3.3: What’s the difference between human centered design, universal design, and inclusive design?


David: So, Sandi we hear a lot about accessibility and all kinds of terms. Can you tell me basically, what’s the difference between human centered design, universal design, and inclusive design?

Sandi: Yeah David, we do hear these terms all the time and it can be quite confusing for people. The differences can sometimes seem really subtle. 

So human centered design, I’ll start with that one. With human centered design, usually you’re trying to solve a problem for a specific user or specific user group. So, some of the best examples of human centered design are things like the telephone. So Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone to help his deaf mother hear better, but we know that, that invention has been adopted worldwide and is used by everybody pretty much. Pellegrino Turi in Italian developed one of the first typewriters because he was trying to help a blind friend write more legibly. And Thomas Edison invented audio books, was the inventor of audio books and so that people who are blind can read or listen to books. So those inventions were developed with, to solve a particular need for a particular person or user group and became broadly used by everyone. So that’s human centered design. 

Universal design is a principle that, it’s about having an innovative idea and creating a new product or software, whatever you want to call it, and then molding that solution to make it usable for people with disabilities, people without disabilities, essentially making it a one size fits all product in the end. You know we’ve all probably worn at one size fits all t-shirt, but there are certain people where that one size fits all t-shirt is either too small or too big. So universal design tries to make it work for everyone, but there’s often use cases that are forgotten or not included as part of that process.  

And that’s kind of where inclusive design comes in. Inclusive design: that model wants to make sure that whatever is created is inclusive. It includes: it’s people with disabilities can use the product. It’s inclusive. It even goes beyond disabilities and could even be things like facial recognition. When it was first developed, it was developed by people with white skin and they’ve discovered that it doesn’t always work well for people with darker skin. So, they weren’t, it wasn’t inclusive at the time and now they’re trying to fix that technology by being more inclusive in including people of all color spectrums on their teams to develop these products. And it’s the same kind of thing when you’re developing something that’s inclusive. You want to make sure that people on the team, you include people with disabilities on the team, so that you understand what all the barriers might be and you find solutions to those problems or those barriers.

When it comes down to any kind of design though, it’s all about productivity. And inclusive design, probably adhere to that the most, because productivity, employers always want their employees to be productive. Well, if you don’t have barriers in your way, things that make it difficult to use technology, then you’re inherently going to be more productive. And so it’s, when we think about accessibility and inclusion, it really comes down to being productive. We want to make sure that everyone can be as productive as they possibly can. We want to remove as many barriers as possible for everybody so that we can all get done what we need to get done with the least amount of hassle. 

David: So, if I adopt the universal design model, which basically is a model to try and design for one size fits all, to narrow that down to meet my specific scope and product or service needs, I need to include baseline standards. And I assume then, the inclusive design would mean that I would develop my universal model around WCAG and AODA.

Sandi: Yes.