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What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design describes a process that welcomes diverse market segments to engage authentically with your organization.

This is done through, first and foremost, talking to, learning from, and co-designing with a broad range of people. It is the prioritization of a way of designing experiences so that all the diverse individuals who make up your market can be delighted when using your product or service.

The outcomes of following an inclusive design process include reaching more of your current market, opening up new markets, and reducing the risk of alienating potential markets and users.

Learn more about our approach to inclusive design

Continue reading for definitions of commonly used inclusive design terms.

Ableism/Ableist

Ableism, or being ableist, is acting, speaking, or behaving in a discriminatory way towards disabled people or people with accessibility needs.

This discrimination can include explicit verbal discriminatory or derogatory language, and discrimination like deprioritizing or dismissing accessibility needs or accommodations. For instance, using language like “crazy” or “insane” as a descriptor is ableist towards those with mental health conditions.

Related:

Web accessibility a11y AODA ADA

Allyship

Allyship is when members of a group that hold power or privilege take actions to advocate for and improve the position of people in underrepresented, marginalized, or disadvantaged groups.

Allyship requires active changes in behaviour and actions, as well as pushing for others with priveledge to make the same changes. Allyship is a way of leveraging one’s privilege towards positive change and working towards more equity in workplaces and in society.

Related:

Performative allyship Marginalized Disenfranchised Privilege Belonging Equity

Anti-racist

Anti-racist is a term that describes active, deliberate efforts and ways of working to eliminate white supremacy and racist structures and systems in society. Rather than simply being not racist, which is a passive stance on racism, anti-racist describes actively working towards and advocating for dismantling racism in institutions, workplaces, and in society.

This term also describes a deeper understanding of the ways that whiteness and white supremacy negatively impact Black, Indigenous, and people of colour’s (BIPOC) lived experiences, through systemic and structural racism. Anti-racist groups and people take action to combat systemic racism throughout society and the structures we all operate within.

Learn more about our anti-racist efforts

Related:

BIPOC Systemic racism Marginalized Disenfranchised Unconscious bias

Belonging

Belonging is a feeling or experience of feeling welcomed and embraced by a person, group, organization, or within a space. At its core, belonging is about feeling comfortable in being true to yourself and sharing your true self with the people around you, as well as being able to fully participate in something, whether it’s an affinity group, the use of a service, or being an employee at an organization.

Related:

Diversity and inclusion

BIPOC

BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour. It is an expansion of the acronym POC in order to acknowledge the systemic issues that particularly target Black and Indigenous people.

BIPOC is sometimes further expanded to be QTBIPOC, representing acknowledgement of Queer and Trans BIPOC individuals.

Related:

Anti-racist Intersectionality

Decolonization

Decolonization is a word used to describe the dismantling of colonialism-originated structures in nations and societies. Primarily, it is focused on returning power to Indigenous or other people impacted by colonial rule in order to address the imbalance of power and privilege created by the history of colonialism and systemic racism.

Related:

Anti-racist Systemic racism

Diary study

A diary study is a type of qualitative user research, which typically involves a user recording their activities, thoughts, or behaviours over time at regular intervals (for example, when you wake up, or just before bed, each day for a week, after a phone call, or each time you brush your teeth, and so on).

This type of qualitative data helps teams better understand user behaviour, especially in cases where it isn’t practical to observe users directly. A diary study enables organizations to see how the usage of a product or service varies depending on different contexts and over time.

A public transit user recording when they took public transit, along with their experiences, thoughts, conversations, and differences about each trip over a period of two weeks would be an example of a diary study for a public transit agency.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Ethnography Evaluative research Generative research Qualitative research

Disenfranchised

Disenfranchised is a term used to describe a group of people who have had power taken away from them, or who lack certain inherent privileges or power that other groups have.

Disenfranchised was originally used to describe groups that were not given or were stripped of the right to vote, but has since expanded in definition to include any circumstance where a group of people loses power and has their rights violated.

Related:

Systemic racism Marginalized Privilege

Diversity

Diversity is the representation of individuals who identify with a wide range of intersectional identities, including ethnicity, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical and cognitive abilities, and socioeconomic status.

Related:

Inclusive Equity

Diversity and inclusion

Also known as: diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), D&I, diversity strategy

The umbrella of terms included under DEI involves programs, processes, and theories for strategies and methods of making organizations, spaces, and groups more inclusive and welcoming to all.

At an organizational level, this means building structures for hiring and retaining diverse teams, and creating more inclusive ways of working, where more diverse voices are heard and embraced. This can take a variety of forms, from creating internal task-force groups, to process changes for working and meeting with colleagues, to the language used in corporate communications, and much, much more.

