Recognising exclusion is the first step in designing for inclusion. A perplexing statement at first is the beginning of a journey that Kat Holmes takes to make us realise the extent of inclusive design and the benefits it can have or the damage an exclusive design can do.
Kat Holmes collaborates with multidisciplinary teams to lay the groundwork for inclusive design solutions. Previously at Google and Microsoft, she has led experience design for some of the most influential companies. As the author of the best-selling book Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, Kat has tried and tested various approaches one can take to make an inclusive space, product, or even website. In this book, she gives inclusive principles and examples of inclusive and exclusive design, with stories of people who faced exclusion and went on to create what they wanted.
Changing the Perspective
When we think of inclusive design, most think of it as designing it for the challenged or not normal, simply taking an outsider’s perspective. Kat Holmes encourages designers to think outside the box. We’ve all experienced exclusion at some point in our lives, when we were not part of a game as a child or when a product didn’t work for us even though everyone else loved it. The first question is who is feeling left out by our design and relating to them because we have felt the same way at some point in our lives.
Inclusion design, according to Mismatch, is a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. It entails including and learning from people with diverse viewpoints. We have all experienced or will experience disability at some point. For example, a broken arm from a basketball game or simply being unable to use a component due to carrying something. These are different from not having an arm but still can lead to unpleasant situations with a bad design. Kat classifies mismatched interactions between users and products as permanent, temporary, or situational.
World Health Organization 2011, redefined disability as mismatched interaction between features of someone’s body and the environment they live. This definition changed the perspective of not only Kat but many others and led to the title of her first book. Now the pressure is on designers to do a good job and avoid mismatches.
Inclusive Design principles
Kat demonstrates how inclusion can spur innovation and growth, particularly in digitalisation. And every time we correct a mismatched communication, we provide a chance for more individuals to make meaningful contributions to society. In her book, she discusses three inclusive design principles:
- Recognise the exclusion of someone from a group
- Acknowledge and learn from the diversity
- Solve one problem and expand it to many people.
The theme of complex designs beyond universal access we see is skillfully demonstrated with examples yet not oversimplified to lose the essence. Narrating stories of designers who have faced exclusion themselves and taken charge to design or have faced a challenge and come up with a simple yet inclusive design is the most wholesome aspect of the book. Diagrammatically illustrated concepts on the side add a graphic element to the reader.
Applying the principles
The book starts by giving interesting examples of exclusion, including the Long Island parkway in New York and an overpass built by Robert mosses. The overpass has an underside only 7ft 7inches high, enough to accommodate cars but not the public transport buses in the 1930s during construction. It was to keep low-income families out of the parks as their usual mode of commute was public transport. But these kinds of barriers exist in the world today as well. They have hidden better, and in the work that Kat Holmes does mostly on websites and UI design, she talks about how almost 70 per cent of websites lack essential accessibility and create barriers.
Today, we rightfully consider age, gender, race and ethnicity and sexual orientation when designing and creating inclusive products and writing. But one thing that transcends all other human diversity is a disability, sadly considered last in any process.
Inclusive Design is a process
Any inclusive design does not imply that it is suitable for everyone; instead, it highlights the consideration of all parties during the design process. There is no normal; everyone uses designs differently, which can be such a beautiful thing. This book has made me notice small details in the format that can improve the usability of any product, something that the designer could have quickly done if they had considered a diverse group of people.
Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design is a must-read for anyone who works in the design field or decides on a larger group of people. Kat Holmes exudes a distinguished persona, and her values shine through in her work. The book reflects a deep understanding of people and how to include anyone without making a big deal. We should all consider inclusion as a part of the process rather than just a code we have to incorporate.
- Holmes, K., 2018. Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. MIT Press.