Facilitating Inclusive Design

Last week I facilitated a 30 minute conversation around inclusive and exclusive design. A group conversation surrounding readings we completed before class is always helpful in processing new information, but I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to prompt ideas for each of our personal design frameworks.

My hope was that everyone walked away from our conversation with an open mind to what in an inclusive design might mean.

To begin our group discussion, I introduced two key definitions from Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Tool Kit.

“Inclusive Design: A design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.”

“Accessibility: 1. The qualities that make n experience open to all. 2. A professional discipline aimed at achieving No. 1”

A more succinct way a fellow student suggested for thinking about these concepts is that inclusivity gets you a seat at the table, accessibility is if you can participate in the activity once you are there.

After a brief discussion of these terms, we walked through some basic consideration to be made whenever engaging in inclusive design. I would consider this the weaker part of my group facilitation, and if I were to engage in the exercise again I would move this to the end of the session. I was hoping to start a list of considerations that we would then build on, but it turned out that the next bit of conversation I had planned was much more effective at soliciting group participation.

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The most successful part of this facilitated discussion began when I introduced a scenario: A venture capitalist has come to our design group with a directive to use our “design skills” to develop a new body soap product. This investor will let us take it from there, so it’s up to us to create a soap that we personally believe is ethical and inclusive.

To prompt discussion and thinking, I asked the group to first consider how they might make the most exclusive soap possible. By using a more simple product like soap (as opposed to a complex system or interaction) we were able to quickly think of ways to make it exclusive, such as: 

  • Expensive
  • Bacon fat included
  • Skin color altering
  • Requiring complex technology
  • Time intensive to use
  • Short lasting results
  • Something that must be assembled each time
  • Only a set number created

While some silly ideas emerged, it helped us think in larger buckets of who might be excluded by design decisions. Beyond just age, or race, or income, it’s possible to be exclusive on the basis of time constraints, access to technology, or dietary choices.

From there we flipped the conversation and used the traits we listed to understand how to better design an inclusive soap.

Overall, the exercise was a bit silly, and intentionally so. I was hoping to solicit conversation or bring up ideas that we hadn’t had before. 

In the end, maybe the most interesting piece of the conversation was around feasibility of inclusive design. Since the exercise required a focus on extremes, it brought about the conversation of what to do when a design elements are in direct opposition to each other. 

This lead to a conversation about “growing the pie”, and figuring out how to serve a new population, while not forgetting the original.

The resulting element I personally chose to add to my framework as a result of this facilitated session was a test I could ask myself around the design of any system, interaction, or product in the future. Can I add any other population or user need to this design without completely cutting out another population? i.e. Can I grow this pie without detracting from it at the same time?