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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 risk of alienating potential markets and users.

Continue reading for definitions of commonly used inclusive design terms.

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

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

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

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.

Related:

Product strategy Service design Diversity and inclusion Belonging Inclusive Diversity

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:

Unconscious bias Diversity and inclusion

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:

Diversity and inclusion

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