10 Learnings From 10 Interviews About Inclusive Design, Part 1
Over the last 6 months, we interviewed 10 champions of inclusive design: policymakers, business leaders, activists, researchers, and more. They came from all angles, levels, and starting points on how to bring inclusivity to the workplace, user experiences, products, and economic participation. It was an honor and a privilege to hear their perspectives, distill their knowledge, and give a forum for their messages. As we prepare for our next 10 (and beyond!) interviews as the IQ Interviews become Project Inclusion, we wanted to take the time to reflect on the most important learnings from these guests. As we reviewed these interviews, we observed important common threads, and valuable concepts repeated in various ways again and again- essentials to understanding and implementing inclusion. We’d like to share them with you. If you’d like to see our insights on principles for how to DO inclusive design better, sooner, and more effectively, you’ll want to read our latest blog post, “The Seven Principles of Inclusive Design, Part 2.”
1. Technology can reduce inequality, but it can also create it.
The fast pace of technological advancement in the 21st century has led to developments that are cheaper, more widely available, and easier to use than their predecessors: smartphones exist in almost every nation on Earth, putting the power of worldwide communication and access to the Internet and all its resources in the hands of literally billions more people. We can grow and process food with less human labor, get a college degree online and cure diseases that could have wiped out humanity less than a century ago. However, as know all too well, we don’t all have equal access to these wonders. Millions of people still lack clean water, die of curable diseases, and are unable to participate fully in their societies because they lack higher, or any, formal education. Why? It’s too expensive; it’s not available in their country; they’re denied access due to discrimination; they lack the infrastructure, training, or community to use it effectively. A great example of this is AI; one of the most exciting prospects of AI is the ability to provide financial and government services vastly quicker and more efficiently, doubtless a great boon to nations and communities that may presently not have those things at all. But we’ve already seen bias in early AI threaten to exclude and disadvantage populations because of bad data provided by humans with, well, biases of their own. At the same time, because of people like our subjects, committed to a future that includes everyone, AI systems can also be designed to detect the very same bias in other systems- and make humans aware of systematic discrimination. All it takes is the will to couple technological advancement with inclusive principle.
2. Inclusion does not have a single, unchanging definition.
At a very simple level, we can define inclusion as “an invitation to participate in something- a product, a space, an activity, a service- on your own terms.” That’s fine, but what “participate” and “your own terms” means is one that is constantly in flux as we learn more about how exclusion happens, and to what extent people want or need access that they don’t presently have. This is an important learning, because it challenges us to keep our own definition of success in creating greater inclusiveness flexible, and to be prepared to raise our standards, redefine success, and seek out overlooked blind spots. Just as we will constantly become aware of new areas to improve inclusion, so too will individuals change what inclusion means to them- the quality of participation in the various systems we are considering that they wish to have.
3. An inclusive design process requires a unique ecosystem where creation occurs.
The traditional model of producing something- a new product or service, a new social system, or a space- goes something like this: person A has an idea, person B implements the idea, and person C buys, joins, or participates in it. This has been sufficient to fuel human advancement for millennia, but it isn’t inclusive- and leaves huge potential for value, participation, and even higher quality on the table. Inclusive design recognizes that since C is going to use the product, having their participation in its design can only lead to a result that will bring a higher quality experience- after all, C knows what they need, how they would prefer to do it, and what challenges it presents to them. Likewise, perhaps B has some ideas of their own, but lack the resources, network, or understanding of how to bring them to market- if they were sharing creative space with A, there’s a much better chance they could be heard. This proposal challenges us to do things differently in many areas of society than we’ve been doing them- a process that can feel disruptive, uncomfortable, and even more difficult at first than doing them the “traditional” way. However, a clear, complete understanding of inclusive design brings everyone involved to the undeniable truth that the end result will be a higher quality and more broadly useful one- saving time, money, and lives otherwise spent waiting for experiences to be refined, upgraded, or made more accessible. Please join us for part 2 of this series, as we continue to share the distilled learning of our IQ Interview series- and of course, stay tuned to our interviews page as we continue with more presentations from inclusive design champions!