Exploring Practices and Understandings of Designing Inclusively

Lamirande, Maxim (2023). Exploring Practices and Understandings of Designing Inclusively. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000162cc


The concept of inclusion in design is increasingly well known. It raises awareness and supports how a greater diversity of people can bring value to the creation of new buildings, spaces, services, and products. Yet, uptake is said to be limited in practice. Although well-researched, the numerous ways to describe and understand inclusion are unsettled, and often paradoxical. To learn more about the real-world practices and conceptualisations of inclusion, this research explores (i) how practitioners advocate for and navigate inclusion in design projects, (ii) their driving motivations and mindsets, (iii) inclusion’s prevalence during project negotiations and trade-offs, and (iv) the opportunities to improve inclusive practice.

A review of existing literature helped formulate preliminary notions to guide discussions conducted with practitioners recruited across different domains. These semi-structured interviews helped evolve the notions further to better bridge inclusive practice and theory. Further analyses and inquiries conducted with practitioners also led to discover relationships between notions and uncovered other underlying themes – or aspects – to designing inclusively. Findings revealed concerns raised by participants about governing project development processes and the influence of team dynamics. Regarding inclusion, practitioners provided further insights into the types of user involvement and details about recruitment, compensation, and facilitating their participation in the process. Testimonials also helped capture cautionary tales and best practices that can be used to iteratively improve inclusive practice from one project to the next, resolve some of the paradoxical tensions reported in theory, and argue the positive and negative ripple effects of enabling or omitting inclusion. Findings were further analysed using different frameworks that continued to bring theoretical findings closer to practical application. Ultimately, results were transformed into an Overlay for Designing Inclusively. It was evaluated by practitioners who reported on the clarity, relevance, and value of this practical contribution. Findings suggest that the overlay provides insights that can support uptake across different disciplines of design practice, roles, responsibilities, and levels of experience with designing inclusively.

In sum, this research was designed to help untangle the issues surrounding inclusion that matter to practitioners. It revealed key concerns and strategies to designing inclusively across different phases of the project development process and proposes a practical contribution that supports uptake of inclusive practice.

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