Introduction to Inclusive Design

Introduction to Inclusive Design.jpg
Written by 
Nikkie To
July 2021

On June 20, 2023, Coeuraj hosted a webinar on bringing principles of Inclusive Design to work in civic institutions. Below is a summary of the core ideas shared during the presentation. To learn how you can use Inclusive Design in your work, reach out to our team here.

The desire to collaborate often comes with the intent to do good work with other people. But this intent isn’t enough to ensure that everyone can participate meaningfully. If individuals aren’t considering up-front ways to design for inclusion, they can actually replicate and reinforce systems of exclusion. 

For leaders looking to effectively collaborate across a range of individuals and groups, Inclusive Design can provide a helpful approach.

What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive Design is a methodology that brings together a diversity of lived experiences, identities, and perspectives to enable the thoughtful development of processes, products, services, environments, and systems. It is an active, intentional, and continuous process that addresses inequities in power and privilege and provides a framework for people to foster inclusivity in the pursuit of problem-solving and shared benefit.

Inclusive Design emerged from the disability rights movement and the fight for accessibility. While accessibility remains a core tenet of the methodology, many practitioners today design not only for a range of abilities, but for diversity of age, gender, culture, and socioeconomic status, amongst other considerations.

What are the Core Principles of Inclusive Design?

  1. Principle #1 - Recognize Exclusion: Exclusion happens when there is bias in the way problems are solved. Even with the best intentions, sometimes privileges can obscure the ability to recognize bias. It’s important to be aware of how specific situations and systemic practices might prohibit the participation and rights of different individuals.
  2. Principle #2 - Learn From Diversity: Diversity within a system is a powerful tool for designing resilient solutions. If participation is inclusive of different experiences, perspectives and ways of being, then collaboration, and its outcomes, will be stronger and more adaptive.
  3. Principle #3 - Solve for One, Extend to Many: In the pursuit of designing equitable solutions for specific groups of individuals, consider what aspects are universally important and how the learnings can be shared to benefit others.

How Can Inclusive Design Be Put Into Practice?

While there’s no one one-size fits all approach, the considerations below can help leaders begin to put Inclusive Design into practice in their unique contexts.

Take A Systemic Approach to Address Exclusion

Beyond any single engagement, there are histories of oppression and systems of exclusion that need to be proactively acknowledged. Not every individual has access to the same opportunities or experiences the same set of barriers. When people show up to an engagement, their unique individual and community contexts show up with them.


  • What specific systems impact the people being engaged, and how do these systems influence the problem being addressed?
  • How can the awareness and mutual understanding of exclusion be articulated in a way that is conducive to building trust and nurturing collaboration?
  • What interventions are most needed to increase inclusion across a system?

Make Participation Intentional and Clear

To ensure that participation is reflective of the diversity of a system, be intentional with who is engaged and how they are being engaged throughout a journey. Being explicit with expectations allows participants to prepare for an engagement and better navigate changes as they come.


  • What is the purpose of engaging a particular audience? What is the role of their participation? For example, are people being consulted as a stakeholder, being engaged as a decision-maker and co-creator, or being informed of an outcome?
  • How can an engagement center a particular group’s knowledge, perspectives, or lived experiences?
  • How are participants informed of their role in a process and are these expectations shared in an accessible manner?

Consider How Space Promotes Belonging

While design often refers to the development of dialogue or engagement, it’s also important to consider the environment, both intangible and tangible, where collaboration takes place.


  • How does a space, physical and/or virtual, enable or inhibit people's ability to participate and feel included?
  • What are the historical and cultural contexts of the spaces being used, and how might these contexts resonate across different participants?
  • How can you plan to make a space more accessible, welcoming, and safe for those who will be attending?

Interested in learning more about how to harness Inclusive Design in your work? Reach out to us here.

Nikkie To is a Senior Designer at Coeuraj and an inclusive design practitioner with five years of experience in participatory action research and design. Her work seeks to actively promote access, equity, and inclusion across a full spectrum of human experiences.​ She holds a Master of Design in Inclusive Design from OCAD University.

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