• Transform magazine
  • May 22, 2022


Inclusive design must be the rule, not the exception


Natalie Harney, senior consultant at digital and data agency, Engine Transformation, explores how to navigate the routes to achieve inclusive design, including depth discovery and concept designs to create a map of challenges and opportunities.

Every day we see society striving to be fully inclusive but true change can only occur if inclusivity can be reflected in all areas of life. This is no different when it comes to service design. Done correctly it has the power to be life changing. It can be used to ensure equality for those who face obvious barriers, such as asylum seekers who may not speak the native language, or to build a service that grants access to the 6.3 million people (around 10% of the UK population) who have dyslexia. 

Inclusive service design, like all great service design, needs to start with research and understanding the environment the work sits in. Nothing beats talking to and spending time with the people who will be impacted by the service. From experience, this is where some brands can struggle. However, it’s not due to the lack of desire to be inclusive but rather not knowing how to reach out to or work with a wider research community. 

It took three years to transform HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s Immigration and Asylum appeals service and we faced that same initial challenge of how to find diverse and often vulnerable participants to take part in the research. This challenge became a strength as we worked with charities already supporting immigrants, to learn from them and partner with them as safe spaces to support our research. Having these insights allowed us to create a service that could have a real, positive impact on those who needed to use it.  

It’s not always the case that researchers will be welcomed by established communities. But the principle that experts in experience deserve respect will always serve you well. The responsibility is with the researchers and designers to meet the target audience where they want to be, make them comfortable, and ensure that participation is equitable and has meaning. You must listen to and empower those you want to help. 

 It’s of upmost importance to be participatory by default. It’s not possible to achieve great inclusive design if participation isn’t at the heart of a project’s culture and way of working. Design and decision-making needs to be done in collaboration with the people your work impacts. This helps to keep the work focused on the people who use, manage, and deliver services rather than the designers. This was the case when research was announced that over 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction. The UK Gambling Commission required a national self-exclusion service for problem gamblers. We started by mapping the design challenges, including the need for co-creation and collaboration with the regulator, 260+ gambling operators and the main industry trade organisation.  

We used our human-centred design approach spanning quantitative and qualitative techniques with gambling customers/betting firms/charities, identifying triggers, motivations, needs and barriers surrounding self-exclusion. This allowed us to map and address one of the most complex design challenges. Gamstop became the world’s first real-time self-exclusion scheme, which has seen over 200,000 registrations and 73% opting to self-exclude for a maximum of five years. 

People naturally want to participate to differing degrees, and that needs to be respected. But, where possible, inviting people into your work is where you get the most out of the collaboration. We’ve seen this is in our work at the courts and tribunals service too. Working with stakeholders that range from judiciary to policy makers to asylum seekers to move beyond engagement, through co-design and growing design-thinking skills. By slowly bringing them in, participants can see the power of their involvement at every step.  

When participants see their insights turn into transformational change and positively impact the service they interact with, it not only validates the time and effort they’ve given but it strengthens the project too. The bigger the transformation the more that’s true.

Changing a service’s process from end-to-end and seeing it positively impact policy or the way people work is what makes things truly inclusive. It’s important to not only look at simplifying language and interaction to make it accessible but also change the service process leading to real change for the real people who engage with your work.

Inclusive design builds better services that work for more people and starts to address some of the inequality in access to opportunity and wellbeing that has been designed into the world around us.