Improving Inclusion in Digital Design by Isabel Casanova Ledesma

What can digital designers do

Isabel Casanova Ledesma

Inclusion is, as of today, a proactive effort that we all have a responsibility to pursue. In the world of design, Inclusive Design was first introduced back in 1994 by Roger Coleman at the Royal College of Arts, recognizing the efforts and gains made by the civil rights movement and how design plays an important part in achieving an inclusive society (Coleman, 1994). Since then, Coleman and others have been making the case of why inclusion is an obligation for designers but as well how it is actually good for business (Goodman, et al. 2006, Dong, et al 2015).

Unfortunately most designers believe that even though inclusive design is, overall, beneficial for society it is difficult to implement, costly and most importantly, their clients are not interested in it . And this attitude has remained more or less the same since 1994 (Waller, et al. 2015).

Digital designers use words and images to explore the problems through a design process. Like all of us they have the same biases and habits that make them oblivious to who do they exclude. What if instead of trying to convince designers to adopt inclusive design as a methodology we gave them simple tools and techniques that created change? What if we build into their process simple tools that

An important aspect of a design process is usability testing. This is when a group of users is observed as they attempt to use a product or a service, while thinking out loud. This helps whoever owns the product or service to better understand how intuitive the product or service is, and how adaptable is to meeting user needs. An important aspect of this kind of test is recruitment of individuals.

Right now there is no regulatory or policy requirement that asks of people who conduct this kind of tests to include people with disabilities in their tests. At the same time, there is little that prevents them from doing so.

And, like all of us, language is plagued with built in reinforcements of non inclusive biases. Here is a real example from a design document.

WARNING: The text below is shown as an example of non-inclusive language. It is part of the exhibit to showcase how words that are part of our everyday vocabulary can reinforce non-inclusive biases.

See if you can spot words or expressions that are non-inclusive:

Check below to see alternative words that are inclusive:

In the coming months I’ll be working with digital designers to understand their design process, their tools and see what kind of small changes can be done to marginally improve them by removing or mitigating existing biases that prevent inclusion. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how to do this, please don’t hesitate and get in touch directly on twitter (@isabl) or writing a nice email at isabel.casanova[at]

Thanks for stopping by!

Key Takeaways from What can digital designers do

  • Inclusive Design has been around for a while, but uptake has been slow and the biases against it remain more or less the same since 1994 among designers
  • Understanding inclusion in design is about recognizing everyone’s uniqueness, adopting processes & tools and looking at the broader beneficial impact design can have.
  • Focus on the tools, instead of the designers. Instead of focusing on the designers themselves, by focusing on how they use words and images to communicate their ideas they can change their own habits and improve inclusion


Coleman, R. (1994, August). The Case for inclusive design-an overview. In Proceedings of the 12th Triennial Congress, International Ergonomics Association and the Human Factors Association, Canada.

Dong, H., McGinley, C., Nickpour, F., Cifter, A. S., & Inclusive Design Research Group. (2015). Designing for designers: Insights into the knowledge users of inclusive design. Applied ergonomics, 46, 284-291.

Goodman, J., Dong, H., Langdon, P., & Clarkson, P. J. (2006). Increasing the uptake of inclusive design in industry. Gerontechnology, 5(3), 140-149.

Waller, S., Bradley, M., Hosking, I., & Clarkson, P. J. (2015). Making the case for inclusive design. Applied ergonomics, 46, 297-303.


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Inclusive Spectrums Copyright © 2020 by Isabel Casanova Ledesma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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