Designers need help to prioritise

A table with white notes with the word "ideas" written in different ways on each one.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.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Design as a Deliberative Enterprise: The multifold value of involving disabled people in design.

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

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.