From there, these structures can lead to the creation of more inclusive products and services if paired with an inclusive design process, to welcome a wider spectrum of both employees and customers to engage with and feel welcomed by your organization.

Related:

Privilege Unconscious bias Belonging Inclusive Equity Diversity

Edge case

The term edge case is used to describe an atypical or less commonly encountered use case or user for a product or service. The traditional approach implies that the edge cases are more difficult to solve and serve fewer people and therefore are to be avoided. The long-held belief is that organizations can serve most of their addressable market without solving these tougher challenges.

As a result of this traditional approach, edge cases would often not be accommodated by a  product or service, making it more difficult or even unusable in these cases.

For example, for a website, an edge case could be considered someone who would exclusively view the site in high contrast mode due to an uncommon vision impairment. However, this kind of consideration would be a common benefit for many users, not just those with a particular kind of vision impairment. Dismissing such a benefit because it may impact only a small percentage of users would be a detriment to the overall product and could require a significant effort to accommodate in the future.

As such, we know now that solving for the more difficult use cases first—particular when they lead to more ways to access content and engage with an organization—leads to much richer products or services that ultimately require less time and resources to capture market share.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Web accessibility Universal design Usability Inclusive

Equity

When all people are equal in their rights, freedoms, and accommodations when accessing spaces and using products or services.

Related:

Inclusive Diversity

Ethnography or ethnographic research

Ethnography describes a form of research that involves the observation of people. It is a qualitative research method based on observing ideally natural behaviour and speaking with users in context.

For example, an ethnographic study for a research question for a pharmacy would involve observing and speaking to pharmacists in situ at the pharmacy. This kind of unobtrusive approach to research within the natural environment aims to gain genuine data about how someone behaves and direct insight into a process.

This is especially vital in understanding people and processes where it may be impossible or difficult to accurately document, reflect, or draw insight from other, non-observational research methods such as user interviews or surveys.

A complement to an ethnographic study, or a best compromise where this kind of direct observation may not be possible, could be a diary study.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Diary study Generative research User interviews Qualitative research Customer journey

Evaluative research

Evaluative research is a type of user research that aims to determine or evaluate how well a product or service is meeting the needs of its users.

Evaluative research is key to identifying specific issues with a product or service that is in development or already in market. As such, evaluative research practices typically occur once a product or service is in development, rather than during early exploratory phases.

Research methods used as part of evaluative research include usability testing, A/B testing, and first-click testing, all aimed at gaining insights into participants’ behaviour while using a product or service and on an ongoing basis.

Related:

Digital excellence Product strategy Service design First click study Qualitative research Quantitative research Continuous improvement

Generative research

Generative research, also known as exploratory research, is a type of research typically used in the earlier stages of research, strategy, and design processes. Generative research can include activities like user interviews, ethnographic observation, or workshops with the aim of validate a market opportunity, concept, or to understand what users need in order to better conceptualize a product or service.

Through generative research, teams can find ways to innovate from the building blocks of a comprehensive understanding of user pain points, contexts, and potential use cases of a product or service.

Related:

Digital excellence Product strategy Service design Ethnography Evaluative research Qualitative research Quantitative research

Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC)

The Inclusive Design Research Centre, or IDRC, is a research organization based out of OCAD University in Toronto. Their work includes innovative research into accessibility, accessibility tools, inclusive design, and evolving and establishing inclusive design processes.

Founded by Jutta Treviranus (a professor at OCAD University) as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, IDRC has evolved to focus on inclusive design and a more holistic focus on inclusion in products, services, and spaces.

IDRC’s work spans user research, visual design, development, and user testing, for both new internal innovations and external partners, with a group of employees, volunteers, and advocates that come together to research and design inclusively. All are welcome to participate in this work through the Fluid Project Wiki.

Related:

Web accessibility

Inclusive maturity

Inclusive maturity considers the three levels of maturity organizations typically go through in developing more inclusive workplaces, products, and services.

Level 1: Recruit a diverse team
Level 2: Establish a welcoming corporate culture
Level 3: Design inclusive products and services

By implementing inclusive practices within your organization, from recruiting to workplace culture to inclusive design practices, your organization will be prepared to serve more diverse markets more effectively.

Understanding your organization’s inclusive maturity at each level is the knowledge you need to uncover the gaps, opportunities, and priorities that will help you connect and capture the full scale of the market you serve. This knowledge sets you up for being more capable and intentional with your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy.

