How can we create products that really work for everyone?
What does good accessible design look like? And how can we ensure that these products are widely available and effective for everyone?
Ed Warner, co-founder of accessible design specialist Motionspot, makes the case for products that are designed for mainstream markets and suit people of all ages and abilities.
In March 2019, I was appointed as Government Champion for Accessible Design. This is a role designed to encourage the design of more inclusive products and spaces, which are accessible for all. The ultimate goal is to create beautiful, accessible environments that are appealing and inclusively designed for everyone.
Since my appointment last year, I have been setting out and delivering a two-part strategy. The first part is to encourage businesses to improve the design of their buildings to better suit the needs of disabled people. The second is to challenge manufacturers to think differently about inclusive products, and for retailers to understand the kinds of products they need to be stocking and how to sell them.
Creating products which are well-designed, attractive and easy to use for people of all ages and abilities must begin with the right inclusive design process. Traditionally, products ‘for’ older or disabled people have been designed by younger, able-bodied people, making assumptions about what people with different abilities need. This disconnect has resulted in a range of products that don’t necessarily meet the needs of older or disabled people.
The best product design comes out of intense focus groups, involving those with lived experience in the design process from early on to understand the challenges they face at home and what they want and need to make life easier. Good accessible design is about design that blends function and form and works for everyone. Whether this be aspirational bathroom or kitchen products, home lifts or smart technology, designers should think about how to make these products desirable so they don’t necessarily look like they’ve been designed with access in mind but they work for people with a wide range of disabilities.
One of the biggest barriers in this market is people not knowing what’s out there and not being aware of what they need.
Once these products are designed, they also need to be accessible in terms of price – and cost is something that often comes up when we’re speaking to people about the products they need. Traditionally, these kinds of products have come at a higher price because they’re treated as ‘specialist’ products, and not manufactured in large enough quantities so manufacturers can reduce the cost. We’re trying to encourage manufacturers to think differently about this. If products are designed to be truly inclusive, the quantities don’t need to be small. On the contrary – if the price is right, this could open up a significant market opportunity.
The final stage in making these products accessible to all is how they’re sold, which means encouraging retailers to embrace this market. These products should be mainstream, and found in high street retailers everywhere. But as well as stocking these products, retailers need to give their customers the right information and advice about them. One of the biggest barriers in this market is people not knowing what’s out there and not being aware of what they need. So if people could walk into any mainstream retailer and meet a knowledgeable member of staff who’s able to empathise with their needs and give good advice about products which can meet them, that would make a real difference.
Beautiful and well-designed products that work for everyone shouldn’t be a niche market. So far, too few manufacturers and retailers have realised the potential this market has – but this is an opportunity for anyone who designs or sells home products. Making these products mainstream isn’t just a business opportunity it will positively impact the lives of millions of people and should be part of every company’s strategy.