“Solve for one, extend to many” — Inclusive design and why it matters

Leanne Dobson
4 min readMay 16, 2018

There are 7.4 billion people in the world — that’s a lot! Everyone is different and inclusive design draws from that wide range of diversity. As designers we tend to use our own abilities as a baseline and evaluate designs based on our own bias. Because of this our products are easy for some people to use (those who are like us) but excludes others.

It is our social and collective responsibility, not just as designers, to create products that are physically, cognitively and emotionally appropriate for all.

Inclusive design a definition

Inclusive design is a methodology that enables everyone, regardless of their situation, to participate in an experience and have a shared sense of belonging. Many people can’t participate in society, both in the physical and digital world, so understanding what excludes them helps us to create better designs.

“We can’t be creative without constraint anyway. Only with constraint can we design something truly brilliant.” Adam Silver, ‘Designing inclusively’

Isn’t inclusive design the same as accessibility?

Inclusive design is a methodology which ensures that a product or service is useful, easy to use and engaging to as many people as possible. Accessibility fills the gaps and tries to remove the barriers for those with disabilities. It is an attribute rather than a methodology and focuses on the qualities that make an experience open to all.

The subtle difference between inclusive design and accessibility is that inclusive design aims to make things work for everyone including those with recognised disabilities. It is important that inclusive design and accessibility work together to create usable and accessible products or services which can be enjoyed by all.

Why it matters — a business case for inclusive design

From a business perspective the cost of bad design, which often emerges later in the product life cycle can cause irreparable damage to a brand and cause frustrations for users. Whilst it may seem like an additional constraint and time spent on design the results benefit both businesses in terms of return on investment (ROI) and a larger number of people who can use our products or services.

Designing for our future selves; with age we all have the potential to experience declining sensory, motor and cognitive capabilities such as worsening eye sight and hearing loss. As we approach retirement we are less likely to tolerate products which we can’t use and quite frankly why should we?

“For boomers, technology is contagious. And they don’t consider themselves technology dunces. Instead, they blame manufacturers for excessive complexity and poor instructions.”

- Rogers (2009)

Disability redefined

The World Health Organisation redefined disability from ‘Personal Health Condition’ to ‘Mismatched Human Interactions’.

“Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Manual

These mismatches can be permanent, temporary or situational.

Permanent — such as motor and cognitive impairments.

Temporary — a short-term injury can affect the way people interact and adapt to their environment, for example an arm injury.

Situational — moving through different environments such as a loud crowded place where it’s hard to hear. Driving a car on a day when there is heavy rain can affect or impair our vision.

Some examples of the benefits of designing with constraints

Closed captions: for the hard of hearing. It is also used by people in loud airports, and a child learning to read.

High contrast screen settings: for people with vision impairments but also very useful for others when trying to use a laptop outside on a sunny day.

Persona spectrum

Persona spectrum is used to understand these mismatches across the spectrum of permanent, temporary or situational disabilities. It helps develop empathy and develop solutions for a broader user base that other people can benefit from also.

Image taken from Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Manual

Microsoft’s inclusive design toolkit includes activities for creating personas: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/design/inclusive

Practical applications

Now you understand the why you may be wondering how you can I apply inclusive design ….? Below are just a few ideas, the first and most obvious is bringing diversity into teams in the workplace.

Personas — removing bias from the design process by creating personas which move away from assumptions and stereotypes.

Usability tests — recruit from a diverse pool of users who represent your target audience.

Text legibility — ensuring text is readable, legible and can be increased in size as well as making sense to a screen reader when read aloud.

Video/audio — provide transcripts, captions or sign language.

Navigation — the ability to move in a linear fashion by using the keyboard alone makes it easier to navigate a website.

Language — write content that is simple and clear. Everyone benefits from readable text with concise sentences and easily understood words.

Contrast — ensure sufficient contrast between text and its background colour.

Cognitive load — for example when asking user’s questions in a form identify questions which cause unnecessary discomfort, as well as removing superfluous fields.


Solutions designed for disabilities tend to be picked up and embraced by everyone. Design is a participatory activity and it is important to include people from the beginning and throughout the whole process.

Questions to ask ourselves are; Where there are barriers which exclude people? How can we learn from others? Who else can benefit from this idea?


Inclusive design — toolkit and manual










Case studies and articles







Leanne Dobson

A creative problem solver focused on creating engaging user experiences, taking into account user's needs in alignment with business goals and objectives.