Doctors and architects speak different languages. That’s understandable – they’ve been to entirely different schools. We can get by in a foreign country with gestures. But when it comes to communicating detail we need a phrasebook. Similarly, architects and health professionals a similar tool – Playmobile. It helps with design translation.
Using Playmobile figures and 3D printed beds and hospital equipment designers and medical staff can shape the spaces together. Not everyone can grasp the concept of spaces on a two-dimensional drawing. Likewise, designers do not have an intimate understanding of how clinics work. But everyone has played with toys.
Ever wondered what it is like for someone with hearing loss trying to be part of a conversation in a restaurant? Or wondered what it is like to try and read a transit map if you have glaucoma? Now you can check this out online using simulatorsto get the idea of the way things sound and look.
The Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge have come up with a simulator that covers mild, moderate and severe hearing loss in five different settings: restaurant, classical music, rock music, a ringing phone, and a station platform announcement. Similarly, the simulator includes the main vision impairments including macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
You can also use their Exclusion Calculatorfor vision, hearing, thinking, dexterity, reach and stretch and locomotion, to see how many people might be excluded if not thought about in the early stages of design. You can set the calculator for multiple capacities, such as sight, hearing, thinking and locomotion – all of which are needed to negotiate public transport, for example. A very useful tool for any designer.
Colour is an important part of designers’ creative work. When it comes to colour accessibility the creative path takes a few twists and turns. That’s because people who say they are ‘colour blind’ are not all the same. Most can see some colours, but not all of them. So how can designers choose colours that are accessible, especially in digital communications?
Adobe has a blog page that explains the importance of choosing colours. Four images show the three different versions of colour vision deficiency, which are:
Protanopia: Referred to as “red weakness,” this variation of red/green color blindness results in individuals being unable to perceive red light.
Deuteranopia: Also known as “green weakness,” this type of red/green color blindness renders people unable to perceive any green light.
Tritanopia: People who suffer from blue/yellow color blindness have difficulty distinguishing between blue and yellow colors. This form of color blindness is far less common than its red and green counterparts.
Graphic designers will appreciate the colour wheels and ways to avoid a conflict of colours. Examples of good colour choices show that designs can still be attractive as well as functional.
“Color is a foundational element in any creative work. When I took the challenge to design the Color Accessibility feature for Adobe Color, it wasn’t a linear path. While I was conducting research and learning more about accessibility, I realized there was no single tool that holistically helps a designer make a choice of colors that are color-blind safe — a choice that impacts roughly 300 million people globally. This made the case for bringing accessibility into Adobe Color even more compelling, and it is one reason why Adobe wants accessibility to be part of every creative’s process right from the beginning of a project.”
You can try out the online Material Designaccessible colour toolthat provides information on colour contrasts for visual material.
Designing inclusively means to do the best you can to include everyone. But conflicts arise when a design feature suits one group and not another. So how do designers decide what is best? This is where designers need help to prioritise features that provide the most social good. And where else to look but to user groups, older people and people with disability.
A thoughtful conference paper discusses some of the underlying philosophy of inclusive/universal design and takes the road of pluralism. The authors argue that inclusive design, if taken literally, is unattainable. Justice and fairness are discussed and the authors frame this as ‘design as a deliberative enterprise’. Two case studies where people with disability were included in the design process provide a practical basis for their arguments.
Editor’s note: Taking the dictionary definition of “inclusion” for the purposes of research can be helpful if it aids implementation. Perhaps “universal” becomes a better term because it is not about perfection. Rather it is about the iterative process of continuous improvement to include as many people as possible in designs.
Designers are challenged to consider human differences in order to meet the needs of the widest possible audience – the purpose of inclusive design. Yet, paradoxically, taking differences seriously may severely restrict ‘the widest possible audience’. How can design be fair if it is impossible to meet the needs of all? Earlier work on inclusivity and quality in design argued for conceiving inclusive design as a deliberative enterprise that involves both designers and the users they design for. A critical reason to involve the latter is that those affected by design decisions are likely to be best positioned to collect contextual information about the needs and demands to be addressed.
In this paper, we build on this earlier work to take a more detailed look at the deliberative feature of inclusive design. To this end, we analyze two cases in which disabled people, not educated as designers, are involved in design: the first case concerns disabled students and staff of KU Leuven, who give students in engineering-architecture advice on their design projects; the second case concerns the Accessibility Advisory Council in Leuven, Belgium, which is chaired and composed by disabled people, and gives advice on design projects the city is involved in. The analysis is based on written reports and conversations about the project discussions with disabled students/staff and the Advisory Council.
Through this analysis we show that the value of deliberation in this context is multifold: letting contextual information filter in the design process; allowing users to advance reasons for and against possible design alternatives, and draw attention to implications, inconsistencies, ambiguities affecting the relevant beliefs and preferences; enabling both designers and users to reflect on reasons that can be shared, and putting them in a situation of interaction where they can recognize their interrelation with a group.
A new report from the Design Council in the UK discusses the value of design skills. Their research revealed that design skills are generally undervalued, but are essential for the future. In the context of post-COVID-19 economic recovery, automation and climate crisis, it describes the skills we will need. This is a time of opportunity for design to take centre stage. That includes designing universally and inclusively.
The report has a one page chart describing design which is useful for sharing and as a discussion starter. Design is explained under three columns titled, Head (problem solving), Heart (humanity centred) and Hand (practical skills). Under each heading is a list of factors some of which are clearly underpinned by principles and goals of universal design. For example:
Understands the ways things are now, sees what is not acceptable and imagines what it ought to be in the future (under Head).
