Inclusive Design: A Tool for an Inclusive Recovery

by Olga Stella in Crain's

In Detroit, there is a lot of discussion about how to achieve an inclusive economic recovery, one in which all residents can benefit. Design is a tool that is often overlooked in these conversations. If design is practiced and applied with intention, it is precisely the methodology by which we can achieve an equitable city.

Design shapes every aspect of our city - from neighborhoods and public spaces, to schools, health care and transit. Designers use creativity not only to solve big problems, but also to bring value to people’s experiences. When designers do their job well, things work better. However, every design decision has the potential to exclude some users. 

To avoid this, designers can incorporate inclusive design into their process, a methodology that creates a diversity of ways for people to participate. Kat Holmes’ book, Mismatch, describes the what, why and how of inclusive design in a straightforward way. Holmes explains that inclusive design reduces the frequency of “mismatched” interactions, which are experiences with products, places, services and systems that make people feel left out and prevent them from participating in society. Often, people may experience these “mismatched” interactions due to their gender, race, cultural background, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or physical capabilities.

As “mismatched” interactions decrease, people begin to have a greater sense of belonging. Their experience in society improves, encouraging them to use more of the product, place, service or system. Innovation happens when designers solve problems experienced by a specific group and then extend the solution to many. Think of the touchscreen, originally invented to help people with carpal tunnel, which has now become ubiquitous. Retrofit costs decrease because organizations do not need to replace expensive infrastructure in buildings, public spaces, or in the digital realm. 

Taking into consideration the full spectrum of human diversity in shaping public spaces, city services, real estate developments, health and educational systems and more creates an environment that allows each person in our community to participate in the city’s recovery. 

If you are interested in learning more about how inclusive design works in practice from leading local and international experts, please register for INCLUDE 2019, a biennial international conference that focuses on issues central to inclusive and people-centered design. Produced by the Royal College of Art, Include will take place for the first time in North America in Detroit on Nov 7-8 in partnership with College for Creative Studies and Design Core Detroit. To learn more, visit