Last week I had the pleasure of attending an immersive education program at the Monogram Appliances Showroom, which is at the Design Center Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. Part of our program addressed universal design, or as I now like to call it, “Inclusive Design.”
What Is Inclusive Design?
Every design decision has to the potential to include or exclude clients. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions and thus to including as many people as possible. User diversity covers variation in capabilities, needs and aspirations. I think of it as, “designing for everyone from the smallest to the tallest.” The beautiful thing about looking at the subject from this angle is that it doesn’t concentrate on aging or physical disabilities but on creating design that makes a space safe and accessible to those who might have those disabilities now or in the future.
Inclusive design does not suggest that it is always possible or appropriate to design one product to address the needs of the entire population. Instead, Inclusive design guides an appropriate response to diversity in the population through:
– Developing a family of products and derivatives to provide the best possible coverage of the population
– Ensuring that each individual product has clear and distinct target users
– Reducing the level of ability required to use each product to improve the user experience for a broad range of customers in a variety of situations
Why Is Understanding User Diversity Important?
In my training with the Living-In-Place Institute, we are taught to think of the lifespan of a home. And if that lifespan is a long and healthy one, more than 1,000 people will interact with that home over that span of time. Within that group will be a large range of capabilities. Why not think about designing for the long term?
Additionally, failure to correctly understand people can result in products, furniture and appliances that cause unnecessary frustration and exclusion. This reduces commercial success due to increased returns and need for customer support.
Applying Inclusive Design to Interior Design
Some of my favorite ways of applying inclusive design to the practice of interior design include:
– Installing levers instead of door knobs to make them easier to grip and use
– Selecting products while thinking about the contrast between counter-tops, cabinets and floors to allow for vision difficulties
– Installing lighting in kick-plate areas to light up floors and provide the perfect amount of night lighting; great in bathrooms, kitchens and on stairways
– Incorporating technology to allow for voice activation of appliances
– Lowering appliance installation to accommodate someone in a wheelchair and incorporating vertical patterned cabinetry to mask the height changes. This is also a great time to talk about French door ovens for those with limited accessibility.