06/11/2023 • 7 min read

Designing for Diversity

Inclusive Design Strategies

by Nishtha Bali

In an increasingly interconnected and diverse world, the importance of inclusive design strategies cannot be overstated. Inclusive design goes beyond aesthetics; it's about creating spaces, products, and services that cater to the diverse needs of people across various dimensions of diversity. Why is inclusive design essential? The statistics speak for themselves:

The Business Case for Inclusive Design

Market Expansion: Diverse teams are 70% more likely to capture new markets. Inclusive companies have a 120% higher chance of achieving their financial goals (Interaction UK).

Performance Boost: Teams that are racially or ethnically diverse outperform other teams by 35%, and gender-diverse teams outperform peers by 15% (McKinsey & Co. 2019).

Employee Engagement: A staggering 83% of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organization fosters an inclusive culture (Deloitte, 2015).

To achieve inclusive design, it's crucial to understand the dimensions of diversity. These dimensions encompass primary factors such as age, physical abilities, race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, neurology, and sexual orientation, as well as secondary factors like education, class, language, marital status, and more. In this article, we will focus on primary factors such as Age, Physical Ability, Gender, and Neurology.

Good communication starts with good acoustics.

Acoustics are a crucial part of inclusivity efforts.

Physical Ability: Ensuring Inclusivity

Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University, aptly states that anyone can experience a disability when the design, environment, attitude, or social structure excludes them. According to the Inclusive Design Toolkit by Microsoft, physical ability can be permanent, temporary, or situational. For instance, deafness can be permanent, while an ear infection is temporary, and working as a bartender in a loud bar creates situational challenges.

Treviranus emphasizes that disability is socially constructed, resulting from a mismatch between individual needs and the environment, services, or products offered (Inclusive: The Film).

Age: Bridging Generational Differences

The modern workforce is composed of various generations, each with its unique characteristics and motivations. We have 4 generations in the workplace today – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z.

Here's a glimpse of the differences among these generations:

  • Baby Boomers: Value company loyalty, teamwork, and duty. They prefer efficient communication methods, such as texts or face-to-face interactions.
  • Gen X: Prioritize diversity, work-life balance, and personal-professional interests. They are open to various communication styles, including texts, face-to-face meetings, or calls.
  • Millennials: Seek responsibility, quality leadership, and unique work experiences. Their communication style often involves texts and emails.
  • Gen Z: Value diversity, personalization, individuality, and creativity. They prefer communication through texts, social media, and voice messages. (Purdue Global)

These differences can lead to misunderstandings and creating awareness around them is the key to making sure everyone feels included. 

Neurodiversity: Designing for Diverse Minds

Neurodiversity acknowledges differing neurological conditions and cognitive abilities, such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. The pandemic highlighted the importance of accommodating neurodiversity, with increased screen time, emotional dysregulation, and social isolation prompting adults to seek reevaluation. For example, 26% of adult readers received a formal ADHD diagnosis during the pandemic (ADDtitude). In the post-pandemic world, the workforce demands more inclusive work environments, particularly regarding attendance. If the home environment is more inclusive than the office, why would the workforce ever return!
Designing for neurodiversity means creating spaces that cater to individuals with varying neurological profiles, from neurotypical to neurodivergent. Here are key considerations:

  • Touch: Use tactile materials for comfort without distraction. Choose soft surfaces over hard ones and provide seating pads and cushions.
  • Smell: Keep food and cleaning products away from work zones, as strong smells can be uncomfortable and distracting.
  • Sound: Use acoustic furniture, carpets, and soft seating to reduce noise. Create quiet zones and well-being rooms to reduce sensory overload. Some prefer music or background noise, while others work best in silence.
  • Sight: Consult color theory experts when designing a workplace, as colors can impact emotions and focus. Adjustable and customizable lighting is optimal, considering factors like reflectance, visual distractions, and darkness.(Interaction UK)

Regardless of our neurological profile, we all have our moments where we need to focus and the slightest of disturbances can distract us. Designing for neurodiversity is essentially designing for all!

