The world around us, the buildings we inhabit, the products and services we use have all been designed. But who were they designed for? Were they designed with someone in particular in mind? Do these spaces, places and products work equally well for everyone?
These are the kinds of questions that preoccupy designers in the twenty-first century. Inclusive design is the design movement that engages with these concerns. Inclusive design questions how we design for everybody’s different abilities and what are the practical challenges we confront when designing more inclusively.
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One challenge is how to make things accessible when not everyone has the same needs, preferences or requirements. One way round this is to make closer connections between designers and makers and the people whose everyday circumstances require a personalised product. By better understanding someone’s specific life circumstances a designer can focus on finding a solution, to suit a particular situation.
While crafted artefacts are expensive, in a post-industrial era design and fabrication processes are not easily separated, especially when working in maker spaces. Designer-makers have access to 3D printers, cutters and workshops, adopting a mode of production that can reduce the cost of bespoke items.
This new way of working was seen on the television programme the Making the Impossible Possible: The Big Life Fix, where engineers, designers and computing fixers worked together to make bespoke solutions for specific life circumstances. We could see inside the design process, shadowing the fixers as they worked with models and prototypes and code in conversation with their clients to arrive, eventually, at a fix.
This way of designing and making is not just a tv fiction. Research at The Open University with the charity Remap (local Milton Keynes branch) shows how they custom-make solutions for people with disabilities to lead more independent lives. A particular strength is access to a local maker, encouraging people to be experts in their own design process, articulating and physically demonstrating a problem and suggesting routes towards a unique design solution. The designer-maker stays in contact with a client throughout the process. This way of working keeps to a minimum the number of people who are involved, and supports the view that the fewer intermediaries there are between designers and their clients the better.
There is individuality and precision in this form of bespoke production. The research advocates and encourages the expansion of these practices, to bring inclusive design into closer contact with makers and making in other communities. Although it will not resolve all challenges, this way of inclusive designer-making will complement other forms of design activism and lobbying initiatives that work towards better-designed products, services and environments for everyone.