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.

Design and responsible behaviour

An international group of adults stand with a big board in front of them. It says, Make Things Happen. There are lots of coloured post it notes on the board.Ever started off with a project that didn’t end up where you expected? That was the experience of a group of Canadian researchers working on placemaking and community building. They found that designers often left design school without the tools to do the job. That is, they weren’t equipped with the skills to involve communities. Consequently, stakeholders were being left out of the design process and outcomes.

The research project has raised more questions than answers. This isn’t a bad thing. It means that it has started conversations about how designers are educated. Changes to curriculum design are needed. Time to bring educational research and practice together. That is one of the findings from the article about working with people, not for people from an educational perspective. The research group suggest that the design community build their own “ethics protocols that define responsible behaviour for design”.

Building “Working with, not for” into Design Studio Curriculum is a participatory action research project. It challenges assumptions and underpinning values of educators. Working with participants and collaborators they found that the community was treated as a group of outsiders. Past experiences with community consultations left them distrustful of processes. In some cases participants thought researchers exploited them for their own purposes. It’s a long paper, but tells the research story well. 

A related post looks at the issue of designers not always having the two skill sets required these days. Not only do designers need technical know-how, they need to relate well to those they are designing for. The same could be said for their tutors and lecturers.

AbstractDesign ManifesT.O. 2020 is a Participatory Action Research project currently underway in Toronto, Canada and is working with communities to uncover stories of grassroots placemaking and community building done through creative practice. An unexpected discovery during data collection highlighted how communities are still being left out of decision-making processes that directly affect their collective values and living conditions and are being disrespected by designers and researchers — exposing very large gaps in the education of designers in terms of values-based learning, design ethics, and informed methods for working with communities. This paper interrogates design pedagogy and practice in order to stimulate further discourse and investigation into how to successfully integrate ethical and responsible protocols into design curriculum to support co-design practices where social justice and equity becomes normalized in practice. In other words: giving students the tools to “work with, not for” communities. Demonstrating social conscience is ethically desirable in design education but if students are not given the tools required to work with communities through respectful and collaborative processes then we are training the next generation of designers to continue a form of hegemony in design practice that is undesirable.


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