Just and Fair Design

Museum entrance with steps and ramp integrated. The tiles are a light colour and the way the light falls the whole thing looks very confusing.How can design be fair to everyone? Is it even possible to design for everyone? Do the literal interpretations of universal and inclusive design form a paradox of inclusive design approaches. The authors of Just Design argue that justice and fairness in design is not about the output but about the process, and that inclusion is more about the social context rather than the design of a particular thing. An interesting, if long read, for anyone interested in the philosophy underpinning universal design and inclusive practice. Note on the picture: this design would not comply with legislation in Australia. (Access consultants will have fun with this one.)

Editor’s comments: Their arguments are not new to practitioners and advocates of universal design. They understand the context of inclusion is also about the participation of users with a range of disabilities. Discussions and decisions between them help solve the fairness issue. So their argument that making things inclusive can end up still excluding some people while true, is not well encapsulated in some of their examples. The example of a museum entrance (pictured above) that integrates steps and a ramp in a way that they cross over each other is an obvious nightmare for someone who is blind, or has perception difficulties, or needs a handrail on all steps. A consultation with users would have produced a different design solution that would be considered fair. They then add the example of a child’s wheelchair – an item that is by its very nature a specialised design. This device cannot fall under the universal or inclusive design flag, but it does allow participation and inclusion in environments designed to accommodate wheeled mobility devices. It is not clear whether the authors understand the role of user feedback and the iterative nature of designing universally. The aim of authors’ discussion is to propose a theory based on justice and fairness of universal and inclusive design. Their references include the thinking of product designers, as well as built environment designers.

The article, Just Design is by Bianchin and Heylighten and is available from ScienceDirect.