News, Technology

The Ethical Philosophy of Designing for Diversity

Amie Haven

Amie Haven, Journalist
@uxconnections

Designing for diversity could be the future philosophy of British design, leading society towards a more ethical sense of inclusivity and belonging.

Diversity is a key focus in contemporary society. To create a fair and equal society we need to be aware of and include all members and address issues of prejudice and exclusion. The world of British design may be open to this ethical philosophy, but some argue that a broader definition of inclusive design is necessary. With the efforts of organisations like the Design Council and DCA Design International, our understanding of inclusive design could broaden to capture the complexity of human diversity.

The secret lies in not only understanding the myriad factors that make us diverse but incorporating them into product design. Diversity needs to be embedded within every level of the design process for it to be truly effective.

The Design Council has a long history of driving Britain’s industry towards producing quality products for a global market, boosting the economy, and tackling social issues. Established by Winston Churchill’s government in 1944, the Design Council evolved from rebuilding war torn industry to using design to address social issues from the 1980s onwards. 

“Our vision is a world where the role and value of design is recognised as a fundamental creator of value, enabling happier, healthier and safer lives for all.” – Design Council website

In advance of a workshop for the Design Council, Lisa Baker and Daniel Jenkins from DCA Design International presented a broader view of diversity in an article in June 2019. They argue that diversity and inclusive design is about more than targeting marginalised or excluded groups. Instead it involves understanding the diverse needs of all people throughout their lives. 

They present diversity as a spectrum along physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities. And those abilities can be affected by many factors: age, gender and sexuality, ethnicity, education and training, income and social class, diet, culture and customs, size and shape, and language and communication. Along the course of our lives we may find any number of factors affecting our abilities. Potentially, products that meet the changing needs of individuals are the next step for inclusive design. 

But is it economical to design for everybody at all times? Baker and Jenkins argue that it’s not only economical but practical. In their article Baker and Jenkins state that, “it’s a perceived efficiency-thoroughness trade-off – a variant of the 80:20 rule, that crudely suggests that you can get it right for 80% of the people for 20% of the effort, while it takes a further 80% of the effort to get it right for the remaining 20%.”

Of course, products that are made for adult use only should not be designed with children in mind. But what about people who have smaller than average hands? Or adults with a learning disability? Baker and Jenkins indicate that when you design for everyone you end up creating products that work across the spectrum of ability. 

Baker and Jenkins give an example of designing for people with the use of only one arm. Some would argue that it’s not economical to design products to include such a small market. But Baker and Jenkins point out that an inclusive product could then be used by someone carrying a child as well as someone with a permanent disability.

The duo acknowledge that for products to be truly inclusive the world of design and industry needs to recognise the benefits of diversity and inclusion. With the support and drive of the Design Council, an ethical philosophy of designing for diversity may well be the future of British design. Or as a wonderful quote developed and spread by Verna Myers and Gregory Lewis suggests, the next step for our society is one that goes even further – from inclusion to belonging:

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.” – Gregory Lewis, (2017), LinkedIn Talent Blog

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