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Inclusive design – why it’s important we create accessible environments

Stephen Richardson / 20 Apr, 20

Stephen Richardson, partner in our in-house architecture team looks at the important of inclusive design.

When thinking about inclusive design, it’s important to ask yourself how important it is to you to immediately be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. In a world where people are so used to getting what they want when they want it – being inclusive is a huge plus to your design. Your customers need to have the confidence that you can be depended on and that the environment you have created does not create an unnecessary level of stress or anxiety for them as they go about their day to day lives.

How can inclusivity define the customer experience?

Customers place a lot of value on being able to go about their lives without the unnecessary obstacles of poorly designed spaces. With an increasingly competitive market it is easier to lose a customer (or customers) than gain new customers. A bad customer experience can spread like wild fire and can result in poor reviews and decreased customer satisfaction.

So what can be done about it? The starting point has to be the user. Consideration of inclusive design from the outset can help but it’s much more than the environment that needs to be considered. A confident and approachable front of house team, a dog-friendly policy or a responsive kitchen team when faced with dietary requirements can each have a positive impact on the customer experience.


Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions, and thus to including as many people as possible.

Population diversity was first introduced from the perspective of ability variation, but has been further broadened to consider diversity associated with different real-world contexts, lifestyle, aspirations, gender, and past experiences – ‘it’s normal to be different’ (Lange and Becerra, 2007).

Truly Inclusive design needs to be considered from the outset and can’t be “bolted on” at a later date. It needs to consider how the users needs fit into the design and requires an understanding of diversity within the population and responding to this diversity through design decisions. Failure to correctly understand the requirements of the user can result in products that cause unnecessary frustration and exclusion, which reduces commercial success.

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as: ‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’

There is often the perception that the design process should be shortened in order to reduce cost and shorten delivery timescales. In reality, the true costs of bad design will emerge later in use and has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the brand image through customer frustration.

The risk of bad design

Good design can happen by accident, but a rigorous inclusive design process mitigates business risk and ensures repeatable design success. Understanding the diverse range of user needs can reduce the risk of undesirable and costly problems later on. Adopting good, inclusive design principles early in the conceptual design stage will save time and money in the long run with changes occurring on site or following completion costing significantly more, causing unnecessary project overrun or worst case unnecessary downtime when the establishment is in use.

Opportunities – Understanding ageing populations

The demographics of the developed world are changing; longer life expectancies and a reduced birth rate are resulting in an increased proportion of older people within the adult population. 18% of the UK population is aged 65 and over (ONS 2017) and is the fastest-growing age group projected to grow by 20.4% over 10 years and by nearly 60% over 25 years in England.

As people age, they often experience declining sensory, motor or cognitive capabilities. Yet increased age is also often associated with increasing satisfaction with life. Where previous generations accepted that capability loss and an inability to use products and services came hand in hand, the baby-boomer generation now approaching retirement are less likely to tolerate products that they cannot use. Typically, people are viewed as being either able-bodied or disabled, with products being designed for one category or the other. In reality, capability varies continuously, and reducing the capability demands of a product results in more people being able to use the product and improves the user experience.

Topics: Blog

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