Inclusive design, a process that does design work for previously marginalized users, is a concept that many want to believe will come naturally. After all, becoming more inclusive starts with admitting that you are not inclusive, which can conflict with the self-image. But the reality is that design from our own, isolated perspective is natural because our personal experiences are the only ones we have access to. Therefore, participatory planning requires an active decision.

Illustration Orange Crush

Participatory design is worth this work because it’s much more than a nice task – it’s also good business. The opposite of inclusive is exclusive, and follows the logic that those who exclude a customer lose those customers. In addition, participatory design has become standard practice for many companies, including Microsoft and IBM.

Companies that do not follow these principles may lag behind their competitors. To this end, we will guide you through what participatory design is and how to incorporate it into the design process.

What does participatory design mean?

Inclusive design is an ongoing process of designing solutions to take into account the perspectives, experiences, and situations of people who were not previously accommodated. It has a close relationship to its opposite term: exclusion. Inclusive design is largely the elimination of removal sites.

The term “inclusion” may sound like a political buzzword, but at the end of the day it is a very basic idea: the aim is to include it where there was no inclusion.

To understand this, we look at many possible factors that can lead to the inclusion or exclusion of someone. They can be physical or emotional, permanent or temporary, situational or non-situational. Physical, permanent, and non-situational factors may be appropriate to race, gender, mobility, and age. Emotional, temporary, and situational factors may be those that use the model after a tiring day or stress. Any of these will affect their experience or perception of design.

An image of several application clients in a financial application
Factor VanessaBowman

Therefore, participatory design is a way to deal with these situations, and it can describe anything using images of racially different subjects consideration of design for people who use a cell phone instead of a desk.

Responding to any of these exclusions often affects others. For example, video captions can help both the hearing impaired and the hearing impaired to watch the same video in a noisy environment.

Like Microsoft says, “Planning in an inclusive way doesn’t mean you do one thing for all people. You design different ways for everyone to participate in the experience with a sense of belonging.”

Lastly, I have emphasized a few times that inclusive design is process. This is the key to understanding participatory design: it is a verb, a constant act. It’s not the end result where you step back and say, “We’ve done it! We’ve achieved maximum inclusion!”

By moving a user from an external group to a group in your design team, you can say exactly that you have engaged in participatory design, but of course there are still marginalized people there. Work continues. Ultimately, it’s both an approach to design with practical steps and a way of thinking that you bring to your work every day, requiring imagination, learning, and empathy.

All in all, inclusive design is sometimes a difficult grasp because what it describes can be so broad. I thoroughly recommend reading the interview “What do you distort from inclusive design” Contact Kat Holmes, Microsoft’s ancestor of participatory design, for more information.

Before we move on, there are a few interrelated concepts that are often confused with participatory design, and it is important that we distinguish between these terms.

Inclusive design vs. easy-to-use design

Achievable design (and accessibility in general) is usually part of a comprehensive design, and both pursue the same overall goal – making plans that suit a wide variety of people.

Book cover with a cat in a wheelchair
Factor Carol Studio

However, accessibility includes the word “access,” and this gives a clue to the main difference: it describes whether there are literal barriers that prevent someone from experiencing something.

Common examples could be stairs that prevent wheelchair access, or a website whose text is too small to read. In other words, the issue of accessibility usually focuses on specific injuries. On the other hand, inclusive design focuses on identifying and correcting all points of exclusion, and sometimes involves facilitating design for people with disabilities.

Sometimes it’s just that the user feels welcome where it may not have been obvious.

Inclusive design vs. general design

Universal design is a term that has emerged from the world of architectural and industrial design. Thus, it tends to describe the end product – a physical, immutable thing – and an assessment of whether it has been successfully designed for the widest possible range of people.

As mentioned earlier, participatory planning is an ongoing process. It is also typically used in the context of digital design, although it can be applied to almost anything. The overall design can be the result of inclusive design.

Having said that, design can be inclusive, but not universal – that is, it includes some people, but not all.

Inclusive design process

The process of inclusive design is not simple. Because the goal is to include those that were previously excluded, it ultimately depends on your audience, product, and marketing strategy. But the following will give you tips on how to find participatory actions that work for you.

Presentation of the principles of participatory design
through Microsoft

Make inclusion a priority at the beginning of the planning process

Because participatory design is largely a way of thinking, it is not turned on and off – it should be with you from start to finish. Therefore, you need to avoid doing participatory planning afterwards. This can lead to low, busy results. Instead, it’s best to start thinking about inclusiveness alongside the idea of ​​early planning. Doing so is also more practical – it’s harder to make potentially large changes to a project when the design is already half-finished than at the beginning.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean you can’t make your design comprehensive once it’s already implemented – just that it can be more of a challenge. As they say, better late than never. But as you continue, remember that inclusive design is not just a check box, but a whole mindset.

Avatar illustrations of different people
Factor Nandatama ✪

Recognize your assumptions about your audience

Most brands do market research to understand them target audience, and this is seemingly your group, the group of people your design is built to serve. Understand that this information is inevitably inaccurate – target audience research is based on both data and predictions, but it can give you an idea of ​​what assumptions you’ve already made about your audience. Identifying these assumptions is the first step in questioning them.

Next, you need to find examples of audience segments that you may forget, which will require you to replace your unconscious parties. Let’s go into that in the next section.

Look for perspectives outside of yours

The whole purpose of inclusive design is to adapt perspectives and experiences beyond your own. For this reason, participatory design is not a project that any designer can implement on their own – it is a collaboration that involves talking to and learning from other people. In other words, broadening the perspective as well as possible.

This may seem like you’re listening to negative reviews of customer experiences that you see as advanced cases, including different staff members working on design, and testing the design in front of a diverse group of people. Pay attention to your competitors ’efforts to include as well as who they are leaving out. Read the writings of leaders of different thinkers in the industry to learn about how they move around the world and the challenges they face.

A presentation of the Microsoft personality spectrum
through Microsoft

You should use these perspectives in conjunction with audience research to create a breakdown of potential exclusion sites. Microsoft, their Contains 101 manuals, uses Persona Spectrum for this purpose, where they consider how design can work for people based on certain physical factors.

Focus on design as a solution

Once you’ve identified some exclusions, you need to turn this into practical design options. Basically, here you bridge the connection between problems and solutions. An example problem might be recognizing that your design excludes users in direct sunlight. The design solution would increase the contrast to make the relevant information more visible.

A key advantage of digital design over physical design is that you can give people choice about how they want to experience your content. Customization tools, such as the ability to change color schemes in specific features or multiple options to achieve event-driven delivery, promote inclusion.

Make participatory design an ongoing practice

Inclusive design is the process of doing design work for people for whom it has not previously worked, and it is crucial for companies to reach forgotten customer groups. But in practice, inclusive design must be continuous. It should live outside of this article to become a part of your daily planning life.

Take lessons from your own experience to eliminate exclusion, write your own participatory planning process, and train yourself and new employees in it. Not everyone is going to get inclusive design right the first time, but the beauty of humanity is that it’s never too late to broaden your horizons.

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