Design for Our Future Selves

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Summarize key inclusive design principles.
  • Discuss ways to make a business case for inclusion.
  • Explain four ways leaders can support inclusion practices.

It Takes Practice

We’ve packed a lot into this module about the basics of inclusive design. There’s definitely much to consider as you determine how best to incorporate the inclusion principles we’ve shared. It may help for us to review a few aspects of inclusive design before we talk about how to make a business case for it. These points don’t cover everything you and your team need to consider, but they’re the essentials to get you started.

  • Center on: Inclusive design is “one size fits one”–or how a product adapts to fit each unique person.
  • Interrupt: Habits that perpetuate exclusion.
  • Ask: Whose voice or contribution is missing in the design process?
  • Seek out: Exclusion experts who can provide insights about how to approach a design.
  • Remember: Inclusive design is a long, hard game that’s full of challenges and it’s not perfect.

To get good at anything takes practice. Whether you’re playing a sport, speaking a new language, or shifting to inclusive design, you have to practice regularly and with intention to be able to internalize the necessary skills.  

A Brick Is Not a Brick

Perhaps you’re ready to pour your efforts into inclusive product design, but you’re not sure how to get support from leadership. Consider this: You don’t have to start from zero. 

There’s a thought exercise that asks you to imagine all the different ways of using a brick. Obviously, a brick is a building material. What else? A brick can be a weight to hold something down or to hold open a door. A cook might use the brick to help make roast chicken (do a search on “brick chicken” for recipes). Maybe the brick is ground into dust to make sand. An exclusion habit is having a fixed definition of an object. To shift to inclusion means being able to imagine that the object can be more than what it appears to be. Changing the shape, context, or purpose of an object gives it new meaning. 

This is a useful perspective for assessing any existing products or designs that perhaps can gain new life as an inclusive solution. There may be prototypes of products that have been shelved. Is there a “brick” somewhere in your business that can be more than it appears to be or extended beyond its original purpose?

Curb Cut Effect

To build on the previous section, let’s talk about the curb-cut effect. The third principle of inclusive design–solve for one, extend to many–is the basis of the curb-cut effect. We’ve mentioned the story about how curb cuts were created so that people who use wheelchairs could more seamlessly and safely navigate sidewalks. But anyone pushing a stroller, lugging a rolling suitcase, or steering a hand truck can attest to the benefit of a sidewalk ramp. The utility of curb cuts clearly has transcended its initial purpose. 

The curb-cut effect demonstrates that a solution that serves one community ultimately can benefit us all. In terms of market value, an inclusive solution has potential far beyond what may be immediately obvious. Think big, very big!

Retrofitting Is Expensive

We can say that the market value is high for inclusive products, but leadership undoubtedly will ask about the return on investment and how to prove inclusive design works. Classic stories that exemplify the curb-cut effect can be helpful. We call them love stories because the inventors of these products were trying to design a solution for a challenge their loved ones were experiencing.

Email, typewriters/keyboards, and flexible straws all were developed as solutions with specific people in mind. The earliest email protocols came from Vint Cerf who wanted a way to communicate with his wife when phone calls didn’t work for their mutual hearing loss. The earliest typewriter was invented by a contessa who was gradually losing her sight and wanted to write private letters to her lover. A dad invented the flexible straw after he saw his young daughter struggle to drink a milkshake.

Practicing inclusive design from the start of the product development cycle leads to innovation and product differentiation. A better product leads to stronger customer engagement and a larger customer base. If these reasons aren’t enough to make a business case, then emphasize that retrofitting inclusion increases risk and will cost more than investing in it from the beginning. Treating inclusion as an afterthought may result in a product not meeting accessibility standards, which can have legal ramifications, or inadvertently excluding communities, which can draw a public outcry. 

How Leadership Can Support Inclusion

For all you leaders who are already on board with inclusive design, there are some ways you can support a culture of inclusion amongst your teams.

  • Make promises you can keep. Be real about the state of inclusion and address any fundamental access issues before proceeding.
  • Set the expectation that inclusion is a long game. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. There are many exclusion habits to break and that doesn’t happen overnight. Inclusive design is a process and a daily practice.
  • Reward inclusion. Prioritize and reward the habits and decision-making that make inclusion a part of the process from the start, and that’s what people will do.
  • Bring people along in the process. Create different ways for people to participate in this process of shifting to inclusion and practicing inclusion. It will help strengthen relationships, uplift excluded communities, and develop a shared sense of belonging.

There are so many everyday products that exist because of inclusive design. We don’t necessarily know it, though. Some designs may not be relevant to you now, but that may change in the future. (Hello, reading glasses and magnified text on cell phones!) Inclusive design serves excluded communities and it’s also about designing for our future selves. 


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