Psychosocial Inclusion

Addressing the more critical and contemporary dimensions of design exclusion around mental health, neurodiversity, learning and physical disabilities, and design justice.

Design shapes both our interactions and behaviour and therefore has the power not only to materialise how we include/exclude, but also to conceptualise the philosophy of inclusion itself.  The Inclusionaries Lab inclusive design research is centred around interrogating the current state and advancing the knowledge and practice.

The aim is to shift the deficit-based and ableist mentality around age and ability to focus on the holistic experiences and capabilities of individuals instead. Hence, our research intends to challenge the inclusive design status-quo and shift the focus from the ‘physicality‘ of an ‘accessible experience‘, towards the overall ‘quality‘ of an ‘inclusive experience‘. This has led us to establish the research area called Psychosocial Inclusion.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) is one defining societal challenge of our time. As an agent of ’embodiment’ and material culture, Design ultimately shapes many human interactions and experiences that are either innately accessible and inclusive, or exclusive and inequitable ‘by design’. British Standards Institute defines Inclusive Design as the design of mainstream products, services, environments, and systems that are “accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design” (BSI, 2005). Consequently, issues of physical accessibility, functionality, usability, and physical comfort have been extensively studied within the field of inclusive design – with a particular focus on the two dimensions of age and physical ability (the ageing population and the physically disabled people).

While this has been fundamental and instrumental in providing inclusive solutions, such focus admittedly diminishes the concept of ‘inclusivity’ through design to mere ‘accessibility’. Many excellent inclusive design criteria have been developed through the past three decades to deal with the physical, cognitive and sensory obstacles people face (Design Council, 2006; Clarkson et. al, 2007; Microsoft Design, 2016; Holmes, 2018; Williamson, 2019), however, not much attention has been paid to the psychological, sociological, cultural or value-related barriers contributing to design exclusion (Nickpour and Jordan 2012; Lim and Nickpour, 2016; Lim, Giacomin, and Nickpour, 2020). This reflects a major gap in consolidated knowledge of people’s diversity in terms of psychosocial needs, requirements and aspirations, addressing the more critical and contemporary dimensions of design exclusion around mental health, neurodiversity, and invisible disabilities, as well as design justice (Costanza-Chock, 2020).

Our research has resulted in developing initial definitions and constructs of Psychosocial Inclusion in Design (emotional, psychological, social, value), as well as its investigation within two key contexts of personal mobility and supermarket shopping, funded by our industry partners, Motability and Sainsbury’s respectively.

Building on these key findings, we are currently developing a Taxonomy of Design Exclusion. Our aim is to consolidate and synthesise the multiple, complex, intersectional, and sometimes conflicting dimensions of physical and psychosocial design exclusion on several levels, in the form of three key outcomes:

  1. A Taxonomy of Design Exclusion
  2. A Library of Exclusion Scenarios
  3. An Industry resource incorporating the above two elements

This advanced inclusive design research aims to address three research questions:

  1. How could dimensions of design exclusion be classified into a taxonomy?
  2. What are the scenarios in which design exclusion happens and how could these scenarios be effectively captured, categorised, and represented?
  3. How could a taxonomy and library of design inclusion inform and facilitate inclusive practice and policy, and in what format is it best experienced?

Our lab’s latest research also focuses on investigation of the very concept of True Inclusion in design. We explore whether we are becoming truly more inclusive, or simply moving towards a version of inclusion which is ‘realistic’, ‘achievable’, and ‘measurable’. Questioning whether there is a common ground between the ideal and the real. And which vision, if any, can and should inclusive design care about.

Our trajectory of publications in this area can be accessed here and here.