The future of inclusive design

Inclusive design is vital if the industry truly wants to ‘build back better’ in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis.

Marianne Waite, Interbrand

Director of Inclusive Design


Across the world there are over 1.3 billion people who live with some form of disability and as life expectancies increase, so too do the number of years people will experience disability. Indeed, it is time the idea of ‘normal’ people was turned on its head – those who do not identify as disabled are not ‘normal’, but temporarily non-disabled. We will all experience some degree of disability at some point in our lives.

Which is why inclusive design is not only essential, but a permanent evolution within design thinking. This is not a design trend; instead, inclusive design is the heart of mainstream, good design. In fact, I’d compare it with the paradigm shift of environmentalism – initially some treated it as a bandwagon, something brands could jump on or off as they wished, but with time and greater understanding, it became a core business driver that no organisation could avoid.

Add into the mix the concept of ‘building back better’ as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. The widespread isolation, exclusion and situational disability experienced by so many of us during lockdown highlighted how crucial accessibility is when it comes to economic, business and individual growth. Brands that prioritised usability, agility and accessibility were able to weather the effects of the pandemic– in a way that others (sorry Primark) could not (just ask Jeff Bezos).

Businesses that were able to traverse the struggles of the health crisis were those that had long left the idea of ‘normal’ behind. They had invested in understanding how to make their products, services and experiences as easy to use as possible based on a varied spectrum of human need.  Whether that need stems from long-term, temporary or situational disability, the strongest brands know that diverse insights drive game-changing customer experience and demonstrate good design.

Despite this evidence, we are battling in an industry that remains inherently ableist – we constantly discriminate against disabled people in favour non-disabled people. As a consequence of outdated ideals – apathy, as well as an historic fear of disability – most designs and interactions demonstrate bad design. In prioritising the needs of non-disabled people, most experiences have been built to exclude a substantial section of society. Brands have been unwittingly perpetuating this design divide, resulting in widespread inaccessibility, diminished opportunity, discrimination and stigma.

Brands that do not work to recognise barriers across their experiences and operations, are disabling by default. With bias running deep throughout our creative world, inclusive design is crucial to overcoming the design divide.

Marianne Waite, Director of Inclusive Design, Interbrand

This isn’t conscious or intentional, but it is the current default. Brands that do not work to recognise barriers across their experiences and operations, are disabling by default. With bias running deep throughout our creative world, inclusive design is crucial to overcoming the design divide.

The savviest businesses have invested in making inclusivity part of all their operations; they have accepted and embedded it throughout the entire business system, beyond just digital accessibility and product design. For instance, we’ve worked with Jaguar Land Rover for many years, and through the insight from core research projects, the car manufacturer has now transformed its approach to inclusive design which cuts across both its design and its broader business culture.

By combining disability-led insights with brand thinking, organisations can introduce deep-rooted, repeatable processes and models which reduce barriers for many different consumer and employee groups. The pursuit of barrier-free brand experience holds the key to creating a world that works for more people than ever before.

This signposting should slowly dissolve into everyday design, with clients and brands building on these insights from the beginning of each new brief. But until we reach this utopian turning point, inclusive design is a helpful lexicon to signal this conscious practice of introducing broader perspectives. And brands that recognise that early, will gain the competitive edge and drive distinctiveness.

Guest Author

Marianne Waite, Interbrand

Director of Inclusive Design,


Marianne has worked in a number of leading creative agencies over the past 12 years. Her clients have included; Burberry, HSBC, and the Ministry of Defence. Marianne is now on a mission to help organisations apply an understanding of customer difference to create better products, services, environments and communications. By encouraging creative collaboration with, not for, people with disabilities, her aim is to harness, inspire and empower the world’s best branding minds to positively shift societal attitudes towards disability. In 2016, Marianne founded Think Designable an agency thought leadership collective. Their aim is to improve societies relationship with disability and difference by promoting inclusive product and service development and communication. Marianne is also an Associate Fellow of The Royal Commonwealth Society and is the UK Government’s Disability Sector Champion for Brand and Design.

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Design Inclusion