Inclusive Design or Exclusive Design. It’s in our hands…

It’s not because you are invited, that you are welcome.

I recently ran a week-long workshop along with 2 fellow designers, Olivier Pigasse and Jay Bautista at l’Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique. The subject was Inclusive Design. In recent years we have seen a plethora of hideous, un-humain hostile design to protect those who are included in society from those who are excluded.

Here’s a good example.

London’s approach to the homeless, and Canada’s much more inclusive approach.

And another famous example from the UK. The Camden Bench. Impossible to sit on, skate on, let alone sleep on.

The Camden Bench, hostile design.


For most people being a part of a community where they are welcomed, engaged and valued is very important. We know that good community relationships support better health and wellbeing, improve self-esteem and change our relationships with services, interfaces, spaces and products. Many services aim to build social and community inclusion with the people they support but few achieve it. Usually this failure is not caused by communities being unfriendly but due to the way that services think about, plan for and support social inclusion.


DEFINITION EXCLUSION (World Health Organisation.)
“Exclusion consists of dynamic, multi-dimensional processes driven by unequal power relationships interacting across four main dimensions – economic, political, social and cultural – and at different levels including individual, household, group, community, country and global levels. It results in a continuum of inclusion/exclusion characterised by unequal access to resources, capabilities and rights which leads to health inequalities.”

“Inclusion: the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

“Inclusive design aims to remove the barriers that create undue effort and separation. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities.” The Design Council, UK


“On any measure, poverty at the turn of the new millennium remains one of the greatest social problems challenging Britain, and reducing social exclusion is at the heart of Government policy.”

The GP practice sharing data to transform care for homeless people.
“More than half of the practice’s 4,000 registered patients are classed by GPs as “very deprived”, with high rates of alcohol and drug problems, social isolation and homelessness. Increasingly, a referral to Salford Foodbank has become more crucial to their care than anything she can offer from her clinical training.”

“A survey into the effects of period poverty in Scotland has revealed the desperate lengths women go to, including resorting to using old clothes or newspapers, when they cannot afford sanitary protection. Research by the grassroots group Women for Independence, which will be released in full next month, reveals nearly one in five women have experienced period poverty – when females struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, which has a significant impact on their hygiene, health and wellbeing.”

“Around 13% of workers in France are precarious workers (i.e., have short-term contracts, temporary employment, or assisted contracts). About 28.3% of 15 to 29 year olds who work, have precarious work, compared to 8.4% of 30 to 49 year olds. Short-term contracts constitute the majority of the appointments following unemployment”.

“The word banlieue, which is French for “suburb,” does not necessarily refer to an environment of social disenfranchisement. Indeed, there exist many wealthy suburbs, such as Neuilly-sur-Seine (the wealthiest commune of France) and Versailles outside Paris. Nevertheless, the term banlieues has often been used to describe troubled suburban communities—those with high unemployment, high crime rates, and frequently, a high proportion of residents of foreign origin mainly from former French African colonies and therefore Berbers, Blacks, and Arabs.”

“One in 10 young adults aged 18 to 25 in the US have slept on the streets, in shelters, run away, been kicked out of home, or couch-surfed in the past year, according to a national survey.

The study, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, also found that at least one in 30 adolescents aged 13-17 experienced some form of homelessness unaccompanied by a parent or guardian over the same period.”

With 12 million disabled people living in the UK, with a spending power of £249 billion pound a year, it is the largest untapped consumer market. So why aren’t brands reaching out to their disabled customers?
Why aren’t disabled models regularly featured in advertising campaigns, fashion magazines, and on the runway? Labelled ‘The Purple Pound’, the combined spending power of disabled people in the UK is estimated at £249 Billion each year. It is therefore extremely beneficial for businesses to adopt an inclusive approach to design as it increases the number of potential customers. The benefits of inclusive design for businesses are not just financial; it can also improve public relations and enhance customer satisfaction.

