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Inclusive design is more than just nice architecture

Lately much is said about Inclusive Design or Universal Design, but the focus is almost always misunderstood, thinks only in architecture. We forget or do not know the benefits generated by the Inclusive Design applied to product design and graphic design.

One of the primary design goals is to provide quality of life for all, without exception. However, it seems that their quality of life is only a right of non-disabled users or young and healthy users.

Inclusive Design applied to a bacon pack, helping the disabled or aged user to open it in a easier way

Inclusive Design

The Inclusive Design is not a new genre, not a separate specialization.

It is an approach which ensures that products and services are designed to meet the needs of the public as broad as possible, regardless of age or ability.

Two major trends have driven the growth of Inclusive Design (also known as Design for All and Universal Design in the U.S.): an aging population and the growing movement to integrate disabled people into society.


Here are a few of the Inclusive Design commandments to be followed:

• Fair Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities;

• Flexibility in use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities;

• Simple and intuitive: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user experience, knowledge, language skills or concentration level;

• Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of the user’s sensory abilities;

• Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue


A rule of thumb is to always bear in mind that seniors and people with some type of restriction will always be potential users and as such must be considered.

The application of Inclusive Design, foster the basic right of any citizen to come and go, regardless of their physical state.

However, erroneously there is a believe that Inclusive Design is only a quick adaptation of the environment such as building a ramp or installing elevators for the disabled. Also, surprisingly, many designers have no such knowledge or awareness and still believe that good design is just one that is in international fairs for furniture and decoration.

This awareness of change towards an inclusive society must come from all segments of society, especially the Government, that must guarantee the basic right of any citizen to come and go, regardless of their physical state.


This requires:

1 – Legislation

2 – Standard (norms)

3 – Inspections / self-regulation

4 – More information from manufacturers, entrepreneurs (tax benefits for those investment projects Inclusive Design)

5 – Education / Training in Inclusive Design in various areas of knowledge (ergonomics, design, engineering, architecture, psychology, medicine)

6 – Awards and certifications / seals “Inclusive Design” for products and / or services, systems and buildings

7 – More consumer information (Inclusive Design is a consumer´s right )


Benefits of Inclusive Design

Inclusive Design democratizes design allowing a wider range of people to have access and use the product directly (or with any device support), also allows the product to be used in a wider variety of environments or situations. The Inclusive Design is flexible enough to meet the needs of beginners and advanced users and is also friendly to users in general, easier to understand and use.

The benefit is individual, but also extends to their immediate context and the society itself. The Inclusive Design builds a fairer society, with more economic opportunities for all, generates increasing physical independence and emotional self-esteem and dignity.

The design is thus a social issue, as it will improve society by bringing better quality of life by providing products, services and systems suitable to contribute to a more sustainable society. The Inclusive Design is socially desirable and necessary, but it is also a business opportunity that can not be neglected.

Products and systems are more competitive with Inclusive Design, creating new market opportunities and product differentiation as similar to traditional. Future consumer markets are increasingly diverse in age and physical ability.

Now the focus is on integrating the best solutions for all, supported by new research techniques designed to make the process more user-centered development.

With this focus you can create innovations in systems and services, generating new dynamics at urban, social and economic institutions that can serve as models and be applicable to other contexts, thus breaking traditional paradigms and creating a sustainable – accessible  innovative society.

Inclusive design applied to graphic design medicine label (Source: Helen Hamlyn Center)

The gift of Inclusive Design

Suppliers and products and services and advertising need to put aside prejudice and to also consider people with disabilities and the elderly, after all, these people also have power consumption and is not just prioritizing the beauty and youth forever.

We found that a large proportion of products, services and systems in our daily life has never been designed for people with a disability or old age.

I propose the following exercise to start the day and during one week, take a small notebook and write down everything that does not work right and how it could be optimized and you will be surprised at the amount of products, systems and service failures.

The urban context does not help, but rather contributes to accidents. A comprehensive urban environment and well designed allows the state to save money in the field of urban health by reducing accidents material derived from a poor  designed environment.


The Future of Inclusive Design

The Inclusive Design today is more related to NGOs, personal causes or completely in the field of medicine, rehabilitation and disability. These initiatives are valid, but should contact the industrial sector – business and permeate our daily lives.

Companies must realize that the segment of the Inclusive Design is a large and growing market that should be explored, is no longer a niche small, unimportant.

There are many factors that lead us down that road. We have, for example, aging global population, we can not have sustainable development if we leave out important segments of society such as the elderly and the disabled.

The next world events planned to take place in Brazil (World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016) will be a showcase for the world and represent a unique historical opportunity to practice inclusive design which will be crucial for the success of these events.

If the theme of inclusion being marginalized and not permeate the event as a central and guiding policy, the country will lose a unique opportunity to start building successfully and consciousness, a future sustainable society.


So we do not even deserve to win the Cup.


For Case studies and examples visit the links below:

Design Council UK


Helen Hamlyn Centre – Design Research Center


Human factors in design:



About the author: Marcio Dupont is a Brazilian industrial designer and sustainability analist( design and consumption). Visit his Sustainable – Social Design Portal and contact him through his LinkedIn profile

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • material handling equipments October 14, 2011, 10:29 am
  • Marcus Ormerod November 8, 2011, 9:25 am

    Whilst largely agreeing with the author I do feel that there are quite a few product designs that exhibit inclusive design features, such as the now iconic OXO Good Grips range (but that has now become distorted in order to try to sell more products). however, my biggest concern is in respect of awards and certification for inclusive design – any such activity usually ends up becoming just a marketing tool. For me the best advertisement for inclusive design is if it works and is also a desirable product, because then people will not discard it into a drawer but will use it and also they will want to show it to other people because not only does it “look” good but it it is good. I do agree with the author that Brazil and the rest of the World’s designers need to embrace Inclusive Design and infuse the process of Inclusive Design from the outset of their work.


  • Michael January 18, 2012, 11:46 am

    I have always had a bee in my bonnet about some designers approach to ‘Inclusive Design’. It seems that some designers in the process of making a product usable for the elderly and infirm they make the product cumbersome and unattractiveness to the masses. That is not to say Inclusive design is bad, only that most designers don’t grasp the concept fully. For instance the Oxo potato peeler is a fantastic piece of inclusive design that is not only usable for the elderly but also better to use for everyone else.

    Great article with some great advice. Inclusive design often equals good design

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