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Design 21 Sep 2021

Inclusion and innovation: how to design for all realities

Diversity should not merely be a passing trend, but a fair way to perceive the world on a daily basis. Companies and startups must design their products and services without leaving anyone behind, taking into account all ages, body types and abilities.

From the moment we wake up, design is present in our lives - it's behind objects, services, interfaces, corporate brand identities, packaging, posters… Designed products, the result of blending technique with creativity, are cultural assets that can become symbols. "Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future", said Canadian designer Robert L. Peters. Can designers be agents of change? 

Design aligns knowledge, imagination and innovation to shape the world around us. Designers have the ability to produce new meanings in society. Therefore, the signs they communicate "should respond to everyday problems, bringing design closer to normal life and enabling people to participate in the vision of their future and the imagined transformations of their reality", explains a study by the University of Palermo.

Design is also one of the strategic levers of a business, serving to reinvent processes and generate competitive advantages. "Committing to it means rejuvenating, forcing yourself to be better, to communicate better and work better, to carry out research and garner the opinions of third parties who, from outside the company, provide a new vision", according to an article by Néctar Estudio.

Design is one of the strategic levers of a business, serving to reinvent processes and generate competitive advantages

If you want design to be made for the people and to respond to customer needs and expectations, research is a fundamental tool throughout the process of creating a product or service. Companies and startups must bear in mind that their activities are not only essential for economic growth, but also for the creation of social well-being and inclusion.

Design, research and science

When BBVA's Principal Manager of Design Research Marta Salinas, who took part in the InnovaHome Festival: Research into Design and Equality event, talks about design, she does so referring to the process that is carried out in the search for a solution. She distinguishes between two different prisms - the design of a piece of research and research into design.

On the one hand, she states that all research has to be based on methodological rigour and consistency, as well as being supported by different sciences, from mathematics to anthropology. "Research is designed because it's necessary to extract a series of objectives and information needs and find the appropriate techniques for it", she explains. In addition, you have to coordinate different variables such as timings and budgets.

Research into design helps us achieve better products and is essential for ensuring that all realities are taken into account

On the other hand, Salinas states that it is also essential to incorporate information into the design process to ensure that you are aligned with people's needs.  In this sense, the aim of 'design research' is to collect as much information as possible from different sources, debug it, classify it and integrate it into the teams that make the decisions. "It helps us achieve better products and, above all, stops us from navel gazing, because it's essential to ensure that all realities are taken into account", says Salinas.

Design, but tailor-made for everyone

For companies it is vital to consider all these realities. UXER School's Design Research teacher Lucho Domínguez understands inclusive design as "designing for everyone". And one of the main challenges facing this area is our cognitive biases, the solution to which could be diverse teams: "When designing a product or service you need to have people of different genders, nationalities and cultures," he declares.

Domínguez provides an example of this bias with what is happening in artificial intelligence. The teams that train machines in deep learning are primarily made up of white men around 30 years of age. "The machine could be taking on a very biased perspective, so we risk being governed by very partial views of things," he says.

This bias is especially dangerous when it affects design in the world of health. For example, the probability of women suffering fatal injuries in a traffic accident is 73% higher, because crash test dummies are based on the measurements of an average man’s body.

According to Amgen's European leader of patient experience and solution design Marta Lago, traditionally only male bodies have been used in medical research. The reasons for this vary. Women's bodies were considered to be more complex, a kind of "variation" on the male norm, and were not considered as worthy of study. Lago insists that the consequences of this historical neglect are vast and negatively affect women throughout their experience as patients. For example, in Spain a woman has an 18% higher risk of death than a man after a heart attack.

The causes are to do with inferior knowledge of symptoms, which are different from those of men (studied for centuries), and the reduced inclination of health personnel to prescribe evidence-based treatments to women, explains Lago. Although she does clarify that with "determination and work" the knowledge gaps and the biases of perception can be overcome, first by understanding them and then by protecting ourselves from them.

New ways of thinking

Companies and startups can be an active part of this inclusive cultural, digital and social transformation, which at the same time can be a pledge for innovation. Innovation not only refers to the latest technologies, but also to the design of smart experiences and services. These three experts agree that design managers in companies can be agents of change.

"As designers, we must be aware of our transformative potential", claims Lucho Domínguez. In his opinion, what makes design an enabler is that it feeds on convergent and divergent thinking. "Designers don't work along problem-solution lines, instead we're going to look for multiple alternative views to understand human beings," he says. This way, a designer will look for multiple solutions, then converge and choose the one with the best fit that adds value to the people they are targeting.

"As designers, we must be aware of our transformative potential"

For her part, Marta Lago explains that design is always aimed at "improving a situation or addressing a real need". Also, the designer particularly defends 'humanity centred design', an approach that transcends the exclusive focus on individuals and extends it to the relational, collective and systemic: "We have to think that we're making an intervention in the environment that affects relationships between human beings, so we need to look for sustainability at the social, economic and environmental levels". To think collectively, open innovation and collaboration are key.

Finally, according to Marta Salinas, because designers are agents of change it's important that they not only consider the end customer, as it is an activity that impacts several fields. "When apps like Uber, Cabify and Glovo were designed, no one knew that they would have a marked impact on legislation", she explains.

The main objective of inclusive design is to create a fairer, more accessible and more egalitarian society. Incorporating it into a company or startup will contribute differentiation, new perspectives and an improvement in the customer and user experience.  Design is not only the external appearance of a product, but also giving it an intention and a purpose.

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