In July, ‘We Are Purple’ began its campaign, ‘Help Me Spend My Money’, to raise awareness of the obstacles facing disabled shoppers and promote disability awareness training for retail staff. Purple’s Mark Flint explains that the initiative aims to “transform thinking” and “illustrate that becoming disability-friendly is not just morally right, but makes complete business sense”.

Many communities experience social exclusion, such as racial (e.g., black) (e.g., Untouchables or Low Castes or Dalits in Indian Caste System ) and economic (e.g., Romani) communities. One example is the Aboriginal community in Australia. Marginalization of Aboriginal communities is a product of colonisation.
Justin Moore, an architecture professor at Columbia University, believes that while designers focus on creative solutions for urban problems, issues that are rarely broached are shortfalls within the profession, like diversity, a deep understanding of the communities in which they’re building.

(LGBT) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.
According to studies carried out in the United States, the United Kingdom and Thailand, between half and two thirds of LGBT students are regularly bullied at school and up to a third skip school to escape harassment. Many LGBT youth, bullied at school and rejected at home, end up homeless. Up to 40% of homeless young people on the streets of major U.S. cities identify as LGBT or queer, compared with likely less than 10% of the overall youth population. A U.S. study found that gay and lesbian young people are four times more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, compared with the general population – while trans youth are ten times more likely to do so.

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday a ban on transgender people serving in the military, reversing U.S. policy in a series of tweets.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you,”

5.9 million adults in the UK have never used the internet
There are 4.1 million adults living in social housing that are offline
27% of disabled adults (3.3 million) had never used the internet
Adults aged 16 to 24 years have consistently shown the highest rates of internet use
between 75% and 90% of jobs require at least some computer use
Offline households are missing out on estimated savings of £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online.Source: ONS 2015, National Housing Federation, The Tinder Foundation

An estimated 2 billion adults worldwide live without a bank account, according to the World Bank. Unable to provide financial security for themselves or their families, this vulnerable “unbanked” part of the population relies primarily on cash for survival. As policymakers, banks, non-governmental organisations and private sector actors come together to eradicate financial exclusion, careful consideration must be given to the needs of the communities most affected by it. Cash will, and should, remain a vital part of the transition from exclusion to inclusion.

The United Nations has defined financial inclusion as: “Universal Access, at a reasonable cost, to a range of financial services for everyone needing them, provided by a diversity of sound and sustainable institutions.” Most of the financially excluded are poor and reside in developing countries.

Suburban development has driven wedges between work, home, and shopping, causing a physical separation of functions which is readily apparent in developed countries.

As a result, suburban life consists of a series of private homes, whose residents spend a lot of alone time in cars traveling between separate zones. This helps to isolate people, and it detracts from social interaction within our neighbourhoods, simply because there are not as many opportunities to cross paths with other people.

In recent years, we have seen technology step in to fill this need, from our mobile phones, social media, to the Internet. Would social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram even exist without the social breakdown of our communities due to suburban development?

These applications do for us what our built environments can no longer do – create opportunities for social interaction, filling a need and desire that we all have to be able to communicate with our family and friends.
But however good these social networking sites may be, our built environments have something more to offer. That something is people; real, live, people.

“In the early part of the twenty-first century, information and communications technologies (ICTs) have come to be seen as a way to help cities thrive. With the right deployment of technology, cities can become “smart” so that they can better deliver public services. Running parallel to the “smart city” discussion is the notion of inclusion; that is, a city is better off if a wide range of people participate in how it grows and evolves. In this context, inclusion has a lot to do with diversity—in the economy, civic life, and urban design. The upshot can be greater equity, as opportunities for economic and social growth open up to a wide range of a city’s population. ICTs may be among the tools deployed to enhance inclusion.”

