2019 MedAdNews Awards Agency of the Year Finalist


by Vaishali Veldurthy

Beyond the differently-abled:

Christina Mallon, a designer, whose arms became progressively paralyzed since the initial diagnosis of a motor-neuron disease some years ago, powerfully conveys the need for inclusivity for the differently-abled in her statement:

“I’m disabled because of design,” she says. “That’s what’s so frustrating to me. I can take away this ‘disability’—I’m not in pain, it’s just my arms don’t work. But [this world] wasn’t designed for me.”

The World Health Organization suggests that the global disability prevalence is 15% of the world’s population. This statistic alone emphasizes the need for brands to make inclusive design a relevant and necessary approach to product/service creation. 

The article here discusses 6 principles for inclusive design. The author recommends beginning with empathizing how and why people feel excluded. The emphasis is on recognizing certain commonalities in different kinds of exclusion whether they may be situation-based, ability-based, or context-based. Additionally, the author suggests overcoming individual biases by involving a diverse design team, offering multiple ways to engage with the content/product, and customizing experiences to the extent that they are comparable across different learning abilities. 

Apart from permanent disabilities, temporary limitations can affect a significant portion of the population during the course of their lives. Injuries, surgery, and short-term medical conditions could potentially alter the ability, context, or situation in which products are used.

Besides temporary disabilities, designers may need to consider extraneous situations that surface in the real world such as noisy environments or dark poorly lit areas in which products are used. Such limitations in surroundings also create a different context/situation in which a product is used. To this point, the article above rightly makes an excellent case for the best design solution being one that is relevant to an audience well beyond the niche group that the design process started with.       

“An inclusive designer is someone, arguably anyone, who recognizes and remedies mismatched interactions between people and their world,” writes Kat Holmes, author of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.

Design in the real world therefore needs to be relevant and useful at all times, not just for the differently-abled but for everyone. This is best exemplified by the untold story of the vegetable peeler that changed the world. The initial design was born out of a request for better handles for kitchen tools from a woman with arthritis, and this led to the launch of OXO International in 1990. By attempting to make the product relevant for everyone, the designers came up with a common-sense design that defied tradition: “To this day, these tools are the best articulation of the potential of inclusive design: Developed for people with arthritis, [OXO] Good Grips had thick rubbery handles that were also better tools for everyone to use.”

When doing good becomes good business:

In order to serve as many as possible, designs need to be inclusive. Inclusion then, goes beyond mere accessibility to the product. An inclusive design has an inherent tendency to be highly appealing, primarily because, at its heart, it is considerate of the needs and abilities of a wide variety of people. Additionally, inclusive design is closely linked to creating and delivering products, services, and experiences that have shared value.

Michael Porter and Mark Kramer elegantly discussed the concept of shared value in their article in Harvard Business Review, 2011: 

“Companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together…the solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.”

Designers are working to retain the aesthetic appeal and signature look and feel of their brand while making it practical in the everyday lives of their customers. Adaptive clothing with extended openings and one-handed zips, wheelchair friendly jumpsuits, adjustable waists, and magnetic closures are all improvisations being explored by both high-end and low-end apparel makers. Global brands like Starbucks as well as regional brands are moving beyond just products and transitioning into ability-based inclusivity in everyday experiences. At their relatively new store that employs hearing impaired people alongside workers who can speak and use sign language, inclusivity has been exemplified by opening it to all patrons and not just those with hearing impairments. Procter and Gamble broke new ground by commissioning a new bottle design for their hair care brand ‘Herbal Essences’ that features perceptible notches on the surface, allowing people with little or no vision to be able to distinguish the shampoos from the conditioners.

Read further on how brands are attempting to overcome ability-based exclusion with deeply empathetic and relevant designs that embody the idea of bridging commercial and entrepreneurial success with value creation in society.

Inclusive design is thus urgent and relevant for brands, helping to push their boundaries of productivity and innovation, legitimizing their business goals, and significantly reshaping their connection with the society in which they must thrive. 

Written by Vaishali Veldurthy, PhD

Senior Medical Director

We are a full-service, independent, healthcare advertising agency that provides end-to-end, sound strategic thinking and creative, multichannel solutions to pharmaceutical and medical device clients.

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