Why Inclusive Design Matters
An invisible force – design – shapes the answers to fundamental questions about society, debated every day:
Who gets to benefit from economic growth? Who gets to participate in society? Who gets to feel welcome, and where?
Through formal and informal design processes, dozens of choices are being made that ultimately lead to the way places, objects, services, and systems work.
Whether we realize it or not, the design process decides who benefits, who participates, and who counts. When that process is intended to be inclusive of everyone in society, we get places that welcome all, products that work for everyone, and services and systems that benefit each of us.
Unfortunately, inclusive design processes are not the norm in our society yet. But at Design Core Detroit, we are working to make them the norm in our city and to help others understand why they should too. As the first and only US city to be designated a UNESCO City of Design, we believe that Detroit can become a global leader in the practice of inclusive design, and through that practice, develop a city that offers inclusive growth for all.
Inclusive design is a methodology that enables and draws on the full spectrum of human diversity and individual experiences to create solutions that have social impact. With inclusive design, it is the process of design that counts, not just the outcome of that process. Will the process lead to a result where everyone will feel welcome and benefit?
In her recent book Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes an inclusive designer as someone “who recognizes and remedies mismatched interactions between people and their world. They seek out the expertise of people who navigate exclusionary designs.”
What are these mismatched interactions? Holmes describes them as the barriers that individuals experience when interacting the world – the things that don’t quite work right if you don’t fit the “normative” user. This can be the playground equipment made only for children who can walk, or a mobility solution, like a scooter, that has limited geographic availability and credit card required for use.
Inclusive design has been developing as a trend in design in both the academic and business community.
- Leading academic institutions like OCAD University, Royal College of Art, Cambridge, and others have developed research around this practice over the last twenty years.
- In their recently published book, “The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion,” Interboro Partners has documented approximately 200 tools use to restrict or increase access to urban space.
- Microsoft has developed a comprehensive Inclusive Design Toolkit, which was a finalist in the 2017 Fast Company World Changing Awards.
Inclusive Design in Practice
While the idea of inclusive design is still catching on, examples of it in practice can be found throughout Detroit. In fact, over 50 partner organizations are working with us to implement the strategies outlined in the Detroit City of Design Action Plan to make Detroit a global leader in inclusive design. Our partners believe that through inclusive design they can develop welcoming places to live and work, walkable and safe neighborhoods, and increased connections to critical opportunities in a way that drives inclusive growth through inclusive design.
Grace in Action Collectives is a network of worker-owned cooperatives and youth-run collectives in Southwest Detroit. Working primarily with low-income youth of color, many of whom come from immigrant backgrounds, Radical Productions youth media collective and Stitching Up Detroit screen printing cooperative utilize design and coding skills for personal media making and solving complex community problems. Through their projects, youth from diverse backgrounds build skills in design and design processes.
Fostering neighborhood business.
Together with AIA Detroit, Design Core has recognized small business projects that exemplify the problem-solving aspects of design without respect to budget or project size through its Commerce Design: Detroit awards. Several 2018 winners show the impact of inclusive design processes on neighborhood business success, with The Commons – cafe, laundromat, community center and meeting space – as the leading example. Residents and neighborhood partners played an integral role in the design process, from concept to construction.
Creating world-class public space.
In developing the Ralph C Wilson Jr Centennial Park design, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy utilized an Intentional process of including and supporting park users from a variety of backgrounds in researching great waterfront parks, developing the scope for the design competition, and then evaluating and select the winning team. The result is a design by Michael Van Valkenburgh and David Adaje which will create a signature destination, while transforming Detroiters’ relationship to the Detroit riverfront.
Reforming the criminal justice system.
Through its Just City Innovation Lab, Detroit Justice Center convenes national partners – across fields such as law, design, technology, architecture and public health – with local youth to incubate systemic solutions for cities’ most intractable problems. In September, with the help of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, youth designed alternatives to Wayne County’s proposed youth detention center that they will be sharing with public sector decision-makers.
Why Inclusive Design Matters
Inclusive design can make the difference in creating a world that works for everyone, as opposed to one that works for only a few. But this is not a question of charity, but rather of business value. When inclusive design approaches are used:
- The pool of customers expands.
- The experience of those customers improves.
- Innovation takes place.
- Retrofit costs are avoided.
New research from McKinsey and Company quantifies the indisputable value of design to business – companies with top-quartile scores on the McKinsey Design Index outperformed industry benchmark growth two to one, regardless of sector. Now imagine if these companies utilized inclusive design approaches – leaving no potential customer behind and pushing the bounds of their own innovation to serve all customers effectively and without special accommodation.
This same can be said for public sector value. Replace customers with citizens. When the public sector uses inclusive design to address city priorities, no citizen is left unserved. Our tax dollars are used to benefit the most people in our community – hopefully all of us.
Work with us to make inclusive design the way we all do business. Together, we can develop more equitable and sustainable products, places, and policies that improve the quality of life for everyone.
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