What do we mean when we talk about ‘Inclusive Design’?
At the Centre for Ageing Better we have been undertaking a research project to understand how retailers and consumers think about ‘inclusive’ products and how they need to be created with clear consideration of the needs of the majority of the population.
Our Innovation and Change Officer, Ploy Suthimai, writes about how there is a lack of common language around products designed to be used around the home and how 'inclusive products' will improve the way you live.
Imagine a kitchen that you, your kids and your parents could use comfortably. Where your oven is eye or mid-level, reducing the need to frequently bend up and down with an armful of heavy, hot food. Where your appliances have dials which are easy to read and use, and interfaces that enable easy operation even if you are bleary eyed from sleep or your dexterity isn’t quite what it used to be. And where your doors and cupboards are lightweight and easy to open and close with minimal force, perfect for those days when you’ve got an armful of shopping and are attempting everything one handed.
How would you describe these products, or this environment? What words would you use? I’m probably in the minority of people who would use the word ‘inclusively designed.’
At the Centre for Ageing Better we have been undertaking a research project to understand how retailers and consumers think about ‘inclusive’ products – i.e., products that are well designed, easy-to-use and created with clear consideration of the needs of the majority of the population and our varying degrees of ability and mobility.
Our research has illustrated the positive impact products like this can have on individuals, supporting them to do daily tasks at home and remain independent.
However, one of the key and recurring findings that have emerged throughout this project is the lack of a common language around these types of products. The term ‘inclusive design’ is not widely known or understood and is used inconsistently across retailers, designers and consumers.
When the concept of inclusive design is explained to consumers, there is no doubt that the principle is a good one. However, one of the key challenges is making consumers aware of the easy-to-use and inclusive products that exist to meet their needs.
We need to get the language right so we can support consumers to proactively identify and install more beautiful, well-designed products in their homes.
Inclusive products can often be hard to identify at a glance, as in many cases these products have subtle differences to their less-inclusive counterparts that only come to light when in use. Indeed, this is the beauty of a well-designed inclusive product – it doesn’t stand out and scream ‘I’m a specialist product’ – it blends in with the everyday design of our homes.
For example, Fine & Able’s accessible bathroom range contains a number of inclusive features that benefit people beyond those experiencing mobility or dexterity issues. Light touch flush panels, slip-resistant flooring and integrated hand grip basins are features that can make bathrooms safer and easier to use for everyone. These products show that functionality and ease of use do not have to come at the cost of aesthetics – products can be beautifully designed whilst being accessible and usable to all.
Additionally, there are companies like Koa who are re-imagining the age old struggle of changing your duvet cover, with a new design that makes changing the bed cover a simpler and quicker process – no more getting lost in your duvet cover every time you try to change it! A perfect example of a well-designed product that helps make life easier for everyone.
These are just a couple of examples of the many brands creating these kinds of products. It’s fantastic to see that there are products coming on to the market that don’t force people to choose between something that looks good and something that works for them. However, we need to see a much wider shift so that these products become the norm, not the exception. There are also many products already out there that are both inclusive and attractive in their design, but currently retailer and consumer awareness alike is low. This means these products aren’t always getting the attention they deserve, with many retailers not clearly marketing easy-to-use features, and consumers not actively looking for them. We need to get the language right so we can support consumers to proactively identify and install more beautiful, well designed products in their homes that can support them both now and in the future.
Please note: The Centre for Ageing Better are using the products mentioned here as illustrative examples. We are not endorsing or promoting these products, and there are alternatives that exist on the market