Thank you for join us for this interview series, we’ve been talking to experts in aging, mobility, technology, policy to uncover the business and social opportunities that inclusive and accessible products, services and experiences deliver.
Q: Tell us your story. How did you get involved in inclusive design?
I used to work in a fairly technical area of computing science that didn’t have much to do with inclusive design. I felt a bit frustrated at the lack of any direct impact of what I was doing – something that would immediately help people. I then saw an opportunity to work on a project to make computer interfaces more suitable for older people, which I thought was interesting and an opportunity that brought together some of my previous interests. I had previously worked for one year in a day care center for people with learning disabilities. And I had been very interested in some work that used computers to help people with speech difficulties to communicate better. The work also related to my Christian beliefs about the importance of helping and standing up for people who might not be quite so able on their own.
As I worked on this project and subsequent projects, I discovered that inclusive design is not just about aging or disability. It is a bigger issue. The group here in Cambridge is looking at that wider picture — the whole spectrum of capability and needs in the population. Our focus is on affecting mainstream design. Products and services which only serve particular people often don’t get used that much. People often don’t like to use things that are labelled as being for old people or for someone with a disability.
Screen grab of the Inclusive Design Toolkit
Q: What’s an example of something you’re working on that’s improved mainstream design and made life better for the general market and for specific segments?
I’d highlight a project we did for Unilever. It started out as an inclusive design project and has developed into something bigger. The topic started with e-commerce images. These are the images of products that you see on shopping websites. Unilever approached us because they felt that the details in these images were unclear to people with visual impairments – things like product size, flavors and varieties. They wanted to maximize the number of people that can engage with the images. But we quickly realized that the problem was bigger than that. When you put the same images on a mobile device like a smartphone, upwards of 80% of the mainstream users can’t see the information in the images. So, an inclusive design project took on a mainstream mission. This is a finding that is important not only for brands like Unilever but also for the larger set of stakeholders including retailers and other industry partners who have a direct relationship with end users.
Quote from Joy Goodman: extending the range of people who can use mainstream products and services effectively
Q: Is the term inclusive design used widely in Europe.
Yes, it has been used in the UK maybe for about 20 years. In continental Europe, the term Design for All has also been used, but I think inclusive design is increasingly common. In the US, the term universal design is more commonly used. It isn’t exactly the same but it is very similar.
Q: Have you refined your thinking or understanding of inclusion and inclusive design since you’ve started doing this work?
My work now focuses on making mainstream products and services more inclusive rather than working on specialist areas, like interfaces for older people. In addition, I’ve come to feel that 100% inclusive, truly universal design can be a bit idealistic. The idea that you can design for absolutely everyone may not always be achievable. In practice, organizations must make meaningful decisions and balance audience and cost tradeoffs within a business context. If we can encourage organizations to push the boundaries and expand the range of people who can use their products and services, then we are still achieving something valuable – more inclusive design.
Q. What are some innovations in your space that excite you.
More than specific innovations, I am excited by changes in people’s attitudes towards inclusive design. Ten years ago if you talked to somebody about inclusive design, they would look at you blankly and then you would have to spend the first 30 minutes describing the value of inclusion. That is not the case now. Many people already have some understanding of inclusion and that it is important.
Q. Do you have a definition that you use to describe inclusion?
I usually say something like: extending the range of people who can use mainstream products and services effectively. Much of design is unsuitable for a wider range of users. We need to be thinking about the whole diversity of different capabilities and different needs.
Q. How do you engage clients who are new to inclusion or don’t recognize its value?
We often try to give them a first-hand experience of how a product or service would be experienced by someone with reduced capability. We have a range of simulation techniques we use to convey this to the clients. Taking the e-commerce image example above, we showed stakeholders what images might look like to someone with a visual impairment. Getting them to experience this for themselves is often more convincing than trying to explain it to them in words. If they themselves struggle to make out key information in an image, perhaps while wearing simulation glasses, then they are more likely to believe that other people will also have difficulty doing so.
We back this up with data about the numbers of people in the population who would have these difficulties. Providing figures helps to combat arguments that inclusive design only affects tiny numbers of people and therefore doesn’t make business sense.