October 12, 2023

Inclusive Design designing for a society where everyone can participate

Inclusive design is an approach that embraces diversity and aims to design products, services, and environments that are accessible to everyone.

Picture: Human centered research on neurodiversity, by Clément Meyer

We live in a world full of diversity that is constantly evolving. Together, we face the challenges that this diversity brings, and it is essential to ensure that everyone can participate and continue to do so. Inclusive design is an approach that seeks to achieve this. In this article, you will discover what inclusive design means and why it is an indispensable approach in our rapidly changing modern society.

Why is inclusive design important?

• Moral and Ethical Considerations: Inclusive design ensures that products and services are accessible to a diverse group of people, regardless of their age, physical limitations, cultural background, or other individual characteristics. This fosters a society based on equality.

• Future-Proofing: The world around us continues to change, with new technologies emerging, aging populations, and the consequences of climate change. This presents significant challenges. Inclusive design ensures that products and services remain relevant for an ever-changing population and environment.

• Market Expansion: When products and services are accessible to a broader audience, their market share can increase.

• Enhanced User Experience: Inclusive design often results in a better user experience for everyone, not just people with specific needs. For example, consider video subtitles, which benefit not only deaf or hard of hearing individuals but also everyone in noisy environments.

• Innovation and Creativity: Striving for inclusive design can lead to innovative solutions and creative approaches. It pushes designers to think outside traditional boundaries and find new ways to solve problems.

In summary, inclusive design is a valuable approach to design that reflects and values the diversity of people.

How do you see inclusive design in the world around us?

We spoke with two designers from our Fundamentals network, who work with the principles of inclusive design. Juup de Kanter specializes in designing encounters, while Gerjanne van Gink is a product designer with a focus on innovation in healthcare.

Designing Events for Introverted People

Juup Laarman-de Kanter has over 20 years of experience in the education sector and is an expert in creating impactful encounters. We talked to Juup about how she applies inclusive design to events. Juup believes that better outcomes are achieved when everyone contributes. For example, in brainstorming sessions at events, extroverted individuals tend to share their opinions more quickly, while introverted individuals are more likely to keep their thoughts to themselves. Valuable input is often missed. Juup explains that inclusive design is about feeling welcome, being seen, and accessibility. There are several ways to make introverted people feel welcome during an event, such as incorporating "white spaces" and offering various working methods.

White Spaces

"One recurring challenge when organizing events is to create enough 'white space' in the program. This is because enthusiastic organizers often try to fill their programs to the brim," Juup says. These white spaces provide introverts with the room they need to absorb information, and extroverts can ask questions or engage with others. This also contributes to the inclusivity of different audience needs.

Different Working Methods

Juup also experimented with offering various working methods during the European Meeting and Event Conference (EMEC). People were given the same working method but in a different setting, resulting in a distinct feel and effect. At the entrance, attendees were asked how they preferred to receive information, whether by listening in a chair, working with the information at high tables, or socializing on a couch. This allowed everyone to choose how they wanted to receive information. The responses were positive, with comments like "I enjoyed listening" or "it was great to work with the material right away."

Designing for People with Dementia

Product designer and health innovator Gerjanne van Gink uses inclusive design to find solutions for societal issues. One example is the ‘vergeet-me-niet-pad’ (forget-me-not path)." Together with landscape architect Sanne Janssen, Gerjanne developed this during their participation in the ‘Dementia in Public Spaces’ project supported by the Stimuleringsfonds and the Rotterdam municipality. The goal was to design something for people with dementia. The result was the ‘vergeet-me-niet-pad’, which raises awareness and attention for people with dementia. The design consists of blue forget-me-not flowers on the ground, serving as a route, a crosswalk, or an entryway into the neighborhood.

Vergeet-mij-niet-pad voor mensen met dementie

Picture: 'Vergeet-me-niet-pad', by Gerjanne van Gink

Involving the Target Audience

According to Gerjanne, it is crucial to ensure that people feel heard and equal. Throughout the entire design process of the ‘vergeet-me-niet-pad’, this was a focal point. The initial phase of the design process involved delving into the target audience. "The language you use is crucial in determining whether someone feels treated equally. For someone with (early-stage) dementia, emphasizing the situation can be uncomfortable," explains Gerjanne.

What are the Fundamentals of Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design encompasses various principles and guidelines. Here are some of them:

• Involve the User in the Design Process: Engaging a diverse group of users in the design process is essential. Their feedback and insights can help identify problems and improve usability.

Recognize and Value Diversity: Inclusive design acknowledges the diversity of people and aims to consider different needs, abilities, cultures, and backgrounds.

Flexibility: Inclusive design accommodates the changing needs of users over time. Products, services, and environments should be adaptable and cater to different life stages.

Simplicity and Clarity: Designs should be straightforward, with understandable instructions and information. Unnecessary complexity should be avoided to minimize confusion.

One Size Fits All: Inclusive design is based on the premise that as many people as possible can use the design without the need for adjustments or personalization.

Fundamentals Academy and Inclusive Design

At Fundamentals, we connect clients with challenges related to inclusive design with creative professionals. We also facilitate connections between education and clients in the learning and development programs we develop.

If you'd like to discuss this topic and the possibilities, don't hesitate to reach out.

Text: Sira Bongers


OCAD University. (z.d.). Inclusive Design Research Centre. Retrieved October 12, 2023, from https://legacy.idrc.ocadu.ca/about-the-idrc/49-resources/online-resources/articles-and-papers/443-whatisinclusivedesign

University of Cambrige. (z.d.). Concept Design Process: Overview. Retrieved October 12, 2023, from http://www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com/GS_overview/overview.html
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