Who do we include in co-design?

Traffic light icon with Problem in red, Analysis in Yellow, and Solution in Green. Academics talk about “vulnerable groups” based on ethics approval language. But what they mean is, people who have difficulty participating because they have a disability, illness, or some other condition. Indeed, some ethics requirements are so protective of “vulnerable groups” that they are exclude them from research projects. Consequently their voices are silenced. So how do we include them in co-design and when?

While co-design is the new buzz word, participatory design has been around in academia for many years. Involving communities in decision-making is now recognised as being responsive to community needs. That means going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to design. 

Participatory design

Participatory design, or co-design, is about genuine inclusion. That is, not just informing the design, but being participants in the design process. However, involving people with complex needs poses some challenges. It’s easy to make assumptions about their capacity to participate and collaborate. However, this comes down to the way the participation process is designed. 

Participatory design and the inclusion of vulnerable groups is the topic of an article from Finland. They use three projects to compare how participatory design might work best. The first explored co-design activities with people with intellectual disabilities living in supported housing. The second focused on culturally diverse young people experiencing crisis situations. The third dealt with nursing students with learning disabilities adapting to work in the health sector.

Challenges and power dynamics

The article covers the challenges, the power dynamics and their methodology. Each of the three projects is documented in detail. The findings show some similarities between the projects, but when it came to users, there were different outcomes and processes. Participatory design became more challenging when there were more pronounced differences in power dynamics.

These three projects provide good information for involving vulnerable groups in participatory design processes. Questions of equality and genuine inclusion is about both the design activities and how the entire project is planned. 

The title of the article is, Whom do we include and when? participatory design with vulnerable groups

From the abstract

This article makes three contributions to participatory design (PD) research and practice with vulnerable groups:

    1. A framework for understanding stakeholder engagement over the course of a PD project.
    2. Approaches to making user engagement and PD activities more inclusive.
    3. An analysis of how the design and power dynamics of PD projects affect vulnerable groups’ participation.

A map of engagement evaluates stakeholder involvement from initial problem definition to design outcome. 

The first looks at codesign activities to support decision-making in the context of intellectual disabilities. The second looks at culturally diverse youth navigating crisis without adequate assistance from public services. The third examines nursing students adapting to work in the health sector without accommodations for learning disabilities.

Comparing the projects reveals patterns in project planning and execution, and in stakeholder relationships. The article analyses how users are defined, engaged and supported in PD; how proxies shape vulnerable groups’ involvement and PD projects as a whole; and opportunities for greater inclusion when the entire PD project is taken into account.

Making questionnaires more readable

A young woman sits at a desk with her laptop open. She has her face covered by her hands and is indicating distress. Time to make questionnaires more readable.One area of inclusion and accessibility that often gets forgotten is readability of forms and questionnaires. Academics and marketing professionals regularly use surveys to get information from specific groups of people. Within those groups will be people with varying levels of capability in terms of being able to decipher what’s on the screen or form. And it isn’t all about literacy and reading ability. It’s about the different ways people see and interpret the information. Here are some good tips for making questionnaires more readable from Alex Haagaard in Medium

Likert Scales

Likert scales aren’t great for screen readers because they often interpret them as tables. But much depends on the design of the survey platform. Even if they are screen-readable, Likert scales can be difficult for people who are neurodiverse. People who are autistic or dyslexic struggle with visual tracking across and between rows. This creates the need to exert more brain power to focus on getting the corresponding check box. 

Instead of using a Likert scale, use a series multiple choice questions to capture the same information. Creating page breaks to separate distinct sections of the questionnaire also helps with readability for everyone.

Balancing access conflicts

A hand holding a pen poised on a questionnaire form ready to check a box on the form. There is lots of lines of text and check boxes. As is often the case, making something more accessible for one group can create problems for another. So it’s important to identify these early and eliminate or mitigate the barriers. 

One solution is to provide optional comment boxes where the participant can choose whether to reply in their own words. People who want to quickly complete the questionnaire can skip this.  

