Inclusive design is subjective
How do you make everyone feel included when they come from different backgrounds?
👋 Welcome to The Navigator. A newsletter about people, psychology and design for business leaders who want to make meaningful change. I’m Sarah Ronald, and I write this newsletter with the Nile team. If this email was forwarded to you, you can subscribe to receive it in your inbox every couple of weeks. You can also read and share this post in your browser.
Over the last few months, we’ve been developing a framework for inclusive design, called Inclusive by Default. It’s a strategic approach for businesses that want to put inclusivity at the heart of what they do.
My colleague, Senior Service Designer Louise Mushet, is incredibly passionate about this topic and is regularly invited to speak to teams and organisations on it. After discussing a recent presentation with her, and some of the complexities around design when a country’s culture and laws are different to our own, I thought it would be a great topic to deep dive into for this issue.
In this issue:
How designers can engage with business models
Hosting the second Pathways Forward Panel
A special podcast episode in honour of GAAD
My best wishes as you navigate your week,
Recently, we were invited to share our inclusive design framework with a team of designers in Dubai.
I’ll be honest, initially, I had some personal reservations as a queer woman facilitating a team in a country I would typically be excluded. But the conversation with the team shifted my perspective and raised important questions about how to approach inclusive design on a global scale.
The core of having inclusive practices is having inclusive mindsets. This is an easy thing to say, but hard to have because mindsets are rooted in personal experience, biases and wider social influences.
An exercise we use to unpack mindset is to ask a team where they sit on an inclusivity maturity scale – from indifferent at one end, to facilitator at the end. As we talked through the challenges, it became clear that even the meaning of inclusivity isn’t universal and can vary greatly across different cultures.
As such, our discussion brought to light one of the unspoken challenges of creating inclusive services for globally-operating businesses – what might be considered important, worth prioritising, or investing in when it comes to inclusion isn't the same in different cultures. Or the inverse - what is considered exclusive is not interpreted in the same way.
So, what can we do?
We need to start by defining what we mean by inclusivity
To achieve inclusivity in every aspect of a company's operations, we must first define what it actually means. At Nile, we believe inclusivity encompasses accessibility, usability, ethics, and diversity. Neglecting any of these elements leaves services and users vulnerable.
Our discussion in Dubai brought to light fascinating examples of how inclusivity differs across cultures. For example, while transport services in Britain are available to everyone, in Dubai, premium access is available through payment.
This difference in approach to transportation reflects a broader difference in cultural values. In Britain, historically at least, there’s more of a belief that everyone should have equal access to essential services. In Dubai, on the other hand, there’s an even greater emphasis on individual wealth and status, and so the social norm is that those who are more successful should be able to enjoy the benefits of that success.
The culture of a society affects how designers create products and services. In more socialist cultures, designers prioritise accessibility; in status-driven cultures, designers focus on exclusivity. What this means in practice is that designers in countries like Dubai are incentivised to create VIP services rather than a transport system accessible to all.
What this tells all of us is that inclusive design is subjective.
The idea of inclusive design being subjective feels counterintuitive, but it speaks to a simple, yet uncomfortable, truth that inclusion will always mean different things to different people.
External factors such as cultural practices, laws, and behaviours make it challenging to create a service that is inclusive to everyone. We shouldn’t take the moral high ground, but neither should this deter us from prioritising inclusion and challenging norms and behaviours.
We need to remember that the central ethos of inclusive design is to make services adaptable and provide options that make them available to all. So while the service itself may not be considered one and the same for everyone, it still gives everyone the same outcome that they deserve regardless of their differing needs.
The "design justice" movement aims to prioritise the needs of marginalised communities and dismantle structural inequalities. Organisations like the Justice Design Network advocate for an approach that involves those most affected by design decisions and uses collaborative practices to address community challenges.
A practical application of justice design is “equity designers”. This is a concept created by social entrepreneur Antionette Carroll to describe designers who embed in the community in which they are working to change, transforming it from within.