Communicates visually and inclusively so that everyone can get involved, and values diversity and difference (under Heart).
Makes the invisible visible and the complex understandable and useable – seeing where to act (under Hand).
Standard terms allow us to communicate effectively with each other. For researchers it makes it easier to follow a strand of research. With so many ways of talking about universal designit’s little wonder researchers are trying to find a way around this. However, it will always be a blurry field of investigation because the genie is already out of the bottle. It’s too late to change things now.
User perspectives and user involvement is part of the process of designing universally. A research paper on user perspectives bemoans the terminology problems and attempts to seek some clarity. The authors argue user participation is not a method because there is no rule-based procedure to follow. Research logic is not consistent across studies. So they claim there is no way to validate the design decisions. They conclude that as there is no concise definition, and it’s unlikely to happen, it will be down to an agreed understanding.
In a nutshell, there is no one method or process for user involvement in design. Attempts to devise one and give it a name will be unproductive. Rather, let the status quo remain and agree to an understanding between designers and design academics. Universal design does not offer the comfort of a step by step approach – it requires skill and creativity. That leaves it open for more than one way to achieve design outcomes.
The paper is somewhat technical and discusses the issues of multidisciplinary terms and multi-level inter-dependencies, and of course, terminology. The title of the paper is, Methodological foundations of user involvement research: A contribution to user-centred design theory. It was published in the Proceedings of the Design Society 2020 Conference.
Abstract: The concept of involving user perspectives into product development processes has its roots in the early 1960s. Although this seems to be following a quite long tradition, as a design research field, it did not improve substantially and, so far, no consistent perception or even definition of the concept can be found. The paper points out where design research on user involvement still lacks methodological and theoretical foundation and makes the attempt of providing impulses for systemizing the existing body of knowledge within the Design Society as a research community.
What is it about designs that either include or exclude users? Many designs are everyday – the things we hardly notice. That is, until we have difficulty using them. Design students need to see how exclusion happens.
Deborah Beardslee takes the perspective of physical ability to analyse how inclusion and exclusion happen in the design process. She notes that most designs work reasonably well for most people even if they aren’t designed that well. But we are all familiar with some degree of compromised experience. For example, hard to read instructions, doors that are difficult to open, places difficult to navigate and generally unappealing places.
Beardlee’s article will be of interest to design educators as well as practitioners. It focuses on examining everyday interactions with commonplace items with analysis of several examples. The aim of the paper is to encourage strategies for educating designers to be more inclusive.
Abstract: Age and physical ability are natural filters for assessing the successes of designed objects, messages, and experiences. Design problem solving contributes (or not) to the resolution of challenges faced by aging and/or physically challenged individuals as they interact with products and contexts in the built environment. This paper examines some design details, solutions, and situations that impact everyday inclusivity and quality of experience, and suggests approaches toward understanding and increasing interaction success for all of us.
The comparisons presented in this work are intended to initiate an evolving platform for the discussion and development of design education strategies and content that prioritize aging and physical ability issues. Some familiar macro and micro examples have been chosen to illuminate everyday user interactions, challenges, and considerations. Ideally, increased exposure to these aspects, through audience-, age-, and ability-related projects, courses, and curriculum, will strengthen awareness and empathy in young design students, and encourage thoughtful, and more inclusive, design in the future.
Truly inclusive designs are never really finished, and it takes more than a checklist. It’s about exploring the world with a new map. An article on the Automattic website shows how to begin the journey into inclusive design. The emphasis is on technology, but the concepts apply to other design fields. There are three main steps:
Broadening perspectives and building empathy
Bringing diversity into teams and processes
Building inclusion into designs
Each of the three steps are explained in more detail in the article. Some concepts such as colour contrast are well-known to designers. Less considered factors are providing cost-accessible options of designs, and designing for low bandwidth. Designs should be adaptable for longer life and empower clients to continue without more designer input. These ideas really show that client needs are at the centre of the design. Designing out “pain points” is essential for all users.
Design is a powerful tool and inclusive design has the “potential to unite heterogeneous cultures in shared understanding. To make products and experiences globally accessible.” Good design is inclusive design.
What if web tools could provide accessibility by default? Susanna Laurin thinks it’s possible. In Europe there is a web accessibility directivethat says all public sector websites, documents and apps must be accessible. So, hundreds of thousands of interfaces must be retrofitted. Public servants, developers, UX designers, graphic designers, web authors and others must be trained to make sure new interfaces are inclusive.
The European Parliament has funded a pilot projectto see what can be built into authoring tools to create automatic accessibility. Laurin explains in her article how this is working. Technically it looks promising because the existing tools share many of the same challenges. The next step is to start developing and designing tools with in-built accessibility features.
You don’t have to be an ICT specialist to recognise the importance of this project, and that the European Parliament sees this as a priority. This item is from the G3ict blog site.
For non-tech people who want to understand a bit more, have a look at this Easy Read version of How can new technologiesmake things better for people with disabilities?
Colour is often used in charts, maps and infographics, but what if you can’t see some colours? One in twelve men are colour blind, but not for all colours or the same colours. Infographics are becoming more popular as a means of explaining things. So choosing the best colours is to everyone’s advantage. Venngage website has an good guide and lots of tips on making charts more accessible. It shows the three types of colour blindness and compares them with normal vision. Different colour palettes are provided along with templates. The blog page includes links to other resources. Colour combinations to avoid include: