Design for all – a tool for inclusivity

To achieve more inclusive societies, it is important that all citizens have access to public environments, services and solutions. Lena Lorentzen, Professor of Industrial Design, Sweden is a champion for the approach Design for all. She explains the concept:

“Most products have a design based on the manufacturing capabilities of the 1950’s. Today, we have the technological ability to create products that have human needs as the starting point.” Lorentzen has developed a range of methods to help businesses involve stakeholders with diverse backgrounds and functional or cognitive disabilities in the design process.

She stresses the importance of involving stakeholders in all stages of the design process and to always involve the most demanding user. “Involving diverse stakeholders is not just about meeting the needs of people with functional disabilities, the result is a product that is better for everyone. And a product that is our friend will also have a longer life, contributing to a more sustainable society.”

Lorentzen has worked together with Essity in its development of the Tork hygiene concept which includes paper and soap dispensers for public environments. The multi-stakeholder design process included both users and the cleaning staff aiming to ensure that the products were easy to use for everyone. “Design for all does not have to mean more expensive products, it can be simple changes. For example, changing the color indicators signaling a need to fill the paper dispenser so that it is visible for a person with color blindness.” Design for all is also about creating an inclusive workplace. It empowers more people to join the workforce which also brings economic benefits for society.

“Design for all is about making sure that public spaces, products, services and information are designed to take account of the fact that we humans are all different in terms of functional ability, size, language, ethnicity and gender. It is really about barrier-free design, creating a society that does not exclude people based on variations in ability”

Lena Lorentzen, Professor of Industrial Design, Sweden

Lorentzen stresses that policy makers have an important role to play in setting procurement standards that create a demand for inclusive products and services. In the US, the Americans With Disabilities Act contributed to the development of the 7 Principles of Universal Design, which were created by a multidisciplinary group of architects, product designers and engineers at North Carolina State University in 1997.

“The developments in the US spurred the ‘Design for all’-movement in Europe and the concept is now recognized across the world. But we still have a long way to go before planning and design for all is universally adopted. Both policy makers and businesses need to take action, concludes Lorentzen.