Interviews

A design for an inclusive life

Esther Duran, Chief Design Officer at Zone Digital on the tipping point for inclusive design.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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If the pandemic has taught us anything it's that we consistently underestimate our collective capacity for change. Nowhere is this more evident than when you compare attitudes to remote working. “The pandemic has shown us the importance of possibilities,” explains Duran. “If you consider prior to the pandemic you couldn’t envisage working remotely. If you went to interviews and asked if you could work 4-days a week or work from home the chances are the interviewer would look at you as though you were mad.”

Yet the Coronavirus crisis has fundamentally shape-shifted the world of work. “Digital is an enabler,” Duran says. “It has allowed us to do all these things that we couldn’t do.” Pointing to the rise of Teams, Zoom - or whatever digital platform you are currently connected through - Duran believes that the playing field for the industry has changed; “Now that digital is the foundation it has endless potential for diversity and inclusion.”

As Chief Design Officer at Zone, it is a potential that Duran is capitalising on. For when the world came to a standstill, the industry was faced with a uniquely precious opportunity to challenge what had been done before and ask bigger questions when it comes to design. “In the past, designers have been put into boxes, but nowadays designers have a bigger responsibility. We are at the tipping point of changing the status quo so we need to ask how we can be the enablers, not the blockers,” she explains. 

An inclusive approach to design 

From a design perspective, it is difficult to overestimate the impact of the great pause that came hand in hand with the pandemic. That perennial industry danger that you are constantly so busy with the seemingly urgent and to focus on the important is particularly acute when it comes to design. “The design process itself has changed and we are now seeing a more inclusive approach to design,” explains Duran. 

A myriad of data points underline the importance of sustainability and purpose in the wake of the pandemic. Yet, Duran also acknowledges that a human-centric approach to design is one in which convenience is key. 

Despite this focus on convenience, Duran refuses to see the ‘Uberfication’ of products and services as an excuse for sticking with the status quo. “It's time for designers to start thinking about a different methodology, you can only have convenience, we have to think about the consequences of our behaviour,” she explains. 

Brands are often focused on ‘customer-centricity’ and what the customer wants is a delivery within two hours. But the inclusive design solution is more considered and mindful of the impact on society as a whole

Esther Duran, Chief Design Officer at Zone

Convenience vs. Conscious

She believes that there needs to be a greater balance between convenience and consciousness. For example rather than sending out 7 separate deliveries, with the associated emissions; companies could offer consumers the chance to combine their deliveries. “There are lots of challenges that need more thought,” she explains. “Brands are often focused on ‘customer-centricity’ and what the customer wants is a delivery within two hours. But the inclusive design solution is more considered and mindful of the impact on society as a whole.” 

Making impact through accessibility

This increased mindfulness means that the industry has had to shift the lens when it comes to human-centric design and ‘customer-centricity. For when what is best for the customer and best for society at large doesn’t align inclusive design principals need to come to the fore. 

An inclusive design solution also demands designing for the entire population; not embracing a version of ‘customer-centricity’ which ignores the needs of vast swathes of people. “Accessibility is about designing for a much larger section of the population,” she explains. Noting that designers have a responsibility to think about who they are taking into consideration when designing a product, who is in the room and where the awareness is around who isn't represented. 

It is an approach which means that designers need to look beyond a traditional target market, but it is not without its challenges. Consider, for example, the challenge posed to the environment by fast fashion. Yet while there is a climate crisis fuelled backlash to disposable fashion is the alternative accessible when it comes to pricing. “Sometimes when you pay less in the Western World it means someone in the developing world is paying the price.”

So what is the alternative? Rethink, reuse and regenerate. “One of the things we really need to think about when it comes to inclusivity and accessibility is fairness,” explains Duran. Fairness that should extend to how much consumers are willing to pay. 

Awareness and fairness

On the cusp of this once in a generation reset moment, Duran is clear-sighted on the opportunity which lies ahead. Sharing how she recently returned to her hometown in Madrid to take care of her mother after a stroke, she notes how she was able to continue to work.

A reflection of the tectonic shift which has occurred in a workplace designed for the industrial era; in many ways the antithesis of the unpredictability of caring responsibilities, or the complex act of simply having a life. Is there any more pressing need for inclusive design than in designing a future of work in which everyone can thrive?

“The role of the 9 to 5 and those rigid standards need to be rethought,” says Duran. “Now is the tipping point, that kind of binary approach to work and life needs to be removed.” 

To this end at Zone, Duran is looking to hire in new ways and apply the personalisation we so often talk about when it comes to marketing products and services to the people creating them.

“This is the point of inclusive design. It poses the question: what is the purpose?” she explains. A purpose that brands, individuals and employees alike are creating a new blueprint for. One which demands inclusive design is at its core. 

Image credit @ Bronac McNeill photography

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