By Hyungsoo Kim
When it comes to aging, we know that our bodies will change and require more assistance. Our eyesight weakens, so we start wearing glasses or reading large print. Our hands ache, so we buy new tools to open cans and button our shirts. Our bodies change, and we suddenly find that the ways we’re accustomed to doing things aren’t working for us anymore.
The conventional response to meeting our changing needs is to buy new products that help the bodies we’ve grown into. We outfit our bathrooms with helpful handrails or move into new spaces without stairs. But continually outfitting our lives for our golden years is burdensome, costly, and exhausting. How much new stuff is it going to take to maintain our independence as we live our lives? How much time and money must we spend finding new products that fit our new bodies?
For companies wanting to reach people 50 and over, what if you could capture these consumers at a much younger age, and then retain them as loyal customers throughout every stage of their life? There is a way: inclusive design.
Sometimes called universal design, inclusive design aims to meet the needs of as many users as possible, combining beauty and functionality in creative solutions that challenge the status quo. From the very beginning of the design process, inclusively-designed products, services, and structures try to accommodate a range of human bodies and abilities. It’s an innovative philosophy that confronts human realities and solve problems we’ve conventionally ignored, such as our changing needs as we age. Inclusive design is a smart way to design for the full spectrum of human experience — from the very young to the very old, for people with disabilities and for people who, at the moment, do not experience disability.
You’re probably already familiar with one example of an inclusively-designed product. You might even have it in your hand right now: the iPhone. Built into the iPhone are features that allow users with vision impairments and other disabilities to use the phone in additional ways that provide access. VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in screen-reading software, comes readily installed on iPhones so that iOS can be navigated without sight and controlled by alternate means of user interactions. Three-fingered swipes are one of the many gestures available for VoiceOver users to navigate the iPhone in a way that is accessible and user-centric for people with vision impairments, yet integrated into a device designed for everyone. Accessibility is just a click or two away — it’s there if, or when, you need it. By designing with accessibility in mind from the beginning, Apple has created an inclusive product that breaks down the boundary between assistive technology specifically for people with disabilities and technology for everyone else. It’s a product that has raised consciousness about what is important in product design, and more importantly, who products should serve. After all, inclusive design is about people. Shouldn’t we engage as many people as we can with innovative solutions to human needs?
Inclusive design gives investors and entrepreneurs the opportunity to disrupt traditionally segmented consumer markets and expand their base. We continue to take it for granted that people 50 and over want different things than other consumer segments, but most people, regardless of age, want products that are functional and beautiful. And we can meet people’s needs regardless of age. If your company’s products, services, or structures are designed for a range of human abilities and circumstances, you can engage and retain customers at any life stage because you’ve already anticipated their changing needs. Inclusive design creates the potential for a lifetime of brand loyalty if you take seriously the challenge that bodies change and must be accommodated.
Through inclusive design, we’ve proven that our products can evolve to meet a lifetime of changing human needs — but will investors and entrepreneurs adapt our thinking?
About the Author
Hyungsoo Kim is the founder of Eone and a firm believer in the importance of inclusive design. With a goal to create innovative products that are accessible and useful for everyone, he launched Eone with the award-winning Bradley Timepiece: a stylish wristwatch you can touch or see to tell time. Hyungsoo holds BA and MA degrees in Psychology from Wesleyan University and an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.