Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) is a private institution in Denmark, focusing on interaction design in all of its forms. I went there during one week of the summer for a class in inclusion — how we can eliminate our biases and become more empathetic when designing.
The class was held by two great designers — Minnie Bredouw and Deirdre Cerminaro of Ideo, San Francisco. They showed us their journey of inclusion through projects they’d done and shared their insights. We then made a project aimed towards integration in Copenhagen.
It feels like this subject is not as tangible as other fields of design. It’s something you have to weave in to the services or products you design, and it should be an ongoing process to make more people feel welcome. It’s not as easy as applying a fix set of rules to your product to make it inclusive, although some things like having multiple languages for a service is a good start.
“… the process of designing products, services, and technology to be more
thoughtfully inclusive and usable for communities that may be commonly excluded” — Minnie and Deirdre.
I like this quote since it entails that you have to think about what you’re adding to a service for it to be more inclusive. A service like that will show that it has been thoughtfully designed, and someone will maybe feel like — Oh, they actually thought of me.
What isn’t inclusive design?
Below is an image taken with a certain type of film for analog cameras. The film had been color calibrated using only images of white people, resulting in the image to the left which has a much worse dynamic range than the right. This is a great example of a product that was not thoughtfully designed to be inclusive. Why? I think it’s a question of the people working at the company, maybe they were all white?
The problem is often that the service or product is not intentionally excluding people. It could be that a team at a company only think about people in the near distance, and if that group of people is very homogenous, the product will be less inclusive automatically. I guess it’s hard to have a truly diverse set of people at work, and that’s why people have to think more about what they’re designing, and who they’re designing for. The work situation is getting better at many places, with more women and nationalities, but let’s face it, most tech companies today feel predominantly male, with people from similar backgrounds, who are from similar countries.
The image above is taken from a great Ted Talk by Google designer Josh Lovejoy, about AI and inclusivity. It raises an interesting question, that we maybe should collect more data about users to be able to build intelligent things that are not excluding people. Watch it!
Other aspects of inclusive design are gender, disability, cultures, language et cetera. It can also be very subtle and not as easy to catch as the example above, like how you phrase yourself and what copy you use in your service.
Key Aspects of Inclusive Design
Inclusive design seems to be carried out as a method of human centered design, like the scenario below.
Research → Synthesize → Ideate → Prototype → Present
But with some things within these areas that you should think of a bit more. These are five aspects that I could filter out from hearing about Minnie and Deirdre’s work in inclusive design:
- Immerse yourself in other people’s lives when you research. Really try to think about how it is to be them. One thing you can try is to actually experience what they have to go through to get a clearer picture. For instance, if you’re designing for healthcare, how does it feel to take a screening?
- Practice on how you can make people open up in interviews. Think about your language and how you present yourself. If you share something from yourself, and show vulnerability, it’s easier for other people to open up.
- Actively think about how your solution is being inclusive. Ask yourself, is this solution helping the problem we’re trying to solve? Is it helping people to feel included?
- It’s very hard to be 100% inclusive, but that’s not the point. It’s an ongoing process, and the thing is to fill in the holes as you go. I think that good inclusive design work can set the bar in the beginning of a project, and then you will need to actively work on your service to make it more inclusive.
- The solution doesn’t have to be super serious. The problem could be very serious and hard to grasp, but the thing you’re designing doesn’t have to be. You can lighten up the situation without making something silly.
We did a design project as the final exercise, with integration as our main area. In our research, we went out to interview people from the UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency in Copenhagen, and a person from a youth center for newcomers.
A thing I will take with me is how easy it can be to interview people sometimes. We went to the youth center unannounced and the only person there was happy to help us out (he’s the one in the picture). Sometimes you just have to ask. We also went to a restaurant owned by people with refugee background and talked to them. It was a great exercise in how you can immerse yourself in a topic, but I wish we had more time to do it.
After synthesizing our findings from the research, we generated “how might we”-questions, and decided on pursuing one particular area.
“How might we create a more welcoming experience for the first health check?”
We chose this since we heard from the UN-person that all people coming to Denmark for the first time have to go through a health check. We thought this was a good touch point to create a welcoming experience, and it was also a tangible how-might-we, not to wide.
Our final project became a welcoming box — a guide through the health check with warm messages, language help, and coupons that you could use after the visit. For instance, meeting a volunteer danish person for a coffee, or joining a cooking event.
One thing we did which I liked a lot was having massive brainstorms with the whole class. At one point, we put up five boards, one for each group, and the whole class helped each other out on the different topics. I think you can always improve your brainstorming skills, and this was a good way to do it.
What I liked the most was that you have to be verbal, and say your ideas out loud, even how bad they might be. Don’t just sit and write post it’s, then you can’t build on others people’s ideas. And as always, be quick — go for quantity.
An important question
One of the days we were told to think of a time when a we had felt excluded from a situation in life. I went home and thought about it but it was hard for me to find something. It hit me that I might never have felt truly excluded. Why? Some of it could be in my personality, but I realized that most of it had to be where I’m from. I’m born in Sweden, a country with good living standards, and I’m male. It has definitely something to do with it.
— Think of a time when you felt excluded from a situation
It was something eye opening and nothing I think of every day. I heard another person in class say something similar, and I’m thinking that a lot of people will have the same story. If you never truly experienced being excluded, how can you design something that is inclusive? I think you can, but you have to acknowledge it, thoughtfully think about it, and listen to the people you’re designing for.
Also! work with people with diverse backgrounds. If you felt this way, you can also work to let other people experience what you experienced. I think that’s what we all want, that no one should feel left out.