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Inclusive Design: Definitions, Principles & Examples

By Jennifer Gaskin, Jul 11, 2022

inclusive design

More and more companies are becoming aware of the importance of inclusivity. Not just in hiring or in HR policies, but in every facet of their operations, including the designed materials they produce.

The result? A relatively new school of thought: inclusive design.

I’ll expand on this more, but in short, inclusive design is the practice of ensuring products, services, goods and environments are usable by as many people as possible. In other words, this type of design takes into account the vast range of differences in people.

But there’s a lot more to it! So in this article, I’ll explain what inclusive design is, why it matters and how you can incorporate it into your next design project.

 

Click to jump ahead:

What is inclusive design?

Something of a cousin to accessible or universal design, inclusive design is a movement that accounts for the spectrum of human diversity. It considers language, culture, age, gender, ethnicity, ability and other types of differences in people.

Without a doubt, this is an expansive definition and an even loftier goal. It may make you rest easier to know there are many voices in the field who think of inclusive design not as an end goal but rather as a process, and I agree with them. What does that mean?

Silhouette of a man

Say I want to design an infographic. In that infographic, I’d like to include an illustration of a person to help visualize the data I’ve gathered. I could probably select a “generic” person silhouette, like the one above.

But there is no one type of person, so in using this icon, I would be excluding any person (including myself) who doesn’t look like it. With this in mind, I might consider a different person or multiple people… or use another visualization technique entirely.

Remember, inclusive design is a process. As a designer, it’s important for me to consider differences in people and how my choices may impact them based on those differences.

That’s not to say it’s just the thought that counts; you have to combine thought with action. But a cornerstone of inclusive design is empathy and considering how your choices may be perceived by others. Will your design make them feel excluded or included?

Check out this infographic for more on diversity and inclusion.

Here’s the thing: inclusive design isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky goal to make you feel better. There are concrete, bottom-line benefits to diversity and inclusion. In fact, a 2021 survey found more than 60 percent of consumers said they would be at least slightly more likely to purchase a product if they see an ad that reflects diversity and inclusion.

Goal Infographic - Inclusive Design Example
 

Venngage makes inclusive design simple. How?

For starters, by offering thousands of diverse options for icons to reflect a range of skin tones and cultural backgrounds. Consider the digital marketing infographic above. While some might assume it would be just as effective if every character were white, it’s unlikely the audience would agree.

Cultural infographics - Inclusive Design Example
 

Another key point to understand: inclusive design isn’t just about visuals. Words matter, too, so make sure you’re following the advice offered by the above infographic.

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What are the principles of inclusive design?

The Inclusive Design Research Center at the OCAD University in Canada outlines three imperatives in inclusive design:

Recognize diversity and uniqueness

When pursuing inclusive design, it’s critical to take into account the one-of-a-kind nature of humanity. Consider whether it’s possible to personalize the materials you’re creating, whether for an individual audience or a group with similar characteristics.

Inclusive process and tools

We’ve already discussed how inclusive design is more of a process than a goal. And a truly inclusive process all begins with your team. Ensure people with diverse perspectives are part of making decisions on your team, whether they’re physically creating designs or giving feedback and helping perfect them.

Broader beneficial impact

Context is critical. Inclusive design isn’t possible without understanding the broader impact of the materials you’re creating. Designing for inclusivity means striving to have a positive impact, both on your primary audience and beyond. Especially if your designs will live online, you may not have control over who sees them.

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What is inclusive design vs. universal design?

Ultimately, your goal as a designer is to create something that’s universally understandable and useful to as many people as possible. For business professionals and those in marketing, that’s a big goal. But it’s easier than, say, creating a consumer product with universal design.

Why? Well, for one, your audience is limited. You may be creating a flyer for your HR department or an infographic for your social media subscribers. Either way, you know a lot about the people who’ll consume your work. For that reason alone, universal design is a bit easier.

And as I’ve mentioned, an inclusive design mentality is critical in striving for universal design. It’s much easier to be inclusive and create universality when you know details about the people who’ll read your work.

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What is inclusive design vs. accessible design?

Accessible design refers to designing for varying levels of physical and mental abilities. In the context of graphic design, that could mean making sure people with visual impairment understand an infographic. Or, that someone with a physical impairment can easily browse your website.

If you’re not sure whether the materials you’re creating are accessible, you can consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2. Some of the guidelines only apply to digital materials, but it includes helpful insights for all types of marketing materials.

When you’re creating inclusive, accessible designs for your brand, take the following into consideration:

  • Font size: text may be too small to read. Keep in mind, some fonts are innately more accessible than others, too.
  • Color contrast: if colors don’t contrast enough, it can make distinguishing shapes or letters difficult. But if they contrast too much or clash, they may induce seizures. Also, for the sake of people with color blindness, color shouldn’t be the only way people can distinguish important information.
  • Structure: elements like forms and other areas where users can input information should be clearly defined. Otherwise, you run the risk of making them unusable for people with visual impairments. Particularly when designing for a business, it’s better to choose utility over beauty.

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What is an example of inclusive design?

Let’s take a look at some more examples of inclusive design, as well as tips to help you apply this mindset to your next project.

Diversity Infographic - Inclusive Design Example
 

This infographic is an excellent example of how you can use the full range of human diversity to speak to your audience. Note the gender, racial and religious diversity seen in the design.

Will every person who reads this see themselves reflected? No, but by including many different types of people, the reader can intuit the information applies to everyone.

Arrhythmia Infographic - Inclusive Design Example
 

If you’re concerned that no matter how diverse the people in your design are, consider not using humans at all. Whether you focus on animals or use other imagery, like in the example above, you’re still thinking about inclusive design.

Family Census Infographic - Inclusive Design Example
 

Remember the survey I mentioned earlier? It also found only 43 percent of people said their race was frequently represented in media. An infographic like the one above, which includes people of many ethnicities and identities, is an excellent way of enhancing representation.

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Inclusive design FAQs

Got more questions about inclusive design? Check out these FAQs:

What is inclusive design and why is it important?

Inclusive design is the practice of creating material, whether physical or digital, that takes into account the diversity found in human beings. For brands, inclusive designs can help ensure your target audience feels seen and that your brand is behaving in a socially responsible manner.

What are the six threads of inclusive design?

The six threads of inclusive design revolve around improving inclusivity within schools. Published by the Toronto District School Board, the six threads are: (1) responding to the student’s voice, (2) engaging parents, families and community, (3) analyzing data, (4) designing instructions to reflect student experiences, (5) establishing an inclusive environment and (6) building leadership capacity.

What is meant by inclusive design?

Inclusive design means taking into account the broad spectrum of humanity, including ability, gender, age, experience, race and many other areas.

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In summary: Inclusivity is a major movement in corporations around the world, and inclusive design can help support those efforts

Inclusive design isn’t just the latest buzzword…

The truth is, inclusivity and diversity are important to the average consumer. Remember, nearly two in three consumers said they were more likely to buy a product if the brand’s advertisements reflect inclusion. So, not only is inclusive design the right thing to do, it’s good for business.

So go ahead, use the design principles you’ve learned to make your next project as accessible as possible.

Get started with one of Venngage’s many diverse templates today!

 
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About Jennifer Gaskin

A veteran of newsrooms and agencies, Jennifer Gaskin is a writer, editor and designer who is the only living person not to have strong feelings on the Oxford comma. She's an award-winning practitioner of journalism and information design who spent the better part of a decade as the creative director of a digital marketing shop. As a writer, Jennifer contributes to a variety of publications while working with clients as well as taking on her own projects.

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