Design for Inclusion

There's an old building in Makati where an abundant pack of bats resides. The bats are roosting on the side of the building where the sun doesn't hit, that side of the building is facing the largest park in Makati City. It’s been standing in Makati since 1995 and used by modern businesses daily. It also created the right environment for bats to thrive. The building facade texture helps them cling comfortably with their pups. They've been living there for almost two decades.

I imagine that the architecture firm that designed the building didn't intend the bats to live within it’s confined. But it felt like it was designed for co-habitation–where people and bats can live together. I pictured that the first bat who found it, probably used it as a shelter when it rained heavily preventing it from hunting. It became their home that they have to defend time and time, just for them to be able to make it their home, without opposition from its creator and its intended end user. I wonder how many generations of bats and their story of war and retribution before they were allowed to call it their home. Before the owner of the building just basically gave up and moved on. Now, the bats are well adapted, it seems that it has been an accepted fact that the bats are there to stay as long as they want.

My work as a designer trained me to tailor fit my work to an intended audience. Packaging that will only appeal to 18-35-year-old male interested in travel and adventure. They are adventurous, physically and mentally strong that loves the outdoors. But we often forget the underlying disability that our target might have. 18-35-year-olds doesn’t mean they have perfect vision, they might be suffering dyslexia, color blindness or totally blind. They may also be deaf or missing a limb or left-handed.

As a lefty, I am forced to adapt to my environment that is clearly built for right-hand use. From knobs to scissors, to microwave ovens, etc. We have long been hacking objects to work for us. Ten percent of the 7.1 billion people on the planet are left-handed. And yet, most objects are still being made for 90% of the population instead of designing it for 100% all users.

I was one of the people who fell in love with Apple’s approach with a one button mouse because the design is universally built for any hand-orientation. Not to mention that there are two USB port on both sides of their old keyboards that lets you plug you’re mouse depending on where you are using it. They are still the only one who builds their mouse that can work that way. Some companies do build products for lefties but they are scarce.

As a designer, I should do more than making things pretty. We have an obligation and responsibility to design the world that includes everyone even if it means tweaking your design for that other two million people that will want to use your product. We should stop designing just for the “90%”, we’ve done that a million times. We should strive to highlight and build stuff for the disabled, the disadvantaged and for everyone outside our normal spectrum to create an even better world. If you’re thinking that only product designers or architects need to work this way, its not. Everyone has the responsibility. In the TV series, Grace and Frankie, our titular main characters who are in their prime age, suffers arthritis and low vision but still very much sexually active. Grace and Frankie had a hard time using vibrators, It hurts their wrist, they can’t figure out the manual with it’s regular-sized text, that they have to invent a vibrator tailored for senior women. The vibrator worked so well that they ultimately created the best vibrator made for everyone regardless of age.

Regardless if you are a designer or not, I urge you to look past on what is already established and start paying attention more to the smallest segment of our population. Let’s help build standards with the environment in mind and objects that can cater to everyone. Let’s make our work/product more accessible, even to just 1% of it’s intended users. Let’s look at how vision impaired, physically disabled people use objects or get around their surrounding to get inspiration. Empathy is needed in our work.

I want the world where Grace and Frankie don't need to build vibrators for senior women. Because designers are already busy figuring out how to make the best vibrator you can ever imagine.