Inclusive Design Wheel: does it work?

The Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge have completed their Dignity project on digital access to transport. They worked in four European cities to see how best to help travellers and providers. The aim of the project was to see how all stakeholders can help bridge the digital gap. They did this by co-creating more inclusive solutions using co-design methods. Their Inclusive Design Wheel was devised as a means to drive and guide a co-design method to improve digital access to transport.

The evolution of paper-based train and bus timetables to digital formats has benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, digital formats offer more detailed information to help plan journeys. On the other, the amount of information can be overwhelming – that is, if you can find what you are looking for. And if you don’t have access to digital services then this format is of no use at all.

A pile of mobile phones

The idea is to create mainstream digital products and services that are usable by as many people as possible.

Policy-makers can use the information to formulate long-term innovative strategies.

The Inclusive Design Team devised a Inclusive Design Wheel which conceptualises the research co-design process. It is another way of presenting participatory action research. The key elements of the Wheel are Explore, Create, Manage and Evaluate.

A graphic showing a complex circular chart with many elements. It looks very academic and take time to read and perhaps understand.

The Inclusive Design Wheel looks very complex. However, it has all the elements described in the Dignity project report.

The Dignity report is long, comprehensive, and uses academic language. It details the methods in all four cities: Ancona Italy, Barcelona Spain, Flanders, Belgium, and Tilbug Netherlands. The Inclusive Design Wheel process was used to develop concepts, prototypes and recommendations for more inclusive mobility services in their regions.

Insights and lessons learnt

The project report is about applying the concepts in the Inclusive Design Wheel itself. Consequently, the feedback was generally about the ease of use and understanding. The key take-away message is that the process itself needs to be simplified.

  • Users of the Inclusive Design Wheel needed better links to the document to find their way around it.
  • There was difficulty in expressing iterative processes without making them look linear in a chart.
  • Personal support was considered valuable by the practitioners and it is likely this will always be needed.
  • Some teams were unclear about which activities were essential and optional.
  • The Cambridge team needed to emphasise the importance of the purpose of the activity. They also needed to encourage teams to carry out the activities.

Editor’s comment: The takeaway message for me is that abstract concepts need to simplified with plain language. While academics might find it easy to express their concepts in charts and words, practitioners want to know what to do. Hence the personal support element appears critical for success. This is particularly important in explaining the purpose and importance of the project activities.

While the Inclusive Design Wheel has merits, it could be simpler to run educative workshops with simplified processes. Fully understanding the concepts of inclusion is a good place to start. Once the concept of designing for all is understood, the rest will more easily fall into place.

Universal design and co-design methods do not easily lend themselves to lock-step methods. Iteration often means the next step isn’t always clear until the current one is completed.