Rebuild Ethical Innovation

Ensuring Inclusivity

To tru­ly unlock human poten­tial, every­one has to be includ­ed. The more soci­ety evolves to incor­po­rate val­ues of tol­er­ance, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and humil­i­ty, the more peo­ple will feel free to be who they are.

Inno­va­tion, as a term, has deep asso­ci­a­tions with entire­ly mar­ket-ori­ent­ed endeav­ors, par­tic­u­lar­ly those that are occur­ring on a large, high-growth scale. Inno­va­tion is often dis­cussed as being the domain of the tech-savvy, white-col­lar world or the wealthy, young entre­pre­neur. The way we use lan­guage shapes our per­cep­tion and, as a result, this class of per­son becomes seen as the pri­ma­ry dri­ver of “progress”. The lan­guage of inno­va­tion should be claimed by non-prof­it-seek­ing par­ties to bet­ter wrest our under­stand­ing of improve­ment away from pure­ly cap­i­tal­ist projects.

Izzy Wheels wheel­chair cover

The process­es of design and inno­va­tion must also hold the pur­suit of inclu­siv­i­ty as a pri­ma­ry objec­tive. Design has come a long way in devel­op­ing method­olo­gies that cre­ate sin­gle objects use­able by broad swaths of the pop­u­la­tion, but there will always be those who do not fit with­in this gen­er­al seg­ment of the con­sumer pop­u­la­tion. The con­cept of uni­ver­sal design emerged as a way to cre­ate more ele­gant and func­tion­al qual­i­ties of a final prod­uct. It was made dou­bly nec­es­sary as a prac­tice by the replace­ment of bespoke crafts­men with mass pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties. Uni­ver­sal design is an approach that seeks to make things use­able by all peo­ple, regard­less of abil­i­ty. Its sev­en prin­ci­ples were ini­tial­ly out­lined in 1997 by archi­tect Robert Mace and a com­mit­tee of 10 peo­ple at the Cen­tre for Uni­ver­sal Design. The prin­ci­ples are as follows:


Equi­table Use (Acces­si­ble to all regard­less of ability)


Flex­i­bil­i­ty in Use (Accom­mo­dates mul­ti­ple vari­ances of styles or meth­ods of use)


Sim­ple and Intu­itive Use
(Easy to use regard­less of pri­or expe­ri­ence or skill level)


Per­cep­ti­ble Information
(Required infor­ma­tion is pre­sent­ed clearly)


Tol­er­ance for Error
(Min­i­miza­tion of poten­tial for incor­rect input, and reduc­tion of harm­ful eventuality)


Low Phys­i­cal Effort (Min­i­mal exer­tion or move­ment required)


Size and Space for Approach and Use (All com­po­nents laid out to accom­mo­date vari­ance in reach)31

The inten­tions of uni­ver­sal design are noble, and have con­tributed to more wide­ly-use­able objects and acces­si­ble spaces. How­ev­er, writer Anna Leahy points out that uni­ver­sal design, as it was orig­i­nal­ly expressed, deals with issues of access by con­ceal­ing dis­abil­i­ty, rather than direct­ly address­ing it.32 The focus is placed on design­ing beau­ti­ful things that empha­size our same­ness. There is some­thing pleas­ing about high­light­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties, but this entrench­es the assump­tion that vis­i­ble dif­fer­ences are inher­ent­ly unde­sir­able and some­thing to be elim­i­nat­ed. We need a dif­fer­ent process for design, one that ensures inclusivity.

In their book, The Sens­es: Design Beyond Vision, Andrea Lipps and Ellen Lup­ton seek to broad­en the spec­trum of con­sid­er­a­tions in the design process by explor­ing what they call “sen­so­ry design”. These authors argue in favor of account­ing for all five human sens­es, as they all serve as a gate­way for our expe­ri­ence of mate­ri­al­i­ty. They present a ver­sion of uni­ver­sal design that address­es the unique­ness of our sen­so­ry abil­i­ties and in which the fun­da­men­tal goal is to allow “access” to all people.

