Inclusive – Universal Debate

A man in a checked shirt and wearing a beard looks as if he is talking while pointing his finger at someone.The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? However, it is useful to know where this began and why it continues. The Inclusive Design Research Centre in Canada explains:

“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Is this not the same as universal design? It all depends on your perspective and whether you care about semantics or just getting the job done.

Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was formerly known as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. The Center for Universal Design was also established in North Carolina around this time. Due to its origins in adaptive technology, the emphasis began with information and communication technology. 

The Inclusive Design Research Centre website has a page spelling out their position. In a nutshell they explain why they use the term “inclusive”:

“While Universal Design is about creating a common design that works for everyone, we have the freedom to create a design system that can adapt, morph, or stretch to address each design need presented by each individual.”

They agree that the goals are the same – inclusion. However, they say the context is different because they come from different origins. Universal design from the built environment, and inclusive design from digital technology. They also claim that universal design is about people with disabilities and that the design methods are different.

Followers of universal design would no doubt take issue with phrases such as “one size fits all” and that it seeks only one solution to creating inclusion. The Center for Universal Design chose the term “universal” because they could see that all people could benefit from designs that included people with disability.

Sadly, we still have academia wanting to discuss nuances when there is so much work to be done. We need more research on finding out why we still don’t have more inclusive/universal design in practice. The chart below provides an overview of the relationship between inclusive design elements. However, the 8 Goals of Universal Design are probably more practical and instructive. 

A chart showing the relationship between aspects of inclusive design.

 

Evolving Inclusive Design

Graphic with four vertical bars. From left Product Design, Interface Design, Experience Service, System Design.The concept of inclusive design in UK had a focus on product design, but it has moved on – evolved. A short film, Evolving Inclusive Design explains how the concept has evolved from product design to web design, to service design and then to system design.  

Hua Dong explains the concepts in a straightforward way in the film. In the earlier years the focus was on user capabilities. Then we moved to an interactive focus and design became about the process of using things. User diversity introduces concepts of user experience. The video is 14 minutes but worth the watch. It’s captioned which means you can watch it at an increased speed and still read the captions. 

The film is a great resource for design students and people new to the concepts. 

Inclusive design and universal design are the same thing because they have the same goals. However, there are some who would argue nuanced differences because they come from different histories. Regardless, we need to get on with the job rather than debating terminology. Besides, if universal/inclusive/design-for-all is also about diversity, we can have diverse ways of expressing the conceptThe key is to design for the diversity of the population.

Inclusive Design: Knowing isn’t Doing

Hands and arms reach down to a table with a drawing and coloured post it notes. Knowing about inclusive design and actually doing inclusive design are two different things. That is, industrial design students can tell you what inclusive design is and that it is important, but there is little evidence it shows up in their designs. This was one of the findings from a study of design engineering students.

Inclusive design (ID) modules are integrated in several university courses but the uptake in industry is quite low. The aim of a UK study was to find out what factors can drive better industry outcomes to move towards ID. The report of the findings has some recommendations including briefly:

– Methods and tools need to be covered in more depth
– Class exercises and case studies to demonstrate advantages and disadvantages
– User involvement requires extensive resources
– Discussion and confrontation is also needed

There is more to be gained from reading the paper which is titled, Inclusive Design Education: How to Get it Right.

Abstract: The study reported in this paper aims to understand graduate skills in relation to Inclusive Design (ID) knowledge, tools and methods and how these are related to the curriculum delivered throughout their degree programme. It focusses on students graduating from the Product Design Engineering (PDE) degree programme at the University of Strathclyde. Two research questions are addressed – What Inclusive Design skills do Product Design Engineering graduates typically possess? How might the current curriculum be reviewed to facilitate the enrichment of Inclusive Design skills? Findings report on prevalence of ID tools, methods and skills in graduating students’ project work. A comparison is drawn between evidenced application of ID methods and tools and perceived skills captured from survey results. Reflections on current curriculum and pedagogical approaches are made with discussion focusing on potential adaptations to enhance ID skills in graduates completing the PDE course. Trends including which ID tools and methods are used most/least often or collectively are reported. A comparison is drawn between evidenced application of ID methods and tools and perceived skills captured from survey results. Reflections on current curriculum and pedagogical approaches are made with discussion focusing on potential adaptations to enhance ID skills in graduate Product Design Engineer cohorts.

UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we be in a muddle about terms? For most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, it’s not a big deal.  But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not to have one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments haven’t abated. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

Editor’s Note: I also wrote on the topic of terminology in relation to housing design, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? 

Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

The Caring City: Inhabit not Inhibit

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.A caring city is one that understands the dynamic relationship between individuals and their surroundings. But are our cities caring or careless in their design? Carelessness makes cities uncomfortable, ugly and dull, with traffic movement taking priority over pedestrians. This extends to a multitude of steps and stairways making access difficult or impossible for some. 

Charlotte Bates argues that we need more caring in our cities. Her book chapter is a discussion based on three case studies that illustrate ways to configure care in the design of urban environments. The examples are of an open space, a hospital complex, and a housing estate.

In each example, people are have the opportunity to come together or to retreat into private space. Intimacy and spontaneity are encouraged so that “caring spaces enable connections to be made”. As Bates says, the notion of caring design challenges the designs based on property-led narratives.

black and white photograph of an open terrace at the top of a building. It has a row of stretcher beds facing out to the view.The title of the chapter by Bates, Imrie and Kullman available on ResearchGate is, “Configuring the Caring City: Ownership, Healing, Openness”.  Or you can directly download a PDF of the document.  It was published in 2016 in Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities.

