Tim Devine
Jan 18, 2022

Democracy by design

As an industry, we need to ensure that every product and service we create contributes to the active design of a more inclusive world. The impact of doing so extends beyond the direct outcomes, write AKQA's APAC innovation director.

Democracy by design

In a world where technology permeates all parts of our lives, the acceleration of advancements in this sector means it’s now more straightforward than ever to create and launch new digital products and services.

Far too often, accessibility and inclusivity are considered only as an afterthought, but the wheels of change are in motion as businesses, companies and communities are realising the importance of a more inclusive world.

Architects of inclusivity

If accessibility and inclusivity aren’t considered as a core part of the design process and embedded within an organisation’s culture, it means that solutions often end up excluding a large section of our society. It’s of paramount importance that companies design with, not for, diverse users. This means ensuring that the people involved in product development have diverse backgrounds and that their voices are represented throughout the design process and in product creation.

Making the right moves

During the Australian Open, blind and low-vision audiences can now use Action Audio to turn spatial data from real-time ball-monitoring technology into 3D sound, making it easier to follow matches at the tournament. The 3D sound emphasises ball speed and trajectory, proximity to the line and shot type, and augments critical moments to allow blind and low-vision audiences to follow the game without seeing the ball. This kind of ground-breaking application of technology has a tangible impact on the way people can experience live sports.

Another encouraging example came in 2021 from the retail sector. Nike’s Go FlyEase sneaker is the first sneaker you can put on without having to bend down or use your hands at all. Wearers are not reliant on dexterity to put on the shoes, but more importantly, it is proof that universal design can lead to a product that’s better for everyone, not just people with a disability. 

Participation for all

Enabling equal access to content is a significant step forward in fostering inclusion, but beyond that, we need solutions that allow people to participate actively. Today, 1 billion people—15% of the world’s population—currently experience some form of disability and SenseKit is an easy-to-use prototyping kit made up of wearable sensory and haptic devices that enables anyone to design their own sensory experiences using substitution or augmentation. The modularity of SenseKit means that people can create their own accessibility hacks according to their needs or creativity. While many technological disability aids are designed with narrow use cases in mind, the intent of SenseKit is to create a kind of Lego kit for sensory substitution.

The time is now

Organisations have a social responsibility and commercial interest in ensuring their products are inclusive and accessible. Inclusive design can increase the commercial potential of digital products, enabling them to reach previously untapped audiences. According to the Centre for Inclusive Design, organisations can reach four times more consumers if products and services are designed with unique needs in mind. This can represent a treasure trove of new customers and new audiences that you don’t have to work any harder for; you’re just letting them get to you.

Action works wonders

The impact of truly inclusive design extends beyond the direct outcomes generated by the products and services we create. It inspires us, builds empathy, reduces divides and reminds us that we’re all human.

As an industry, we need to ensure that every product and service we create contributes to the active design of a more inclusive world. We need to embrace inclusive design and development practises while investing in training teams to develop more accessible solutions. New and innovative ideas emerge from diverse teams. Wonder is the source of our desire for knowledge, and if our teams don’t embody our ‘social imagination’ we will fail to think of things as if they could be otherwise. 

Tim Devine is executive innovation director at AKQA APAC. With special thanks to Amy Dunne, Candice Ong, Mike Christensen, Laura Minton, Adam Grant and Paul Ostryzniuk

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