Access is the key word here. To the best of our abil­i­ties the world should be built in a way that invites and does not exclude. To open up the world to all is the main pre­rog­a­tive of inclu­sive design and this pol­i­cy forms a notable dif­fer­ence between it and uni­ver­sal design. Inclu­sive design is less con­cerned with being attrac­tive. As Leahy writes, “Access is cen­tral to inclu­sive design; aes­thet­ics and diversity—beauty and the ‘every­one’ —are not.” It is the prac­tice of medi­at­ing imbal­ances between indi­vid­u­als and the envi­ron­ment these indi­vid­u­als must navigate.

There is, of course, no rea­son why inclu­sive design can­not also be beau­ti­ful. Indeed, break­ing free from con­cep­tions of stan­dard­ized aes­thet­ics, and a dom­i­nant con­cept of what con­sti­tutes “beau­ty”, is also con­ducive to inclusivity.

Rebuild Ethical Innovation

Preparing for Friction

The pur­suit of the ful­ly seam­less expe­ri­ence makes it hard­er to engage thought­ful­ly with our sur­round­ing environment.

Inno­va­tion has been pros­e­cut­ing a war on fric­tion. By fric­tion, we mean any amount of sur­plus effort need­ed to accom­plish a giv­en task. To under­stand the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this, we can look to a depic­tion of a world of zero fric­tion, as seen in the 2008 film WALL‑E. After aban­don­ing Earth fol­low­ing an envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse, human civ­i­liza­tion goes on to inhab­it gigan­tic, ful­ly-auto­mat­ed space­ships. We quick­ly see that inac­tiv­i­ty has made every­body mor­bid­ly obese. The sur­viv­ing humans spend their days being whisked from place to place on hov­er­ing chairs, being attend­ed to by machines, while a per­son­al pro­jec­tion screen per­pet­u­al­ly absorbs their atten­tion. Although these inhab­i­tants are pre­sent­ed as being in good spir­its, in real­i­ty, a lack of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty is well known to be dam­ag­ing to both phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing. There is an issue at the heart of the war on fric­tion, revealed by the real­i­ties of the idea tak­en to its extreme. Some­times we need friction.

David von Diemar, 2018

The impor­tance of fric­tion can be eas­i­ly seen in dig­i­tal ser­vices and mar­ket­places. The few­er inputs required of a user to per­form a cer­tain task, the more like­ly they are to per­form that task. In the con­text of online shop­ping, some­thing like “one click order­ing” speeds them on their way to mak­ing a pur­chase with­out an addi­tion­al moment for con­sid­er­a­tion. On social media, design fea­tures like infi­nite scrolling and auto­play­ing videos, ensure a steady stream of con­tent to main­tain user engage­ment. In these exam­ples, the lack of fric­tion is good for the pro­duc­er, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly in the best inter­ests of the consumer.

There are oth­er aspects of life in which the total absence of fric­tion may not be appro­pri­ate. Take the act of cook­ing. Busy lifestyles have led to the cre­ation of many labor and time-sav­ing gad­gets. On a pure­ly mech­a­nis­tic lev­el, the act of con­sum­ing nutri­ents can be accom­plished with prac­ti­cal­ly no effort at all. One sim­ply needs to ingest one of the many mar­ket­ed pre-pack­aged meal solu­tions. But, despite the ease of such a prod­uct, peo­ple still choose to com­mit their time and atten­tion to prepar­ing labor-inten­sive meals. There is a sat­is­fac­tion derived from the act, and the val­ue of the meal itself becomes greater as a result of the work that went into it. The meal may even be made col­lec­tive­ly, and it is cer­tain­ly bet­ter enjoyed togeth­er. This pri­mal rit­u­al of com­mu­nal prepa­ra­tion and eat­ing strength­ens social bonds and relationships.

Inno­va­tion must make sure to pre­serve the right amount of fric­tion for the right rea­sons. In fields like health­care or the automotive/mobility sec­tor, fric­tion must be elim­i­nat­ed as much as pos­si­ble. In places where fric­tion belongs for the pur­pose of rig­or, a bal­ance must be struck between exces­sive dif­fi­cul­ty, and so much ease as to ren­der an action entire­ly thought­less. Fric­tion must be rein­stalled where it has been pushed out by sleek tech­nol­o­gy. It should act as a nec­es­sary buffer on social media, in online shop­ping, and con­sump­tion in gen­er­al, to help us avoid slid­ing into a hyp­not­ic state of auto­mat­ed behav­ior. Respect must be giv­en to the need for self-direct­ed activ­i­ty and exploration.

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