CAN WE BE SMART AND INCLUSIVE to make our cities better places to live for everyone? For this to happen, stakeholders—mayors, businesspeople, and community leaders—must have an appreciation of three things:
1. The smart city and the inclusive city are very different
2. One (inclusiveness) does not follow necessarily from the other (a smart city).
3. Action is necessary to bridge the gap between a smart and an inclusive city.
For example, digital inclusion unfolds at institutions (e.g., public libraries) that are well trusted by people.

EXPERIENCE ECONOMY It has been suggested that we are living in the “Experience Economy,” and that we all crave active participation in social interactions. If that’s true, face-to-face conversation remains the best way to be immersed and socially active.

It is only through this one-to-one conversation that we can read body language, hear inflections in the tone of another’s voice, and in general communicate more effectively. There are so many verbal and nonverbal cues used when we socialise in this manner.

Inclusion should be a key design principle, just like (if not above) any other design principle a company decides to follow. When inclusion is not part of a brand’s or designer’s core values, there is a chance it will be forgotten, de-prioritised, and become a distant, utopian concept.

The first step is, of course, bringing diversity to the design teams. We need to acknowledge the problem and understand the benefits of a diverse team. This is why this subject is particularly relevant for the International Class. This diversity can help in many ways through the design process…

PERSONAS When creating your personas, move away from assumptions and stereotypical information about your audience. Does it really need to be a man? Are you assuming that your persona is not familiar with technology just because of their age? How does the location of your persona impacts your design decisions? Isn’t the funny/catchy name carrying too much bias? This is also valid for user journeys, task analysis and any other methodology trying to document who the user is and how the user behaves.

EMOJIS A good example are emojis with different skin tones and family compositions to make all users feel included and recognised. A milestone for bringing more diversity to our interfaces, but still a work in progress.

emoji inclusive
Image courtesy of

GENDER AND ETHNICITY There are even more complex questions like gender and ethnicity. Because someone’s identity can be anywhere in a broad spectrum of variables, the input provided needs to be mindful about it. Facebook, for example, lets the user customise the gender and nicely asks which pronoun they prefer.

PRODUCT DESIGN “Product design is all about metaphors. Every icon, every button, and every interaction is a metaphor for something in the physical world. But some metaphors mean different things in different cultures. In the United States, an owl represents wisdom. In Finland and India, an owl can represent foolishness.” John Saito

THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT “From access to inclusion – For me or not for me? Why people experience the same place differently. The built environment can contribute to a more equal, inclusive and cohesive society if the places where we live, the facilities we use and our neighbourhoods and meeting places are designed to be accessible and inclusive. In this briefing we look at a broad meaning of inclusion – not just access – starting with what an inhospitable built environment looks and feels like, and the unintended social, cultural and economic inequalities that follow.” Design Council, UK

New ‘leaning bars’ NYC metro. Critics say the bars – angled wooden blocks set at back level against the tiled wall – keep the homeless from camping out and are uncomfortable for people with disabilities and the elderly.

People experience the built environment differently according to who they are – their social, cultural and economic background. The full diversity of this experience needs to be considered if all users are to be comfortable and feel that a particular space or place belongs to them.

DAILY LIFE “So long as women earn on average half of what men do, form the majority of carers for elderly relations and still do most of the housework and shopping, there is a whole range of issues related to planning, transport, urban design, and housing provision which will impact differently on the sexes. So long as women continue to be victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence and rape they will have a radically different experience of what constitutes safety in homes, towns and public spaces. Women live longer than men, which has consequences for poverty in older age, disability and frailty, loneliness and isolation. This, in turn, has implications for the design of lifetime homes and neighbourhoods.” Wendy Davis Women’s Design Service

At the end of the week, we had some really interesting projects produced as videos and animations tackling subjects from homeless, refugees, homeless workers living in cars to LGBT issues such as ‘coming out’ to family and friends.

Here is the Inclusion Presentation I gave at the start of the week (missing some videos).

If you would like to run a similar workshop, or on another design thematic, please get in touch

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