore, whilst you might think you’re only designing for one specific or niche use case, this mindset actually means you’re designing for many. And what does this result in? A better product that can be used by more people, more often.
This thinking is similar to Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Eric Mayer’s ‘method of crisis’. The authors challenge designers to focus on the stress cases, or the moments of crisis. This involves recreating the stress felt for example, by a blind person anxious about whether they can use your site with a screen reader. In a sighted person, you could think of the pressure you feel when your phone battery is running out but you have to fill in an online form. If your solution works in this type of situation, then it’s likely to work in every other situation.
What’s exciting about this shifting mindset, is that designers are in a unique place to put inclusive methods into practice. Service designer Mirihum Pernia articulated this perfectly at the Future of Service Design event when she said, “We need to become narrators of different contexts.” What we interpret this to mean is that service designers and any function involving user research, are enablers of conversations where those different narratives emerge. We can then use our toolbox to connect the dots, synthesise and bridge the gap between different understandings of inclusivity to create something better.
As Cat Macaulay, Chief Design Officer for the Scottish Government also observed at the same event, this practice is intrinsically linked to power in so far as who is invited to take part in our work and how. By asking ourselves these questions, we as service designers can proactively shift the scales to more inclusive provision.
Similarly in product design, whilst the accessibility of a product is the responsibility of an entire team, for inclusivity to embed itself into the culture of a product, UX designers and product leads need to ensure that the developers they are working with are also aware of the importance and their role in, designing inclusively.
So what next?
At Furthermore, one of our favourite parts of the job is having a good natter. Besides being a bit nosey, we realise that conversation is the best tool we have to help us design inclusively. That’s why over the next few months we’ll be reaching out to all sorts of organisations to get in touch with the people they serve and support from all walks of life. We’ll be listening to the things they’re enjoying at the moment, their frustrations as well as what they had for dinner yesterday. Why? Because as designers, we think we could get to know our community better so that when we’re designing the next big thing, we’re designing it for everyone.
This insight was brought to you by Natalia, service designer at Furthermore. Natalia is passionate about learning from others, intersectional gender equity and really delicious bread. Get in touch below for a virtual cuppa.
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