Designing for Inclusion

6 min readApr 23, 2015

Part 3: Interviews and Over-shoulder studies

We all have limits to our abilities — physical, social, emotional and cognitive. How can we design to embrace these universal things that make us human, but also create solutions that are highly adaptive to an individual person?

We as designers can help to remove obstacles, enabling people to participate in society no matter their individual challenges. Let’s imagine a future that puts human empathy at their design core!

This is a work-in-progress documentation of a design project on the topic of inclusion and technology. We as a group of design students are working on design for the blind as part of a collaboration between Microsoft Research and University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. More background information at the bottom.

Talking to experts

Michaela Franke works as a rehabilitation coach for the visually impaired. She teaches them how to get along in daily life by applying a number of super helpful tricks, but she also does white cane training. We were fortunate to get her on the phone for half an hour, receiving valuable insights for the upcoming design process. Here’s what we learned:

– Building up on individual experiences is crucial in coaching. There is no such thing as “one size fits all”

– Grocery stores have been downsizing their staff for years, making shopping more difficult for visually impaired people since they cannot come back to the stuff for guidance and help easily

– To many blinds, interpersonal communication is much more important than gadgets and the like

Sometimes a (human) helping hand is much more useful than elaborated shop designs and assistive technologies

– Michaela Franke wishes for a more personal, respectful interaction between people in general

– However, blind people have a risk of stumbling over things on the ground easily, such as stand-up displays in a supermarket

– What shops can do is to display prices in big enough and high contrast letters, structure their range of products well and stick to their positions within the shop

– In her coaching for the blind and visually impaired, she also aims at conveying a general understanding of a supermarket’s structure

– Her course participants also learn how to make use of hearing to orientate. For example one can hear where the pay desk is located at by listening to the beeps and talking at the counter

– At the end of the call, we asked her for a good piece of advice. Michaela Franke underlined we have to take into consideration that there is a broad spectrum of sight disorder as well as of visually impaired people. Therefore our design solution should reflect on that variety. And when aiming for a technical device: make it simple, not heavy headed

Michaela Franke, thank you for your time and effort!

Meet Elke

We went to the grocery store with Elke who has less than 40% eye-sight

Elka is a student of Cultural Management and co-founder of the Institut for Unschärfe (institute for haziness). Elka has 40% eye-sights using contact lenses and much less without. We asked her to go grocery shopping with us, without her contacts, using speaking-out-loud and over-the-shoulder methods as well as an interview to gain further insights on how she copes with her little eye-sight.

Reading small type with little contrast can be very challenging to Elke.

We chose to go to a big supermarket located in a mall. She didn’t know the place well, so she first had to find out where the store is located within the building. At the entrance she found a display with a map and list of shops, but she had to get as close as 20cm to be able to read the lettering which is annoying to her.

When we had successfully found the supermarket, we handed Elke a shopping list we had prepared for her. The list consisted of items with very different packaging. This way, we wanted to find out what is difficult to find and what not. First, we asked her to shop for a certain type of cereals because to us, the packagings more or less look the same. To our surprise, Elke was able to pick up the right one immediately, referring to it’s big logo type. A second sort of cereals with translucent packaging and very little, delicate typography — Seitenbacher cereals — was much harder to find.

Elke looking for “froot loops” cereals.

When we proceeded to the freezing compartment, Elke pointed out that the glas doors reflect a lot of light, decreasing contrasts and making it harder to find the desired products in general. If this was her real grocery shopping, she would likely skip a certain item rather than searching for it very hard.

“I buy the same things all over again because I’ve learned where I can find them. Picking up something different and discovering something new can be tough and time consuming, making it a rare, challenging luxury for me.”

– Elke, 40% eye-sight

Further insights on grocery shopping

– She has to remember a product’s position within the grocery store because for her, the wayfinding system is mostly impossible to use

– As she can distinguish light and colors well, she can locate pastries by the brownish or reddish illumination — or produce indicated by bright, yellowish light

– Supermarkets frequently rearranging their shelves or putting up special offers in the middle of an isle can give her a headache

– To know a place well is therefore crucial to her

On dealing with vision impairment in general

– She dislikes medical aids such as magnifying glass which reveal herself as visually impaired

– She prefers to hide her impairment since she regards herself as an ordinary part of society, able to get along with everyday life just as everybody else

Listen to the interview

Listen to the most interesting excerpts of the interview with Elke in German, where she talks about how she orientates in unknown places, why some assistive tools are really annoying to her and how she deals with everyday life.

“I spent a lot of time hiding my impairment — which ends up being truly stressful to me and is wasting a lot of energy”

– Elke, 40% eye-sight

Thanks Elke, you are a huge support!


What is this about?

Inclusion is a relevant and up-to-date topic widely debated recently. The WHO revised their definition of disability, shifting it from a fixed attribution to a context sensitive consideration. We as designers can help to remove obstacles, enabling people to participate in society no matter their individual challenges. A human centered design approach with deep research and observation, rapid prototyping and cheaper yet more powerful technology can make quite an impact.

Each year, Microsoft Research sponsors a semester-long class at leading design schools. This year’s design challenge is about Inclusive Design & Technologies. Let’s imagine a future of adaptive systems that puts human empathy at their design core.
We as students from the design department of University of Applied Sciences are taking part in this global design event. The leading teams will be presenting their ideas at Microsoft Design Expo 2015 in Redmond, USA.

The designer behind the project

This is a project by Philipp Steinacher, Dominic Rödel, Laurids Düllmann and Henrik Hagedorn. We study interface design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam.

Read more

The website of Microsoft Research Design Expo 2015 provides in-depth information on the overall project.




We are a group of interaction design students working and we are part of the Microsoft Research Design Expo 2015 on inclusive design.