Practitioner views of designing inclusively

The concepts of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have evolved from different fields of endeavour and therefore there is no single way to explain it. Consequently, debating the differences between inclusive and universal design does little to progress the cause. In the end they mean the same thing. We need to get practical. So, checking in with practitioners and their views of designing inclusively is a good start.

Lots of different coloured words reading define. Designing inclusively.

A new paper, Aspects of Designing Inclusively from Practitioner Perspectives, reveals how practitioners relate to the concepts and the language. The author begins by articulating their take on the terminology, and then moves on to the study.

The first thing to note is that this paper comes from the UK where the term “inclusive” is preferred. Most countries use the term “universal” in keeping with the United Nations terminology. However, many writers in the UK like to differentiate between the two words.

The fact that they had difficulty recruiting participants is revealing in itself. Thirty organisations were approached and only 6 agreed to participate. However, this small group provided some useful insights.

The author makes the comment that designing inclusively is an approach to design, which it is, rather than an achievable goal. This is one reason Steinfeld and Maisel developed the 8 Goals of Universal Design. It’s also why universal design practitioners understand you start with principles and create the practical. It’s not a checklist.

Consequently, attempting to delineate differences in inclusive design and universal design is counter-productive. The following quote can be applied to inclusive design, design-for-all, human-centred design and universal design. We are in the era of co-design and continuous improvement. The concept of universal design has evolved since the 1990s

” Inclusion can be viewed as a continually evolving concept addressed incrementally from one project to the next as expertise develops and advancements continue.”

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From the conclusion

“Their insights provided an up-to-date account of inclusive architectural and design practices. Still, their perspectives were not always aligned. This is expected as each person holds different framings and object worlds during a project. For instance, it was expressed that a single mainstream design suitable to every person was not realistic.”

Participants said they prefer bespoke designs, arguing that it is better to design for the individual rather than attend to the mass market with one design. Participants also disliked the lack of quantifiable information.

From the abstract

The concept of inclusion in design is increasingly well known and often recognizes value in a greater diversity of people. Still, uptake is said to be limited in practice. The theoretical landscape provides several definitions and concerns, but they are often paradoxical. Rather than disentangle theory, this research turns to practitioners who design inclusively.

This research explores the ways people advocate for inclusion in design projects, prevailing aspects in the negotiations within multi-stakeholder projects, the motivations and mindsets that drive these aspects, and the opportunities they create for the improved uptake of inclusion.

These explorations highlight the value of including a more diverse group of individuals in the negotiations of a design project. Conflicting perspectives on effective uptake prevail in both practice and theory.