Haagaard takes things a step further with a suggestion to provide detailed explanations about terms and concepts at the beginning of each section. However, this is tiresome for screen readers and others might find this overwhelming. Participants can be asked at the beginning of the survey if they would like the key information repeated for each section. Those who say no can have the concise experience.

In summary, Haagaard acknowledges that it is unrealistic to assume that anything can be fully accessible to everyone. That means that there will still be occasions where an alternative means of participating is required. This might be an interview or an email. 

The title of the article is Making Your Surveys More Readable. This is the third in a series on cognitively accessible survey design. 

Excluding by design: an Indigenous perspective

Front cover of the book with West's chapter on an Indigenous perspective on design.Peter West presents a philosophical essay on design from an Indigenous perspective. He argues that universal design is a Western thought based on Western knowledge systems. Although co-design invites others in it’s still driven by Western white values. 

West’s essay is an academic piece covering ideas that challenge Western notions of design. He contends that lack of indigenous sovereignty is a problem because it counters Western knowledge systems and governance. 

West argues that while Design invites others in (co-design methods), it remains “politely dominant”. Asking to be included – to be “let in” – begs questions such as, What am I now being included in? And at what cost and whose larger purpose? These are questions other marginalised groups might also ask. 

The book chapter by Peter West is titled, Excluding by design and is open access. 

From the conclusion

Indigenous sovereignty (and sovereignties) is the foundation from which non-Indigenous people can be in sovereign relationship, therefore Indigenous sovereignty cannot be othered, marginalised or included.

I am surrounded by the pluriversality of Indigenous sovereignties not as something I can know through Western ways of knowing or that attempting to replicate is knowing, but what I need to know is how to live and Design in a sovereign relationship. 

What is most likely to disrupt my relationship to Indigenous sovereignty is non-Indigeneity reorganising itself as it designs the gravitational pull of Western standards of what can be included, empathised with and what creates a palatable form of diversity.

Now, diversity and inclusion risks being an activity of designing ways of overcoming gaps in design and avoiding the admission that the knowledge base itself is the problem.

From the abstract

Western Design education and Design practice discourse is beginning to
express a need for greater diversity and inclusion.  For design to be inclusive, this must also beg the questions: Who has been excluded from Design, what are these practices of exclusion and what is revealed of Designs privilege to assume the position of host and includer?

However, when approached through Designs problem, solution mindset diversity and inclusion is at risk of being an answer motivated by offering a
more broadly transactional reach and ‘usefulness’.

It is important to recognise that the shift to inclusion as a policy emphasis does not erase past exclusions. Instead, the desire for diversity and inclusion can lead to Design positioning itself as benefactor, in a state of white virtue, rather than recognising itself as dominant discipline and system which politely adapts and consumes the invited other. 

In Australian design contexts, there is an enthusiastic desire to engage with and include Indigenous peoples and knowledges within Western design education institutions. However, I contend that the inability to recognise and be in relation to Indigenous sovereignty, as the basis of the Australian state, has resulted in Design being ill-equipped and perhaps incapable of practicing in relation to Indigenous knowledge systems (sovereignty).

This chapter explores contends that it is necessary to identify and disrupt (white) racialised logics within design lest it consume pluriversal thinking as a ‘value add’. I argue that the white racialised logics in design are illusive, adaptive and an exclusive disciplining practice. I draw upon critical race whiteness and indigeneity theory along with the seminal work of the Decolonising Design Group to explore a critical reset of the design episteme in relation to Indigenous sovereignty by knowing its ontological and epistemic boundedness.

City Access Map

CITY ACCESS MAP is a web application that shows how cities across the world are doing in terms of accessibility. It’s open source and covers any urban area with more than 100,000 residents. It computes walking accessibility down to the block level. It’s a tool for almost anyone who has an interest in cities that have access to services within a 15 minute walk.

A city view of the city access map. Short walking distances are shown in yellow and orange and long distances in purple.
A close up view of a city on the CITY ACCESS MAP

The CITYACCESSMAP is interactive and shows the differences in cities across the globe. For example, it shows that Bogota, Colombia is one of the most accessible cities. Orlando USA on the other hand is one of the least accessible. France is generally accessible with many cities reaching high levels of accessibility.

