Designing for Inclusion

5 min readMay 4, 2015

Part 4: Ideation & Prototyping

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.

From insights to ideation

Given the insights from experts and visually impaired people alike, we figured out a very interesting aspect worth solving:

In a grocery store, people with little eye-sight buy the same things all over again because they know where to find them. Consequently, picking up something different and discovering new things can be tough and time consuming.

Exploring the unknown, being curios and broadening your mind are important qualities in life. We decided to bring these qualities to visually impaired people in the context of grocery shopping.

How can we improve the grocery shopping
experience for the visually impaired?

Everyone of us — sighted and blind people alike — have some sort of mental model of a grocery store. We know where to find procuce, where bread and eggs are located or where to pick up our favourite pasta. But quite likely there are also spots we don’t know. Especially when we want something special, we have to look for it. How can we support people to shed light on these blind spots?

You gamers might know this phenomenon by the term fog of war ;-)

We believe good design is not limited to problem solving nor is it about style as an end in itself. Design is also a lot about the experience.

Can we design something functional, yet elegant and unobtrusive to use? Can we build something that adds to the users quality in life?

Using a lot of brainstorming, sketching and even more Post-it notes, we finally came up with a concept for smart wayfinding in a grocery store we named Polo — after Marco Polo.

The team is exploring ideas, sketching user flows and having fun.

The concept in a nutshell

With Polo, sighted as well as visually impaired people can find every given item in a supermarket. Polo consists of a smart wristband and a companion app, guiding you around with audible instructions and gentle vibrations.

Prove it, prototype it

Does our concept has a realistic chance of implementation? Do we have a possible idea, technology– and design wise?

There is an easy and straight forward way to find out: prototype it as a proof of concept.

We agreed on two assumptions: the store’s shelfs are equipped with bluetooth beacons and we can access their signal, knowing every product’s exact position.

So we went back to the lab, got our hands on the Spark Core and some other stuff and startet to build!

A functional, working prototype

Using the SparkCore, four vibration motors sticked to a self-made wristband and a quickly coded iPhone app with text to speach, we managed to build a working prototype within a few hours.

With the prototype and the companion app, sighted as well as visually impaired people are guided around the supermarket until they hold the desired item in their hands. It is also possible not to shop for certain things but to explore the line of goods and gain a better understanding of the store’s layout.

After a hard day of prototyping, we allowed ourselves to shop for some (virtual) beer as a test run, as you can tell by the pictures.

Building a prototype reveals what works and what doesn’t. We are happy that the Polo prototype actually operated pretty well. Nevertheless we found room to further improve on the concept.

Now we were set up for the upcoming midterm presentation to Richard Banks of Microsoft Research. That will also be the topic of the upcoming chapter. Stay tuned!


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 Düllmannand 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.