FEATURE13 October 2021

How to design inclusive innovation

Charities FMCG Features Finance Healthcare Inclusion Technology UK

Designers of products and services can be inclusive of people with varied access needs by working closely with them, using inclusive research quotas and incorporating different perspectives into user design, according to a panel at the virtual MRS Unlimited festival.

Colourful balls balanced in a jenga structure

During a discussion about how insight that is inclusive of disabilities can drive innovation, panellists discussed how those leading design processes can take an inclusive approach.

Co-designing products and services alongside the groups you are trying to reach is invaluable, according to Pinar Guvenc, partner at Sour Studios, which recently worked on a project with Unilever and Wunderman Thompson to design an accessible deodorant.

Guvenc said: “Companies often want to design something, but they don’t know where to start. Co-design is what makes the biggest difference. Quant can help to assess most urgent needs, priorities, areas of opportunity and once you have that, we find the most value we extract in creating design frameworks is from qualitative insights.

“Having a core design team you can co-create with – creating a team of eight to 10 people you co-design with and be partners on the project – is the biggest mindset shift we need to see. People with lived experiences are 1000% capable of being co-designers on the project.”

Businesses should also acknowledge that some groups, historically, may not have been treated well by those seeking their input, and design approaches that seek to remedy this and foster trust, said Guvenc.

“We’ve seen many models in the past where companies work with community-based organisations and just ask people things and then leave, so there’s a big trust issue. I think it’s important to acknowledge the history of how some communities have been treated and design a system within the design process that acknowledges those past experiences and really tries to correct for those.

“The only way we can make sure we don’t lose sight is to constantly ask and check and hold ourselves accountable – that is only really feasible by creating that core team you can work with throughout the process.”

Working with research partners and consultants who are experienced in researching with individuals with different access needs or working with charities can also help to ensure the design process is inclusive, said Anna Cuinu, innovation designer at NatWest. “The important thing is to compensate people for their time and effort – specifically participants but also giving back to charities who are contributing to your research.”

Being more inclusive in the design of quantitative research is also key, said Cuinu. “Be more inclusive when you’re writing quotas for research, get a much wider demographic of individuals to participate and be quite explicit with that when you’re going to third parties for recruitment but also put that down in your research quotas that you want to find individuals that have specific access needs so that you can understand the diverse experiences they have.”

Cuinu also noted that vulnerability has different guises. “We talk about customers in vulnerable situations but you could be vulnerable at any point in your life, such as having temporary hearing loss, experiencing grief or having a big life event which makes you vulnerable and makes you use services differently to how you would normally use them.”

“If you’re researching with individuals who have different access needs, quite often they come up with different ways of tackling the problem that you were trying to find a solution to and a lot of them are quite ingenuous ways of getting around an issue that they’ve come up against.”

Christine Hemphill, managing director at Open Inclusion, chairing the discussion, agreed. “There is a hacker mentality that so many people that live with permanent disabilities have… the world is just not that well designed for them as it stands so that hacker mentality, the creative, different ways of looking at things and solving for problems that exist, is a much more practised muscle.”

Simon Pulman-Jones, head of user experience for the NHS Covid-19 app, said: “Very often we’re looking at a very specific aspect of design, such as looking at how a piece of text is broken down into different bullet points, and triangulating it in terms of thinking about people with visual impairments, or people who are maybe on low incomes, seeing the different perspectives on the design issue that you’re trying to solve.

“It’s through the triangulation of bringing all those perspectives in against the same design question that really helps understand the fundamental issue around this particular design problem that you are trying to solve. There’s a huge value in integrating the various needs and perspectives into the design decisions that you’re making, and integrating multiple strands of research.”

The MRS Unlimited festival is taking place this week ( 11th-15th October).