Inclusive design is about making spaces, experiences and stories accessible for and representational of as many people as possible. A growing concept within the industry, from new technological developments and our own learning, we are continually looking for ways to design solutions that mean viewpoints, situations and experiences of all people are accommodated for.
Table of Contents
What is Inclusive Design?
Many situational, permanent, temporary or emotional factors can leave someone feeling included or excluded and affect their experience with or perception of a design and space.
Image by Imagineerum
An accessible design is the product of an inclusive design. Inclusive design focuses on how to approach a design rather than just the outcome; it is the content itself, its availability and its aims. It is about placing people at the heart of the design process, creating experiences that form strong, vibrant and sustainable communities, aiming to create a level playing field for all. Designs that offer flexibility in use, can adapt to changing uses and demands, but are also convenient and enjoyable for all. It focuses on creating spaces that work for all people, meet the needs of all users, are accommodating, welcoming, yet realistic, providing a sense of dignity, confidence and the option to be immersed equally in the experience and place.
At Imagineerium we see inclusivity as a design opportunity, to enhance user experience for a diverse audience while considering the full range of human differences.
We aim to design and offer multiple ways for everyone to participate in an experience with a sense of belonging. As a growing company we are beginning to understand and recognise how some poorly designed experiences are failing to support and reach more people and we want to be at the forefront of combating this in our industry. We see it as our responsibility as designers to avoid creating bigger barriers of exclusion by seeking out these points of segregation, to generate new ideas and find solutions, from wheelchair and pushchair accessibility to highly visible doors and non-slip floors.
Inclusive design is human centred design (source)
Principles of Inclusive Design
Through inclusive design, we aim to make informed decisions about the work we produce by better understanding societal diversity. We all know that poorly designed systems can really fail humans, and this is true within the creative and events industries also. However, there are many aspects we can take into consideration when designing for inclusivity:
1. Recognising where the exclusions exist
It comes down to empathy and recognising that everyone has abilities, and limits to those abilities. When designing spaces and solving problems based on exclusions, it is important to reach out far beyond our biases and use it as an opportunity to be even more creative with concepts. Thinking about the height of structures, entrances and exits, visuals and audio are the bare minimum of what we can take into consideration when it comes to noticing exclusions, but focusing on the wording, or touch point locations and even going down to the nitty gritty, crux, of even the transport to and within the experience can make a big difference to many individuals.
Designing with accessibility in mind means recognising a whole range of limitations (source)
2. Research and learn more about human diversity
Due to our natural curiosity as a species, human beings are the real experts in adapting to diversity.
Our ability to pause and reflect, seek support from others, and draw upon research, allows us to understand people from different backgrounds and locations better. Knowing that inclusive design puts people at the centre of an experience from the very start, it is so important that we lose any prejudices of everyone’s ability prior to coming up with a design. According to the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University, “Inclusive design is design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference.” Researching and taking on fresh, different perspectives is the first step into gaining more insight into the diversity of the human experience and how much this alters from individual to individual.
3. Offer choice
Offering a number of different ways for people to complete tasks, enter a space, listen to audio, or immerse themselves in a certain experience is fundamental when it comes to designing for inclusivity. We cannot assume we know how people want to experience things, and by providing alternatives they can make a choice to what suits their needs, abilities and circumstances. This can be in the form of visual text and braille, audio and captioning, ramps and stairs, to an offering of the experience with no drastic light changes. The possibilities of choice are endless and can provide great depth to our designs.
4. Be consistent
As much as providing choice is essential when it comes to inclusive design, being consistent in the design to create a sense of uniformity for the audience is also crucial. By providing users with a structure and framework made up of familiar conventions that are applied consistently throughout a space or experience can really help build their confidence in the environment. Even by having consistency in the smaller things such as the height of touch points, colours, surface textures and voices used for audio tracks, guests can feel that they are able to navigate the space, enjoy the experience better with the usability being more dependable and therefore inclusive.