Australia is represented by Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Searching by city brings a close up view of the suburbs. In Sydney, it shows good accessibility in and around the CBD. However, as expected as you move to outer suburbs accessibility reduces considerably.

It should be noted that the term “accessibility” mainly refers to access to services rather than an accessible built environment. The tool is worth investigating as a planner and administrator in any field. If nothing else, it is interesting to see how countries compare.

For IT people wanting to know the detail of the map design there is more information in a separate section. You can download processed data for any city in the application.

The scientific research is also available and you can contribute to the project by contacting Leonardo Nicoletti.

Co-design is not new

Scandinavians have a reputation for good looking and functional design. But there is a gap in the story of an evolving design culture across society. Designers began involving users in their design processes in the 1970s. So co-design is not new and is not a fad, but it is absent from design history.

Maria Görandsdotter says there are two probable reasons why user-centred design has not been included. One is that history has favoured aesthetics, meanings and impact of design rather than the design process. The other is that little has been written about the way design methods have evolved. It’s all been about Scandinavian design and not designing.

A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.

… the design methods movement sought to understand and describe ‘the new design methods that have appeared in response to a worldwide dissatisfaction with traditional procedures’.

Görandsdotter traces different histories in her book chapter including collaboration with experts in other fields. The idea that only professional designers should design was challenged at an international conference on design participation in 1971. This is where the lines began to blur between designer and user.

There could be two reasons…

Görandsdotter presents two design histories to open up thinking about what design has been and what it might be in the future. Ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers in relation to users. This was linked to Swedish disability legislation and research funding. Participatory design came about as a result of designers’ and users’ co-development of computer-based work tools. It expanded ideas of what design was, how how it happens, and with what kinds of materials. 

For anyone interested in design, and particularly collaborative design, this is an interesting read. It puts co-design into an historical context. In doing so, it shows it is not the latest fashion or fad in designing.

The title of the chapter is, Designing Together: On Histories of Scandinavian User-Centred Design. It is published in the open access book, Nordic Design Cultures in Transformation,1960-1980.

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the emergence of user-centred and participatory Scandinavian design ideas and practices in 1970s Sweden. Many of the concepts and methods still highly present – supported as well as contested – in contemporary design stem from the turn towards collaborative designing through the late 1960s and early 1990s.

However, in Nordic design history, these radical changes in design practice have been more or less invisible. This chapter argues that a shift in perspective is needed in design history in order to address this design historical gap, while also highlighting the historicity embedded in contemporary practices of design.

The two examples of transitional design histories given here aim to open up conceptual spaces necessary for re-thinking what design’s histories could be, also in relation to what designing may be becoming.

The first example highlights how ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers and designing in relation to ideas of use and users, linked to Swedish disability legislation and research funding.

The second example discusses how participatory design was called into being as challenges of designers’ and users’ co-development of computer-based work tools expanded ideas of what design was, how and with whom designing took place, and with what kinds of materials.

These transitional design histories aim to expand the views of what is discerned as relevant histories of design, while simultaneously calling attention to the historicity embedded in contemporary and emerging design methods and ideas. Following the traces and trajectories of changing design practices, histories of designing contribute to unpacking concepts central to expanding understandings of what design has been, as well as of what it could become.

Google spells out accessible, inclusive, usable

A woman stands on a stage with a woman sitting behind her. She is making a presentation to an audience. Google spells out accessible, inclusive and usable.It would be good if all designers took their lead from the likes of Apple and Google: inclusion, accessibility and usability are about the design process. Apart from clearly explaining how these terms are linked and can be used together, Google spells out accessible, inclusive and usable in a half hour video 

Infographic showing three groups of disability: permanent, temporary and situational. From Microsoft.
Microsoft infographic: Permanent, temporary, situational disability

The video also has some tips and tools for designers and shows how three different users have the same need: a man with a mobility disability (permanent), a boy with a broken arm (temporary) and a woman with an armful of shopping (situational). Microsoft designed an infographic to illustrate the point. 

Individual situations might be different but they all have the same need for accessibility. And people have the same goals they want to achieve regardless of their situation.