The research underpinning this chapter was funded by the European Research Council.

 

Biophilic Design is for everyone

A workbench with computers overlooks a waterfall and stream. People are looking out of the window.Biophilic design is about the health and wellbeing of building occupants. So is universal design. Biophilic design is receiving interest in design disciplines, but buildings also need to be inclusive. Otherwise the biophilic aspects are lost.

An article by Andrew Heaton in Sourceable discusses some of the studies of offices, hotels, schools and other public buildings. Natural light, natural materials such as timber, and living plants make people feel better. Students study better and hotel guests appreciate the extra sense of comfort. And it goes beyond views from a window. Sounds of nature, textured material, direct sunlight, and natural patterns all have an effect. 

There’s more in this article, including a link to a study on biophilic design in the workplace

It is no surprise that being able to look out at nature and water views effects wellbeing. If it didn’t, homes, hotels and offices would charge a premium for them. They are in demand because people prefer them, even if they don’t know why. 

The title of the article is, Why You Need Biophilic Design on Your Next Project.  

 

Design for participation – inclusion will follow

A whiteboard with design concepts in word bubbles around a drawing of a electric light globe. It indicates brainstorming ideas.Designers can relate to the term “inclusive design” more than other terms. This was one of the findings of a Swedish study. Designers had a general sense of “accessibility”, but they felt intimidated by the term. They thought it was for extreme cases for a few people and something they could ignore.

Designers also thought accessibility was a higher requirement than inclusive design. They felt inclusive design sounded more inviting and positive than accessible or universal design. The workshop method used in this study drew out many fears and anxieties designers had about people with disability. The workshop process was therefore a way of educating and allaying these fears and other perceived difficulties. 

This is an important study for design educators, advocates for people with disability and older people, and creators of guidelines. Perception is everything – it underpins attitudes and in turn, designs. The caveat of language is that the study was not conducted in English. So the direct translations might not apply elsewhere. But the study has much more to offer than terminology.

Terminology for inclusion has always been a problem in design disciplines. It’s also an issue for people working in the world of universal design, inclusive design and design-for-all. Each of these terms, and others, such as human centred design and user centred design, have evolved from different spaces. But their aims are all the same. Regardless of the term, getting users to participate in designs, not just comment on prototypes, will result in inclusive outcomes.  

The title of the article is, “Inclusive Design Thinking: Exploring the obstacles and opportunities for individuals and companies to incorporate inclusive design”. It’s by Esra Kahraman from KTH Royal Institute of Technology EECS, Sweden. 

Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow, the title of this post, is from a separate paper on digital inclusion by Stephan Johansson who is quoted in the article. 

Abstract:  Exclusion by design can be seen in every corner of our society, from inaccessible websites to buildings and it has a significant impact on people with disabilities. As designers and people who have a hand in shaping our environment, having a more holistic view of the target groups when designing for available and new technologies is essential, something that is currently missing. Not only to combat design exclusion but also to challenge and improve current and future products. Related research shows that there are ways to challenge design exclusion but the question of why more inclusive design practices are still not in place remains. This study aims to answer the question: What are the obstacles keeping designers from making more inclusive design choices and what opportunities are there? What are the internal and external factors and how can they be tackled?
The methods chosen to answer these questions were primarily qualitative in forms of interviews, field study, and a workshop. The results from the interviews and empathy building activities done in the workshop highlighted common obstacles the designers felt in their workplace, both on a personal and corporate level.

How to design an inclusive school building

A view of the school courtyard showing a circular garden and blue paving.A design project for a new school building shows how to make it inclusive for everyone. Architects involved users from the outset and then applied the knowledge they gained. This was no typical building because the task was to integrate two existing schools into the one building. One was a primary school and the other is described as a special school. The story is told in a video which begins with the architects talking about their approach. The video goes on to discuss all the elements they needed to consider which make this an excellent exemplar for all buildings.

Good examples of incorporating user feedback are the installation of footbaths. The area has a high Somali population who like to wash their feet before praying. Understanding that some children with autism find sharp building lines difficult influenced the curved building shapes within the building. The placement of toilets so staff don’t have to walk the length of the building each time was another factor in the final design. Integrating overhead hoists for transferring children to and from wheelchairs so that it just looked like part of the overall design – not special. Small details also make a difference. An interesting point was installing different tap styles because it is a learning experience for the children. And of course energy efficiency was not forgotten in the design process. 

 A very useful and interesting video from the UK for anyone interested in design. There are few good examples of inclusive design in action so this is welcome change. 

A second video shows it’s very productive to involve children in the design process. It’s too easy to dismiss them on the basis that they are too young to know much. It’s also a learning process for them too.

 The picture a the top is of the courtyard in the new school.

User perspectives on design: Does it work?

The hands and arms of two people sit at a table covered in papers and post it notes. It indicates a brainstorming session.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 design it’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.

 

Design details and everyday experiences

Title of the article in white text over an image of the top of an escalatorWhat 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. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive, High Quality Decisions? Macro/Micro Design Impacts within our Everyday Experiences, and was accessed from SEGD.org Universal Design webpage.

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.