5. Be mindful of the visualisations and adaptable
When designing we must always consider the environment in which an immersive experience will take place, including the lighting conditions, noise level, technology, and accessibility. We aim to select the format for the visualisations based on guests and the environment, but in a style that also connects to the essence of the company, brand and experience. We take into account that relying on colour alone alienates colour-blind or colour-deficient users, and even those in different cultures, where certain colours can connote different meanings. We are also very aware that text isn’t always a viable way for people to understand a situation and that there must be options for audio guidance where possible. Being mindful of the visualisations is yet another imperative part of making everyone feel welcome, as well as respected, and being adaptable with these concepts when designing is key.
Inclusive design comes down to recognising and researching to offer possibilities and choice (source)
What is Accessible Design?
So we know that inclusive design is the methodology of designing for the full range of human diversity, but what is accessible design?
Well, an accessible design is the product of an inclusive design, where the qualities make an experience open to all, or refers to how everyone can enjoy the experience. It is all about well-designed and welcoming experiences that meet access needs and predominantly provide solutions for people with disabilities, but also benefit all users. By putting accessibility first, everyone can experience and be a part of the immersed community no matter their background, circumstances or possible constraints.
It really is a remarkable thing.
Why Inclusive and Accessible Design are Important
Having inclusivity in mind when designing has a positive ripple effect on the whole project, from the brand itself to the teams involved in putting the event, activation or experience together. Everyone has a better awareness, is made to think more about their actions and impact, and really take into account the difficulties some individuals face on a daily basis. And it's not just the design and fabrication team that find their views and beliefs being transformed, but the consumers, society and industry too. Empowering diverse participation, designing for inclusivity aligns with a renewed focus on social justice in this modern time.
Removing these barriers that create separation enables everyone to participate confidently and independently, feeling equal in their immersive experiences and enchantment by magical storytelling. By pushing inclusivity and accessibility to the forefront, we proactively design and produce spaces that recognise and consider all layers of human identity.
Inclusive design and accessible design work together to accommodate the full spectrum of human diversity, offering an equal user experience and attracting a more diverse audience. By elevating many different ideas and emphasising varying stories, inclusive design can boost your brand to position it as a market leader. By being responsive and taking note of what people want and need can help expand the company’s reach, spark innovation, and take on a position of social responsibility within your industry.
By pushing inclusivity and accessibility to the forefront of design, we can influence and inspire the industry to not only think about what the experience or design can do, but how it transforms the way society understands what is possible. It really is time we tried to break through these prejudices and limitations we have in the mind, body and community.
The Challenges of Inclusive and Accessible Design
One of the most difficult challenges when it comes to designing for accessibility is knowing what needs you have to design for. Everyone has different needs in different situations and knowing how to accommodate them can be very tricky.
Another challenge comes with technology advancements or sometimes gaps that come with new inventions that don’t yet offer adaptive or modified versions that help users with certain needs.
To overcome the challenges of designing for inclusion and accessibility, we concentrate on ensuring everyone has a sense of dignity, comfort, confidence and convenience within a space or experience. Knowing that it may not be possible to immediately focus on all user needs, we pride ourselves on designing welcoming and realistic spaces that offer more than one solution.
Image by Imagineerum
The University of Cambridge states “inclusive design does not suggest that it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of the entire population.” Rather, its focus is to provide solutions “for the best possible coverage for the population.”
It is apparent how crucial our environments and interactions are in shaping our lives, and failing to design for inclusion could lead to brand-damaging experiences, causing a ripple effect through sales, product creation, all the way to shares.
Designing for inclusion is a journey and offers new insights into the way we interact with the design process and build environment. Our job is to design for the people, invent new and innovative solutions to problems that can arise on a plethora of different sites. We are determined to champion design that creates experiences everyone can enjoy, that promotes equity, access and opportunity, weaving, not just narratives, but inclusion throughout the immersive experiences we design.