Private sector needs to adopt inclusive design

We’re overly obsessed in design with badging things, creating the bandwagons for marketers to leap on to. Many consultancies are, for example, still trying to resolve what they really mean by branding. Is it to do with packaging projects, but taking in whole ranges rather than just one-off packs? Does it include corporate identity, or is that something else?

Whatever their view, a host of design consultancies have opted in recent months to add the descriptor ‘brand consultants’ to their company names, replacing ‘design consultants’. We can only assume that they believe it clarifies their offer to clients and sets them apart from rivals. In reality, it too often puts them back in the pile with the rest and the phrase is a meaningless addition to the letterhead.

We also have ‘sustainable design’. At its best, this represents a fantastic leap forward for humanity as designers and their clients take responsibility for limiting impact on the world’s resources. But at its worst, it is a worthy phrase bolted on to a project to show the thinking is ‘of now’, but with about as much meaning as the fmcg descriptor ‘with added bran’, fashionable in the 1980s.

Now, courtesy of the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre and others, we have the concept of ‘inclusive design’ – design that takes account the needs of everyone, regardless of age or ability. This is what Richard Seymour had in mind when he launched the British Design & Art Direction SuperHumanism seminar last month. Seymour’s initiative may have had a shaky start with that event, but the whole area has great potential and is fundamentally important in the longer term.

There are lots of reasons why inclusive design will succeed. First, as the Design Council document Living Longer – the New Context for Design, written by HHRC director Roger Coleman, points out (see News, page 6), we can expect to live longer these days so we all have a vested interest in its success. Second, as ‘grey army’ activist Baroness Sally Greengross said at the launch, older people can make a big contribution to society, particularly within the local community. Third, there is a growing commercial market there, with predictions that half the adult population will be aged over 50 by 2020. The biggest growth will be among the over 80s and things like travel and restaurants count among their activities.

At the Living Longer launch, BAA group design director Raymond Turner looked to the public sector, and public transport in particular, to take a lead in instituting ‘inclusive’ systems. A good starting point, but it is just as vital for the private sector to get involved, to create a truly inclusive marketplace.

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