The term “inclusive design” is not new, but until recently the practice of inclusive design was largely confined to academia. One example is the Inclusive Design Research Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design that focuses on ways that digital technology can improve societal inclusion.

Here is a quote from Susan Goltsman, a leader in the field of inclusive design:It doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. It means you’re designing a diversity of ways for people to participate in an experience, so that everyone has a sense of belonging.

“So, basically, inclusive design could be defined as a methodology that draws on and enables the full range of the diversity of human beings. Most importantly, it strives to include and learn from people with a variety of perspectives.”

How Inclusive Design is Different

Accessibility, universal design, and inclusive design are all terms related to design and all three are concepts that designers should be mindful of. However, inclusive design can be distinguished from the related concepts of accessibility and universal design.


Most accessibility standards grew out of policies and laws that were designed to ensure barrier-free access for specific disability communities. Accessibility is an attribute rather than a methodology. In practice, inclusive design should indeed make a product or service more accessible, but it is not a process for meeting all accessibility standards. The ideal is for accessibility and inclusive design to work in tandem to create experiences that comply with accessibility requirements and, at the same time, are truly usable and open to everyone.

Universal Design

Although the term inclusive design is sometimes used interchangeably with the term universal design, there are major distinctions between the two. Universal design arose out of the built environment and is rooted in architectural design. It best describes the qualities of a final design and in particular the nature of a physical object. A universal design might not involve the participation of excluded communities.

Inclusive Design

In contrast to accessibility and universal design, inclusive design is a methodology that was born out of digital technologies in the 1970s and ’80s. Its early incarnation incorporated things like captioning for people with hearing difficulties and audio-recorded books for the blind. Inclusive design is now maturing alongside the internet. Most importantly, inclusive design means including and learning from people with a wide range of different perspectives. It asks an important question:

Did the design process include the contributions of excluded communities?

An inclusive designer is a designer who recognizes mismatched interactions between people and their world and looks for remedies to build into what is being designed. They actively engage the expertise of people who know what it is like to try to navigate designs that exclude them. The know-how of excluded communities provides insight into a possible diversity of ways to take part in an experience. Inclusive design aims to draw on the full range of human diversity.

Recognizing Exclusion

Exclusion occurs when humans solve problems by not recognizing or ignoring their own biases. In the tech world, for example, Microsoft designers have understood this and are seeking out exclusions and creating new ideas and more inclusive designs. Microsoft wants its designs to be inclusive of the real world around them. Designing for inclusivity reflects how individuals really are and opens up products and services to more people. Fewer and fewer individuals and groups are excluded.

  • Read Kat Holmes’ book Mismatch Here’s a review:Mismatch is a powerful read that not only has the potential to change the way we approach design but also serves as a strong check to our ingrained assumptions about how and why people move, act, speak, and interact (or don’t). – Gray Magazine

Why The Tech World Needs to Embrace Inclusive Design

Inclusive design is particularly appropriate for the design of apps, websites, video games, and other software. Creating separate apps and other design spaces for different user experiences is inefficient and not cost-effective. Not only that, it separates users based on their weaknesses and strengths. A far better approach is producing an inclusively designed interface which everyone can use, regardless of their abilities. The key word here is empathy, making everyone feel that they belong rather than feeling excluded.

Inclusive design requires a change in common thought patterns. Conventional design methods focus on finding the most direct route for an average user to complete a task. But in reality, there are no average users; we are all individuals with varying abilities. Not recognizing this fact risks alienating large segments of consumers. Conversely, designing to inclusive principles greatly increases the customer base. It is all about building a better future for everyone with inclusive design.

Why You Should Use Inclusive Design

Inclusion means much more than accessibility. Inclusive design can help your company reach as many targeted consumers as possible. When you are designing for millions of people , inclusive design can create different ways for individuals to participate in an experience. Inclusive design is a win-win for your audience and your business.