We’re living in a world where care, consideration and empathy are needed more than ever. Because although we have constant access to information, people, resources, products, things, many around the globe are still increasingly overcome with feelings of isolation, anxiety and loneliness. As a community of humanity we are in need of genuine connections. As an industry, we have the ability to stand up and say we hold the answers to some of these challenges society is now facing. That makes the rise of inclusive design the most important shift in design thinking that has and will continue to indelibly impact our tomorrow. I believe it is the most powerful tool at the disposal of designers to create the best future, today.
I define inclusive design as a “whole-person, whole process” design approach that considers the full spectrum of human diversity, which includes, but is not limited to culture; ability; age; gender; and health. Inclusive design seeks an understanding of each to develop democratized design solutions that address functional and personal needs.
Born to immigrant parents from Barbados, I fought to overcome challenges that all first-generation minority kids experience: racism, indifference and exclusion. Often considered “other” whether at school, at the park, or at the corner store I, like so many (regardless of what your “other” might be) have been aware of it my entire life. At times, it has both discouraged and empowered me, but it has always remained an important part of who I am. Early on in my professional career, I hadn’t learned from this yet and created design solutions from my limited perspective, which did not always translate authentically to the market in which the project would live. But finally making the connection to my own experiences where assumptions about me diminished meaningful engagement or interaction, I learned consideration is a powerful tool in creating great design that is rich in relevance and thoughtfulness.
Today, my “otherness” has become my superpower. It compels me to dig deeper to discover the nuances of what lies beneath the surface. It allows me to read between the lines to uncover the heart of the matter at hand in every project. Whether it is achieving equity in creating a beautiful hotel front desk that considers both accessible function and the emotional need of guests with challenges who do not want their experience to be defined by their difference; or creating spaces in offices or airports that consider and allay the anxiety of autistic users like my niece. Simply put, design matters. That is why inclusive design fuels my passion to create meaningful design solutions that consider the needs of people authentically, while also creating unexpected moments of delight.
I have always believed that design at its best, addresses human need, profoundly, decisively and intuitively. Inclusive Design is a comprehensive iterative process that builds off that. In my curated blog series for Boutique Design, we’ll address how it does so with the following: sustainability, wellness, people, space, technology and social impact. My posts will share not just the origins of inclusive design, but also its aspirations and applications through my lens as a professional interior designer, speaker and director of design for HOK. I’ve been sharing these perspectives on the topic around the globe and am excited to do so now with BD readers.
In my world, “otherness” is welcomed. In fact, it is required for optimum results. Let me show you how inclusive design immerses designers in a new way of thinking to create connection and dialog that address needs across the spectrum of humanity. It in and of itself is transformative, compelling all involved to reach beyond the limits of assumptions to address our greatest needs with the utmost of care.
Ian Rolston is a creative strategist, design enthusiast, interior design director for HOK Toronto and an engaging speaker. Specializing in creating compelling environments, Rolston has collaborated with the world’s best firms and companies across design sectors: hospitality, corporate, retail, healthcare, science + technology, education and sports entertainment. A native son of Toronto, Rolston uses design as a medium to challenge convention, believing it has the power to solve the biggest challenges that face our world today.
Next in our series we will explore:
The history of inclusive design…