Inclusive design considers the range of human diversity with respect to ability, gender, age, race, biology, orientation, and other forms of difference. But at a time when even the most progressive brands and businesses are not keeping pace or fit for purpose, how do we create imperative change and design for the masses and the individual? In partnership with inspiring thought leaders, Pearlfisher has undertaken its own research to establish a new direction of designing for inclusivity.

According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of the population globally lives with a disability. Meanwhile, between 10% and 20% of people are considered neurodivergent (source: Deloitte). When we also consider the entire spectrum of identity and intersectionality, we begin to understand just how many individuals live in a world that effectively hasn’t been designed for them or with their needs in mind.

Recent years have highlighted increasing inequalities for many marginalised communities, prompting protests, uprisings and greater awareness of diversity. Undoubtedly, businesses face a complex landscape today, as even those with mass appeal feel more pressure to take a stance on potentially divisive issues. In many ways, however, brands are still falling short. According to a report by Vice, just 37% of young people have heard a brand talk about accessibility for people with disabilities. At a time when ability, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender and socio-economics all form the dimensions of our identity, even the most progressive brands are often still being seen to fail to address these issues, approaching inclusion without proper understanding.

With this in mind earlier this year, the Pearlfisher Futures team undertook research, specifically into how brands and businesses are approaching and embracing inclusivity through design, realising that to truly be more inclusive in our work, we needed to shape a more purposeful and strategic approach.

With thanks to our collaborators: Sinéad Burke; a consultant, educator, and advocate for disability and design, and founder of Tilting the Lens; Simon Dogger; a blind designer and educator; Floriane Misslin; Design Educator & Visual Sociologist; amongst others, we began to build our perspective and grow our understanding of inclusive design and how this should influence the work we produce with our clients.

As inclusivity becomes a cultural, commercial and creative imperative, designers recognise the need to prioritise products, services and spaces that are more welcoming of all people and all abilities. In a global survey, 75% of respondents said brands must play a role in solving big societal challenges such as equality and social justice (Source: Wunderman Thompson). The creative solutions of tomorrow must be far more multifaceted and push beyond today’s stereotypes and stigmas. Inclusion is now essential, but the question remains: how can brands effectively create and innovate for the real needs of its audience?

Navigating a complex landscape of opportunities

From adaptive packaging to make-up for all skin tones, one sector that has made strides is the beauty industry. Even here, however, there can be a disconnect between intention and action. Skincare brand Olay, for example, released designs for an accessible lid prototype for individuals with limited mobility or dexterity. In terms of producing designs that both cater to the masses while also addressing individual needs, this innovation had the potential to disrupt and influence beyond its own sector, but unfortunately, it was never made widely available.

Despite these deficits and challenges, there are numerous opportunities for progress. As pressure grows, the focus of design can shift from product to process with new approaches that embrace inclusivity from end-to-end, such as co-creating with your audience rather than designing for them. To continue moving forward, business and creativity must come together to close gaps between culture, category and consumer.

Shaping the future of inclusive design

“What we’re seeing is accessibility being a vehicle to engage a larger and wider audience,” Sinéad told us. “I think that’s some of the mindset shift that we have begun to participate in, but there’s more to do.” Sinéad sees accessibility as a driver for better products, better innovations, and better design. Better value for everyone.

Embracing the innovation and problem-solving inherent in disability is also a view shared by Simon, who says he is inspired by turning his loss of sight into an advantage. Simon sets out to explore more inclusive forms of communication and uses his unique perspective to design information differently, with both visual and multi-sensory stimuli, to create a better experience of life, for himself, for visually impaired people who live in a visual world – and for all. There is no better research than lived experience, and collaborative design with people with different needs will resonate with much broader audiences.

This underlines the fact that it is crucial to go beyond functional and cultural norms by developing new visual and material languages that make accessible design desirable. Taking this approach can reduce further stigmatisation and avoid othering through design. Additionally, understanding and tapping into the psychological and social dimensions of inclusion, beyond physical impacts, are important to connect with the lived experiences of underserved communities.

“How we design and imagine the future is often based on assumptions that are heteronormative and white or Western-centred. So, how can you be more mindful of these norms in your designs, projects and research?.” – Floriane Misslin, Design Educator & Visual Sociologist

We know that design has the potential to be a powerful force for positive change. To advance inclusivity and ensure more people feel acknowledged and understood, we must approach the needs of a wider range of individuals with care, consideration, and purpose. Challenging established aesthetics, visual codes and use of language in design, marketing and communications. Embracing diverse perspectives in this way will have a transformative impact on the future, resulting not only in more inclusive design, but also better design overall.

To learn more about our research into inclusive design and how we can work together to create solutions for your business that embrace diversity, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Pearlfisher London.

Nicole Wilson, Business Development Manager: