Designing for inclusion as a digital capability

Digital disruption is a wicked problem. Like all major technological developments that have proceeded it, when faced with disruptive innovation the typical reaction of government and industry is to focus on the point where the old and the new collide.

For example, we laugh at the idea that late 19th century car drivers needed someone on foot waving a red flag to warn people they were approaching, when today communities all around the world are dealing with traffic congestion and pollution. Only with hindsight can we see the far-reaching impact of the automobile and the problems and opportunities it has created for society.

Facing the challenge of robots and artificial intelligence coming into the workplace, we could regulate them to control job displacement but I suspect ultimately this will be no different than the red flag laws. Instead we need approaches that encourage us to incorporate scenario-thinking so we can look beyond just the perceived point of disruptive impact.

Inclusive design – making products and services usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities and situations – offers an approach that may help us identify better societal and business responses to wicked problems coming from digital disruption. We may not always be in a position to immediately understand or address every issue, but inclusive design can at least help us to identify related design problems, which in turn allows us to refine our understanding of the overarching wicked problem we face.

Inclusive design is also a particularly appropriate approach because in parallel we are all living longer, experiencing more career mobility and our economies need to maximise the participation of the whole community, regardless of disability. In the case of robots, inclusive design allows us to explore how robotic technologies could be used to broaden participation in what might be considered physical or tasks that require finer motor skills.

In fact, there is a curious link between the rise of the digital era and the essential need for inclusive design. If we consider a revolutionary attribute of digital technology is to support mass customisation, then by meeting the needs of disadvantaged or disabled users/customers a product or service is more likely to meet the needs of the broadest possible audience. Inclusive design also presents a strong argument for using pace-layered approaches to the design and development of digital solutions that are adaptable to unknown future needs, rather than designing exclusively around a single set of known users or requirements. When we do this, we can create amazing solutions like Wayfindr, which combines commodity technologies like iBeacon (BLE) and smartphones.

But all this requires a design culture that wants to work this way. Outside of our commercial projects, the Ripple Effect Group team have a history of participating in disruptive design initiatives like Social Innovation Camp, the Changemakers Festival, the Indigenous Digital Excellence Summit and most recently the Enabled by Designathon. Aside from the overarching social good that flows from these events, in an age of uncertainty we believe that a mindset focused on designing for inclusion is an ideal capability for designing for digital disruption.

Designing for good is as much about social responsibility as it is about being prepared for the digital era.

Join us at DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2015

In its 3rd third year, DISRUPT.SYDNEY is Australia’s first and oldest disruption conference. This year we are going to explore the implications of digital disruption for business, society and our everyday lives, under the theme “Disruption for Good”.

This year, Ripple Effect Group are running a workshop at DISRUPT.SYDNEY on Disrupting Design for Digital Inclusion. Our workshop will apply design thinking principles to developing concepts for an app to improve independent living for those living with disabilities.

Learn more about DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2015.