Specialized solutions for disadvantaged people often have more to do with negative perceptions than actual needs

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Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

There’s a rise in interest in designs that have a positive social impact. A number of projects are focused on “designing for” a community of people that’s presumed to be disadvantaged. New technologies for students in developing countries. Design contests to create solutions for elderly people or people with disabilities.

While these are often well-intentioned, there are some potential pitfalls to designing for people with this superhero-victim or benefactor-beneficiary mindset. It can lead to specialized solutions that cater to stereotypes about people.

To illustrate the problem, let’s consider the Dodge La Femme — a car designed specifically for women, brought to market in 1955, and canceled in 1956. The car was pink, inside and out, and decorated with small roses. It featured a fully equipped matching purse that fit into the back of the passenger side headrest. …


To truly achieve inclusiveness, we need to first look at who we’re excluding.

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Illustration by Harriet Lee-Marrion

As you may have noticed, there’s a growing focus on inclusion in the tech industry. Specifically, there’s a rise in the use of the word “inclusion.” Companies are creating new executive roles to lead inclusion initiatives, promoting their inclusivity in marketing campaigns, and, crucially, making changes in their products to include overlooked communities.

But what does inclusion actually mean — especially when it’s so feverishly applied to broad areas of society? The word is as axiomatic as it is unspecific. I’ve wrestled with this ambiguity as director of inclusive design at Microsoft, in my own independent design practice, and while writing a book about inclusion. Inclusion is a vast promise — as immense, in fact, as human diversity — and that’s what makes it a great design challenge. But without a clear agreement on what inclusion is, can we ever hope to achieve it? …


My first mistake in writing a book was assuming that I’d simply expand on stuff that I’d already written. I had spent years researching, practicing, and writing about inclusive product development. My team and I had worked with thousands of engineers, designers, and leaders to apply these methods to their products. The toolkit we published was raising awareness of inclusive design across the tech industry and had taken on a life of its own.

Yet, immediately after signing a contract to deliver a manuscript in six months, all I could think about was how much more I needed to learn before I could write. …


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“Disability is a mismatched interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live” — World Health Organization, 2011 World Report on Disability

In April 2017, I left a perfectly good job at a large corporation to start my own company, dedicated to inclusive product development. One week later, MIT Press asked me if I would write a book on inclusive design. I agreed, without knowing exactly how I would make it happen.

This started a journey that transformed how I view myself, my work, and how technology shapes society. Or, more precisely, how the people who design technology shape society. …


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We all feel it — our technology feels like a century ahead of us, while our behaviors are reflective of decades before us. The systemic issues in the lack of inclusiveness in design, tech, and hiring reveals a profound cultural failure. But let’s flip it: it’s a shimmering possibility to show what better looks like, to do important work that will matter for the future we want to create.

We spoke to the Global Head of Design and Inclusion at WordPress.com, John Maeda, and Kat Holmes, Founder of KATA and Advisor to Automattic, on what the future of inclusiveness looks like, how we can enrich the content we make through diversity, and the slow but steady progress of change. …


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I’m sitting at the base of the White House. Public Enemy’s Fight the Power fills the air. The preamble of the Constitution is running through my head. And I feel, in this moment, anything is possible.

In his Thank You note, President Obama asserted that “the single most powerful word in our democracy is We’”. Throughout his presidency this has been a persistent theme: progress happens when we work together.

But there’s more to our constitutional preamble.

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…

In his 2008 iconic campaign speech A More Perfect Union, President Obama spoke to the nature of that perfection. …


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“Inclusive Design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so everyone has a sense of belonging.” - Susan Goltsman, Founding Principal of MIG, Inc., co-author of Play for All Guidelines and The Inclusive City.

Where did you love to play as a child? Maybe it was a hill near your home. Or the fort you built out of boxes and blankets. Or, like me, a tower of climbing bars rising up from the asphalt behind your school.

I’ve been talking about playgrounds a lot lately. I’ve been sliding on a lot of slides and trying out a lot of swings. I’ve listened to people talk about why they came to play and wondered who wasn’t able to join in. I’ve spent time with pioneers in playground design, like Susan Goltsman, who was an extraordinary advocate for inclusive play and healthy human habitats. All this may seem odd for an adult who designs technology for a living, but here’s why it matters: Designing for inclusion starts with recognizing exclusion. …

About

Kat Holmes

Founder mismatch.design | Author of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design @MITPress | UX Design Director @Google | Prev: #InclusiveDesign Director @Microsoft |

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