As Carroll said in a TED talk: “Designers such as myself have started to realise that if different forms of oppression are by design, then they can be redesigned.”
The universal language of business
I didn’t change the materials used in the Dubai session, which shows that the Inclusive By Default framework works as a discussion tool to create the space to talk about inclusion even in different contexts. And the common ground was the shared language of business.
The language of business is universal. In all cultures, businesses are trying to make a profit, provide goods and services, and grow. This doesn't have to mean, of course, that businesses have to damage society, humanity, or the planet. In fact, there’s a growing movement towards sustainable capitalism, where businesses expand what they value to include these things.
Speaking the common language of business is perhaps the most strategic way to introduce inclusive design to global companies. It’s becoming increasingly vital for organisations to prioritise inclusion, as failure to do so can result in severe consequences such as reputation damage, legal action, or customer loss.
As such, inclusion is high on executives’ radars. The World Economic Forum has even released content on the importance of inclusive design, such as this report on how middle managers can help create a more equitable workplace.
This is all good news, but it's important to remember that designers must still engage with business models and business in general. It's encouraging to see design gain more visibility and power over the past decade, but it's still crucial for designers to collaborate with businesses and consider their models. This topic was the headline of a conference organised by Nile for The Service Design Network in 2013, and it still remains just as relevant today.
By engaging with business models and business in general, designers can help to create a more inclusive world. Put simply, we need to see design take a strategic function to develop businesses.
How designers can engage with business models
Here are three specific ways that design, product and tech can engage with business models to promote inclusive design:
Understand the business case for inclusion. We need to be able to articulate the business benefits of inclusive design to executives and other decision-makers. This means showing how an inclusive approach can lead to increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and a stronger brand reputation.
Use data to inform design decisions. Insights don’t always arise from seeking empathy, but rather from being attentive to the data. Use data to identify and address potential barriers to inclusion.
Be advocates for inclusion. Be an advocate for inclusion within your organisation. This includes speaking up about the importance of inclusion in meetings, and workshops, mentoring junior team members, providing training on inclusive design, and creating inclusive design resources.
Want to stimulate a framework discussion in your organisation?
If you’d like to start thinking more strategically about an inclusive approach in your organisation, book our remote lunch and learn. Simply email email@example.com with Inclusive By Default in the subject line.
Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!
In honour of GAAD, we hosted an extra special podcast episode, led by our colleague and Dig Inclusion founder Grant Broome, featuring some of the top accessibility leaders in the industry: Chris Archer, Head of Marketing & Product at The Premier League; Dr. Julie McElroy, NHS, Researcher, Activist and Writer; Alex Canning, Lead Creative Directive at Legal and General, and Jo Ellis. Financial Well-being and Vulnerable Customer Senior Manager at Tesco Bank.
We had an extremely interesting discussion and covered a range of topics, from the importance of accessibility in technology and design to the challenges and opportunities of making digital content accessible.
Watch the full discussion on YouTube.
Pathways Forward Panel
We recently hosted the second Pathways Forward panel, a series of events following an independent report co-authored by Ana Stewart and Mark Logan on Scottish entrepreneurship.
So many people tuned in for another great discussion about how we create greater diversity amongst entrepreneurs in Scotland. Ana’s closing comments perfectly articulate the ethos of Pathways:
“Let’s encourage investment syndicates to walk the walk and embrace a more inclusive approach. This isn’t a blame game, it’s a systemic issue. It’s about how we think about the problem and work together to get a better outcome for everyone. The idea of Pathways is to create an enabling way of working, a collaborative way of working, to make the change workable and feasible for everyone.”
Stay tuned, more Pathways Panels are being planned!
Nile is a Strategic Design team that helps deliver human-centred change in highly regulated industries. Our methods engage employees and customers with new technology and ways of working. Our outcomes help save money and improve business performance.
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