Read more about inclusive maturity

Related:

Intersectionality Diversity and inclusion Inclusive

Inclusive

Inclusivity means welcoming diverse market segments to engage authentically with your organization. An inclusive experience welcomes users through its language, design, and engagement. This is achieved through a deliberate and proactive inclusive design process to not only design for, but to design with, diverse users.

Also know as: inclusion, inclusivity, inclusiveness

Related:

Diversity and inclusion Equity Diversity

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a way of describing and understanding how different identities that an individual might have (e.g. gender, race, sexuality, class and so on) combine to create different experiences when navigating the world.

Rather than looking at people through the lens of a singular identity (e.g. identifying as a woman), intersectionality looks at all the identities a person has, as well as more fluid factors like circumstances and ability. The combination of these considerations affects how a person engages with a product or service, interacts with people, and perceives the world.

Since it is a more holistic way of viewing people, intersectionality forms the backbone of inclusive design and diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) work.

Learn more about intersectionality

Related:

Product strategy Service design Diversity and inclusion Belonging Inclusive Diversity

Lived Experience

Lived experience describes knowledge and experience that comes from someone’s day to day life and their past experiences.

Lived experience is often used to describe experience that comes from being part of a marginalized or underrepresented group in order to acknowledge that those experiences cannot be fully understood by those who are a part of other groups, particularly people who come from more privileged groups.

It’s essential that, rather than attempting to assume or imagine what these experiences are like, we listen to and acknowledge the experiences, knowledge, and lifelong learnings of the people who are part of these underrepresented or marginalized groups.

Related:

Allyship Anti-racist Intersectionality Privilege Diversity and inclusion Belonging Inclusive

Marginalized

Marginalized is a term used to describe a group of people or an identity that has lost power in society, and are often restricted from access and involvement in the dominant society’s economic and political structures.

Marginalized groups face discrimination from the majority group. You can typically recognized racial and cultural groups as marginalized, including LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and many others.

Related:

Systemic racism Disenfranchised Intersectionality Privilege

Micro-aggressions

Micro-aggressions are insensitive and harmful casual remarks or actions towards a particular marginalized group, or comments based in stereotypes about that group. These comments are often said repeatedly, without harm intended by the speaker, but wear on the recipient, causing harm and continuous trauma.

Some examples of micro-aggressions often said to Black people can be found in the #itooamharvard campaign run by students frustrated with micro-aggressions on the Harvard campus.

Image of a woman holding a sign displaying a microaggression said to her "You don't sound black, you sound smart"

A micro-aggression does not have to be this overt. As an example, a (back-handed) compliment only given to someone from a marginalized background, without pointing out their background is still a micro-aggression. From the example above, this could be phrased as, “You’re smarter than I expected.”

Unconscious bias can be a key driver of micro-aggressions in circumstances where these are not intended to belittle or cause harm.

Related:

Unconscious bias

Neurodivergent

Neurodivergent, sometimes also described as neurodiverse, is a term for people who think, perceive, or express themselves in ways that would traditionally be seen as atypical.

These characteristics can involve social, attention, mood, and other factors that differ from neurotypical behaviours. This term is used to recognize the differences that may be present in thinking and learning and was created to identify these differences as not abnormal, just different.

Examples may include perceptions of and reactions to sound, light, crowds, or other stimuli.

Related:

Web accessibility Intersectionality Diversity

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

An OKR, or Objectives and Key Results, is a framework and management structure that organizations use to define large, overarching goals. They are goals that are quantitatively (numerical or metric) measurable. They are ambitious organizational goals, not small objectives within a project.

One example of an OKR would be:

Objective: “Increase the engagement and inclusivity of our internal team structure”

Key result 1: “Employee turnover down 10% over the next two quarters”
Key result 2: “Implement a diversity team and at least 3 events or initiatives to boost inclusion”
Key result 3: “Raise employee engagement ratings by 30% over the next two quarters”

From these larger, big-picture OKRs, your organization can define smaller indicators of success within initiatives using KPIs (key performance indicators).

In a marketing OKR framework, a KPI for a website might be something like “maintain a bounce rate below 70%”, while the key result this would inform is “Hit 100% of each quarter’s goals for closing new business”. There would be a series of KPIs that would inform this key result so that you could both validate how the KPIs impact the key result in order to refine them and check on the KPIs on a more frequent interval to understand how you’re trending toward the larger quarterly goal.

Both OKRs and KPIs are key for setting measurable goals and growth plans in organizations in order to achieve impactful, transformative organizational objectives.