Woman@Work: Part 5

Read the most recent installment in Nishtha and Adithi’s Women@Work interview series:

Gender Inclusivity: Embracing Diversity

Gender inclusivity is a cornerstone of fostering environments that prioritize equality, respect, and dignity for individuals of all gender identities. To truly achieve this inclusivity, it must permeate every facet of our lives, ensuring that no one feels excluded or marginalized. Here are some effective ways to make the office more gender-inclusive:

  • Inclusive Restrooms & Facilities: Implement gender-neutral restrooms if applicable to accommodate individuals of all gender identities. Ensure these restrooms are accessible and equipped with proper amenities.
  • Lactation Rooms: Provide private lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers, equipped with comfortable seating, electrical outlets, and refrigeration for milk storage. Ensure that these rooms are clean, accessible, and welcoming.
  • Inclusive Signage: Use gender-neutral signage across the office to make everyone feel included.
  • Flexible Workspaces: Create flexible workspaces that can be easily adjusted to accommodate various work styles and preferences. Provide height-adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs to accommodate different body types and needs.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Offer flexible work hours and remote work options to accommodate different life circumstances, such as caregiving responsibilities. Promote work-life balance to support employees in managing their personal and professional lives.
  • Inclusive Decor: Choose decor that is inclusive and avoids reinforcing gender stereotypes. Display artwork and imagery that celebrates diversity and inclusivity.
  • Regular Feedback Channels: Establish feedback channels where employees can express concerns or suggestions related to gender inclusivity. Act on feedback to continuously improve the workplace environment.

By implementing these strategies, organizations can foster a gender-inclusive office environment where every employee feels respected, valued, and empowered to contribute their best work.

Intersectionality: Beyond Single Identities

It's essential to remember intersectionality, which acknowledges that a person's identity can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalization. These identities can include age and gender, among others. While designing a space remember that how each person experiences your space is different.

Accessibility vs. Universal Design vs. Inclusive Design

Understanding the distinctions among accessibility, universal design, and inclusive design is key:

Accessibility: Focuses on ensuring that environments are USABLE by people with disabilities, addressing auditory, cognitive, physical, and visual disabilities.

Universal Design: Aims to create ONE experience accessible to the greatest extent possible by all people without adaptations or specialized design.

Inclusive Design: Considers the diversity of experiences that may exclude individuals from effectively using an interface. It seeks to create a VARIETY of ways for everyone to participate and belong. (nngroup)

Having said that, the three can also be very similar. They work to lower barriers and make products usable by all people, recognize that disability happens at the point of interaction between people and their environment and learn from the way people adapt to their environment based on their abilities in a given context (Toptal). 

Haworth Cardigan Lounge™

Learn more about Haworth’s most circular lounge chair, the Haworth Cardigan.

First Steps to Inclusivity: The Basics

Achieving inclusivity requires deliberate and intentional actions (Maze):

  • Hire a Diverse Team: Include voices from different backgrounds and experiences in your design process.
  • Invite Educators: Learn from industry experts to understand and promote inclusive space design.
  • Consider Different Types of Diversity: Reflect on how your designs might exclude certain demographics and find ways to include them.
  • Conduct Research with Diverse Users: Include participants with various needs and backgrounds in your process to uncover insights and considerations.
  • Attend Unconscious Bias Training: Recognize your own biases and their potential impact on your designs.
  • Test Your Designs: Get diverse users to test spaces, gather feedback, and adjust as needed.

In summary, designing for diversity through inclusive design strategies is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage. Embracing age, physical ability, gender, and neurological diversity fosters innovation, enhances performance, and creates environments where everyone can thrive. By following the principles of inclusive design, we can build a more equitable and accessible world for all.

This article was originally published on Nishtha Bali’s LinkedIn page.


You May Also Like