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Inclusive Design Advisor: Understanding the Design Practice Before Developing Inclusivity Tools

Emilene Zitkus, Patrick Langdon, and P. John Clarkson

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 8, Issue 4, August 2013, pp. 127 - 143

Article Contents


We conducted the study with 20 experienced industrial designers from six European design consultancies. The design consultancies specialize in product design, research, and innovation for a broad range of industrial sectors and clients. The sample of designers included product and interface designers of everyday small appliances, such as kettles, phones, remote controls, and toasters, as well as graphical designers and packaging designers.

We gathered data by observing and interviewing the designers. We observed how the designers work and how they conduct meetings. For example, we observed the tools that they used to sketch and model their designs and how they researched and presented new ideas in design meetings. We interviewed designers in five of the six design consultancies; we only observed designers in the sixth design consultancy. We took notes during the observations and completed in-depth interviews after the observations. We conducted the in-depth interviews in the designers’ work environment where we had the chance to see mock-ups, sketches, and photorealistic presentations of design concepts. This helped us to understand what the designers were describing in the interviews. We audio-recorded the interviews and then transcribed the conversations later.

At the beginning of the interviews, we asked the designers to describe their background, their experience in the field, and their role in the consultancy. The experience of the 20 designers varied from junior designers to senior industrial designers and the heads of design teams. Only three designers had less than four years of design experience. The majority of them had more than 10 years, and seven of them (head of design teams) had more than 20 years of design experience. The interviews focused on how the design process starts and progresses, the role of the designers, how user and other design requirements are specified, and how they evaluate new concept designs. The names of the companies and the designers have been replaced by titles like “Company A” and “D1” to maintain the anonymity of all participants. Table 1 details the number of participants in their respective position, company, and the way they participated in the study.

Table 1. The Participants’ Specialization and the Study Participation

Table 1

Near the end of each interview, we presented each designer with an interactive “inclusivity” or accessibility tool developed in Google SketchUp, which is a three dimensional (3-D) modeling software that is available for free2 (the script language is also freely available). We wanted to provide designers with an interactive tool built into a 3-D context because these are the types of tools that designers are familiar with. Although this tool was in the very early stages of development, it was something that designers could use that exemplified an interactive way to supply designers with information about inclusivity. We built this tool using simple codes in the Ruby program language. The interactive settings were not fully implemented as it was in the development phase. Therefore, the tool was only used for demonstration purposes. We demonstrated the tool for the participants. The example emulated the design of a simple medicine pack and proposed an interactive way to check the legibility of the letters on the pack. The demonstration (illustrated in Figures 2 to 5) followed the sequence below:

  1. Design a box (with color and material) and add text (with font size and style).

Table 2

Figure 2. Designing a box (left) and adding text (right)

  1. Set the ambient light and set the reading distance.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Setting the ambient light (left) and the reading distance (right)

  1. In the Tools drop-down menu, select Inclusive design, then select visibility test.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Selecting the inclusive design test, in this case, visibility

  1. An alert box opens that describes the range of population excluded from reading the text on the box and gives some advice regarding font size, style, and background/foreground color contrast.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Showing the inclusivity result of the visibility test—an exclusion of 7.3% of the UK adult population

The reason for showing an alert box (or message box), such as the one in Figure 5, is to give designers an understanding of how inclusivity information could be useful in understanding the needs of potential users of a new product. The recommended action that follows the inclusivity information can guide designers toward creating more legible, or more inclusive, features.

This tool demonstration stimulated conversations among the designers. They talked about the pros and cons of the tool’s interface and the functionality of an inclusive tool. They also talked about the information provided by the tool and how it relates to current design practices. As mentioned before, we recorded these conversations and transcribed them later. Portions of the conversations are highlighted in the following Results section.

2 Google SketchUp is a free 3 D modelling tool that can be used in architectural, engineering, or industrial design projects with an online 3 D models repository and integration to Google Earth. Free download is available at http://www.sketchup.com.


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