Cambridge Engineering Design Centre

Inclusive Design: Countering Design Exclusion

Principal Investigator: Professor P John Clarkson

Design accessibility describes the performance of a product in terms of its utility, usability and accessibility as measured against its intended user population. Despite the obvious sense in designing accessible products, it is well known that too many products are targeted at young able-bodied users. As a result, they are neither accessible nor desirable to the older user and, in practice, able-bodied users often find them difficult or frustrating to use. Hence, significant effort is planned to develop approaches to design that will challenge this traditional design practice.

The vision of the Inclusive Design group is to embed inclusive design thinking in the UK design and retail community, thus enabling the design of more inclusive products.

Specific aims for the group are to reduce design exclusion by:

  • continuing to be a focus for inclusive design research in the UK
  • developing models of good design practice for design and retail professionals
  • embedding such good practice in the world-wide design and retail community.

Studies show that by 2021, half the adult population in the UK will be over 50 years old and that similar trends are observable elsewhere. Such ageing populations are known to exhibit an increasing divergence in physical capabilities, in general the population becomes less capable. At the same time, the products that we use everyday seem to become ever more complex. Whether this trend is true or not, it is evident that products make demands of their users.

One of the steps to ensuring that designs are as genuinely inclusive as possible is to provide metrics for defining the level of inclusivity attained for a given product. However, while it is useful to know who and how many can use the product, that information will not provide guidance on how to include more. Conversely, knowing who and how many people cannot use the product and why they cannot do so immediately highlights the aspects of the product that need to be improved. For example, if a product excludes a significant proportion of the population because the users either cannot hear or see the output from the product, then designers know to re-design the features involved in providing the output to the users.

The objectives of the Inclusive Design research, in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal College of Art and the Universities of York and Dundee, are:

  • to propose mechanisms/approaches for overcoming industry barriers to inclusive design
  • to identify the necessary knowledge-base about users for inclusive design and provide a description of “missing” knowledge
  • to develop a range of “simulators” to enable designers to experience the impact of some common capability losses
  • to investigate how “softer” data can be used in inclusive design
  • to investigate the balance between involving users and using data in the design process
  • to develop and populate a model for designer guidance on inclusive design practices