Related:

Digital excellence Product strategy Service design Digital transformation Continuous improvement Digital maturity

Performative allyship

Performative allyship is when someone does or says things that seem like they might be advocating for a marginalized group, but actually do nothing to advance the position of that group, or do harm to those people.

Often associated with actions like posting on social media, or empty words of support, performative allyship is often more about the person seeking praise or recognition, rather than a genuine effort to change behaviour or improve outcomes for others.

Related:

Virtue signalling Allyship Diversity and inclusion

Privilege

Privilege is when a group or individual has advantages afforded to them by society or groups because of possessing unchangeable or identity-rooted traits, like race, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.

Some examples of advantages that can stem from privileges for certain groups include: more access to education, fewer barriers to unemployment, or being less likely to be targeted by police or government authorities.

Related:

Disenfranchised Unconscious bias Diversity and inclusion

Systemic racism

Systemic is a term used to describe something that affects something overall (a system), rather than in just one small area.

Systemic racism describes racism that isn’t about one individual or group’s racist actions, but instead describes racism that is embedded into society’s systems and structures. The way these systems are fundamentally set up harms racial minorities and marginalized communities, even without taking into account the actions of racist individuals within the system.

For example, systemic racism is a structural issue in public institutions like policing and the legal system, and in political and government institutions, as well as the advertising, design, and technology industries.

Systemic racism is present in systems all over the world, and it takes conscious, intentional, anti-racist work by governments, societies, businesses, and other organizations to dismantle these unjust systems.

Related:

Intersectionality Privilege Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is when a person makes actions or assumptions about individuals based on ingrained beliefs or stereotypes, without realizing the influence of these usually systemic beliefs on their thoughts and decisions.

We all have some level of unconscious bias, based on our upbringing, the media we are exposed to, and many other factors. It requires effort and work to undo and unpack these biases through diversity and inclusion work, listening to other people’s lived experiences, and building empathy for people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences.

Related:

Micro-aggressions Diversity and inclusion

Underrepresented

Underrepresented is a term used to describe a group of people who are not represented proportionally to their population size in a given context.

For example, Black women are underrepresented on executive boards at fortune 500 companies because the percentage of Black women in the population is greater than the percentage Black women who sit on Fortune 500 boards.

Through recruitment programs and diversity and inclusion initiatives, organizations and systems can work towards representation, inclusion, and belonging for underrepresented groups in a given organization or system.

Related:

Systemic racism Marginalized Diversity and inclusion Diversity

Universal design

Universal design is a method of designing environments, services, and products to be usable by the highest number of people in a given population. Univeral design has its origins in architecture and industrial design but has recently expanded to include digital products and services.

The Ronald Mace working group developed a standard set of seven principles of universal design in the 1990s, from which all universal design processes originate from. Some universal design principles include flexible use, simple use, and tolerances for error. When using this design philosophy, designers create a single solution designed to reach the most people, with the goal of not needing to develop additional solutions for people with different needs.

The seven principles of universal design shown through drawings of hands performing different actions
The principles of universal design: equitable use, flexibility in use,  simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. From the Interaction Design Foundation.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Inclusive

User interviews

User interviews are a research tactic where researchers or designers talk to a user and ask them questions to gain insights needed for the design process. User interviews are typically used in the earlier stages of the process, and form the foundation of exploratory research. These interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or free form.

User interviews can help you define a product or service concept, identify user pain points, and understand your users on a deeper level to better define design requirements.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Experience mapping Usability System strategy

Virtue signalling

Virtue signalling is when someone expresses a view or does something specifically to let other people know (consciously or subconsciously) that they are moral, good, or “true allies”.

For example, a quick social media post about an important topic, frequently expressing your support for a cause verbally, changing your profile picture to represent a movement, and so on. These can all be forms of virtue signalling if they do not involve concrete action to help people or change behaviour.

Related:

Performative allyship Allyship

World Wide Web Foundation or W3F

The World Wide Web Foundation, or W3F, is a non-profit organization with a focus on maintaining an open and free internet. With a range of international initiatives, the organization has worked towards increased digital equality, affordable internet, and more responsible web-related policies.

As an offshoot of the W3C, W3F continues to progress digital inclusion initiatives globally through its programs and advocacy.

One of the W3F’s, core initiatives, the Contract for the Web, encourages organizations to sign on to a more ethical and equitable approach to the web. Say Yeah has signed the Contract for the Web as one of the pledges we have taken towards more open and inclusive agency practices and being intentional about supporting the communities we serve.

More about our supplier diversity and community initiatives

Related:

Web accessibility W3C