Inclusive design: why it’s more than just a quick makeover

A growing trend 

Numerous inventions that we all use today are the direct or indirect result of inclusive design: touchscreens, flexible straws, closed captioning, automatic doors, curb cuts, audiobooks, and speech-to-text software, to name a few. There is much evidence in industry and academic research that suggests inclusive design is good business practice and a stimulus for growth, while non-inclusive design represents a clear risk. Since the advent of the internet, consumers have a growing sense of power and a collective voice in terms of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the products and services they use, and the associated brands. For businesses, the internet has provided a global reach, but with that comes a further imperative to understand and cater for consumer differences. Underrepresented consumers also offer an underutilized research tool. For instance, Microsoft included blind and visually impaired consumers to assist in creating the first toolkit with accessible data displays.  

Technology firms (Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Salesforce.com) may be at the forefront of promoting inclusive designs, but other industries are also making inclusive design a priority. From fashion (Burberry) to toys (LEGO), gaming (Xbox Adaptive controller), consumer products (Herbal Essences shampoo) and furniture (IKEA), brands are responding to a societal push for change. Based on the success stories of a growing number of companies, inclusive design should now be an important consideration for all businesses striving to remain relevant, authentic, and competitive. 

Case study: How OXO got a grip on inclusive kitchen design 

An example of addressing design exclusion from industry is kitchen, houseware and office supplies manufacturer OXO; the first company to understand that most kitchen tools exacerbated aches and pains for arthritic users.  

Older adults with arthritis felt they were unable to cook without suffering the immediate consequences of pain. Consumers with arthritis also experienced the residual effects of non-inclusive design: the negative emotional consequences of using tools that impacted their ability to cook, such as not being able to prepare meals or provide for their families as they had done in past.  

In response, and inspired by founder Sam Farber’s desire to help his wife handle ordinary kitchen tools, OXO used thermoplastic rubber, an innovative material at the time, to create products with better grip that were easier for arthritic consumers to use.  

The problem Farber faced was how “to appeal to the broadest possible market, not just a very specific market of arthritis and the infirm”. Extensive user research allowed the company to create an innovative “Good Grips” design, which evoked positive emotional responses, not only for arthritic users but all users. 

Today, the company is known for its non-slip “Good Grips” range and has experienced a compounded annual growth rate of over 30% since 1991. In addition, the company’s innovative designs have been featured in museum exhibitions, and despite having higher prices than competing brands, OXO is known to deliver higher sales even during a recession.  

OXO has since expanded into other design areas such as office supplies, medical devices, and baby products. 

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