This instructional presentation is aimed at an audience interested in designing apps, particularly the second half of the video. However, the messages in the first half can be applied to other design disciplines. 

Co-designing for the digital world

If you want to create something really useful for intended users, asking them to participate in the design process is a good way to go. And that means the design of anything – guides and toolkits included. From Ireland comes a toolkit for co-designing for the digital world where participants are people with intellectual disability.

A collage of faces from around the world and pictures of smartphones. co-design for the digital world.

A series of iterative workshops involving people with intellectual disability formed the foundation of an accessible design toolkit.

Co-design is important in the area of digital design and computer interaction. However, projects that claim to be user-centred often become technology led rather than user driven. A university in Ireland teamed up with a community service that supports people with intellectual disability. With the guidance of researchers, computer science students and community service users engaged in a co-creation process from which a toolkit was developed.

The collaboration highlighted the need for accessible design resources and training materials for both students and users. While there are many resources on co-design processes, and design thinking, few address people with intellectual disability. Those that do exist are not accessible or suitable for people with intellectual disability.

The toolkit is about co-designing with people with intellectual disability. Two overarching principles emerged. Use simple English with short sentences and simpler grammatical structures. Provide visual aids – icons and images – to overcome literacy limitations.

The paper explains the co-creation process in detail. The authors call the users co-designers, which is confusing because co-design usually means all participants including designers.

Understanding the complex process of consent to participate had to be resolved for the users. Another difficulty was encouraging participants speak up about design flaws or issues.

The title of the paper is, An Inclusive Co-Design Toolkit for the Creation of Accessible
Digital Tools
.

From the abstract

Existing toolkits and resources to support co-design are not always accessible to designers and co-designers with disabilities. We present a study of a co-design process, where computer science students worked with service users with intellectual disabilities. The aim was to create digital applications together.

A series of co-design focus group sessions were conducted with service users previously involved in a co-design collaboration. The information from these sessions was used to devise an accessible design toolkit. This toolkit is intended to generate a sustainable resource to be reused in the student programme at TU Dublin but also in the wider community of inclusive design.

Editor’s comment: Most guides and toolkits are based on well-researched evidence, but the value of the evidence is sometimes lost in technicalities or too many words. A co-design process will seek out the key information that guideline users want and need.

Designing for Diversity and Inclusion

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities. Designing for diversity.Inclusive design is often misunderstood as designing specifically for people with disability. Similarly, the term “diversity and inclusion” is associated with people from diverse backgrounds. Designing for diversity means both – designing for as many people as possible across age, ability and background

Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked. But then there is the role of designers themselves.

The Role of Designers

A page from a report showing that more than 50% of designers are male, and 80% are white.How do we design for the full-spectrum of user experience, if the designers themselves do not present a variety of experience and perspectives? Inherent in their role, user experience designers, or UX designers, are required to design the overall experience of a person using the product.

Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga believe that diversity generates diversity. Touching on topics such as diversity in the design industry, inclusion, equality and equity and gender, this series of five articles explores design from within the industry to explore the impact that designers have on people’s lives.

There are five articles in the series, Design is diversity: it’s time to talk about our role as designers:

The benefits of a diverse team

Is diversity a problem in the design industry?

Celebrating our differences and showing you (truly) care about inclusion

The difference between Equality and Equity in design

Ladies That UX on women in design and diversity.

How “the user” frames what designers see

Front cover of book Anthropology in BusinessUniversality in design gets a mention in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business. Megan Neese’s chapter raises a good point about terminology in the business world. She says, “Marketing teams talk about consumers. Research teams talk about respondents. Engineering teams talk about targets. Designers talk about users. These terms tend to be used simultaneously and somewhat interchangeably in corporations…”. So finding common ground is not always easy when developing a product.

Neese’s chapter discusses the many layers needed in any design, such as, culture, function, regulations, industry initiatives, and social trends. It is thoughtfully written and easy to read.

How “the User” Frames What Designers See: What Cultural Analysis Does to Change the Frame” is in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016.

Diversity, Design and Usability

An infographic wheel with Designing for Diversity at the hub, and the different factors mentioned in the text around the hub.The term ‘Diversity’ is often thought of as a cultural thing just as ‘Accessibility’ is thought of as disability thing. The concept of universal design doesn’t separate these and doesn’t separate them from what’s considered mainstream. That’s the meaning of inclusion and inclusiveness. But let’s not get hung up on the words. 

Diversity covers gender, ethnicity, age, size and shape, income, education, language, culture and customs. There is no Mr or Ms Average – it’s a mythical concept. Dan Jenkins writes about diversity as inclusion for the Design Council and makes this observation;

“Often, it’s a perceived efficiency-thoroughness trade off – a variant of the 80:20 rule, that crudely suggests that you can get it right for 80% of the people for 20% of the effort, while it takes a further 80% of the effort to get it right for the remaining 20%. However, much of the time it is simply that the designers haven’t thought enough about the diversity of the people who wish to interact with the product that they are designing, often because it’s not in the culture of the company.”

Similarly to Kat Holmes, Jenkins says to think of capability on three levels:

1.    Permanent (e.g. having one arm)
2.    Temporary (e.g. an arm injury)
3.    Situational (e.g. holding a small child)

“The market for people with one arm is relatively small, however, a product that can be used by people carrying a small child (or using one of their arms Infographic wheel with Usability in the centre. The next ring has three factors: Sensory, Physical and Cognitive. The outer rim expands on these three aspect.for another task) is much larger. As such, designing for the smaller market of permanent exclusions is often a very effective way of developing products that make the lives of a much wider group of customers more flexible, efficient and enjoyable.”

Jenkins reminds us that all our capabilities will be challenged eventually, either permanently or temporarily. That’s why designers need to think of the one arm analogy in their design thinking. Excellent easy read article from the Design Council. Infographics are taken from the article.

Much of Jenkins’ content is similar to Kat Holmes material and the Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit. There are three articles on this website that feature Kat Holmes:

Typewriters: A device for vision loss.

What does inclusion actually mean?  

What is the meaning of inclusion in inclusive technology?  

Also Kat Holmes book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design,

Inclusive Design Canvas

Many designers know about universal design but don’t yet know what makes a design inclusive and accessible. Two researchers from the Inclusive Design Team in Cambridge embarked on a study to find out how to address this issue. They came up with the Inclusive Design Canvas.

A button link to the Inclusive Design Canvas. Its says, Embrace empathy and get new ideas with the inclusive design canvas.

Guaranteeing inclusive environments for all is a fundamental step towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. The Inclusive Design Canvas is designed to help architects to engage in co-design processes and assess their designs for inclusivity.

The image is from Zallio’s IDEA Toolbox

The key question is, “How is it possible to educate architecture design professionals to reduce points of exclusion for building occupants?” With this in mind, the researchers set out to address the mismatch between design, construction and delivery of a building to meet the principles of inclusion. In short, what resources do architects need to embed inclusive design in the design process?

The researchers ran two workshops with architectural design professionals, many of whom are overloaded with guides and regulations. Consequently, the idea of another design tool was met with ambivalence. But continuing professional development is required and this encouraged participation. This is another case where co-design can educate users while finding out what their issues are.

The title of the article is, The Inclusive Design Canvas. A Strategic Design Template for Architectural Design Professionals. The authors explain the process and the outcomes that lead to the design tool. The key point is that inclusion needs to be embedded within the design process, not left until the end. It also needs to be incorporated into design software. The researchers hope to populate the tool with good examples in the future.

From the abstract

Designing accessible and inclusive buildings is essential if they are to provide enjoyable and inspiring experiences for all their occupants. Many architectural design professionals have a lack of awareness of the aspects to consider when designing. This is limiting the uptake of inclusive design.

This study involved expert stakeholders and provides evidence for the demand to create an Inclusive Design Canvas. This is a design template for building industry professionals to help them embed inclusive design in the design process.

See also Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice (Zallio and Clarkson, 2021)

There is a technical report that supports the development of the Inclusive Design Canvas. It’s titled, A validation study on the challenges that architectural practitioners face when designing inclusively.

Accessibility Toolbar