The first time I heard about Vasilis van Gemert’s experiment, in the lead-up to his talk at beyond tellerrand Berlin 2017, I openly admit it took me a moment to get my head around the idea. The thinking he applies to challenge and extend prevailing perspectives of “inclusion” can appear somewhat counter-intuitive at first, given that it seemingly negates proven principles – yet, only to reaffirm them, reveal their shortcomings (or common misconceptualisations), and extend them.
Published this week, his final thesis publication (no worries, it does not feel like reading an academic paper at all, more like a lecture) describes in a very approachable way, with useful references and illustrative examples, how the four principles of “exclusive design” came about. These principles, in short, are:
1. Study situation
In order to become specialist designers for all kinds of people with all kinds of disabilities we have to study different, individual situations.
2. Ignore conventions
The current conventions are designed by, and thus for, designers. Not all of these conventions work for non-designers. If we want to include non-designers, and especially people with disabilities, we should reconsider these conventions, after we studied their situations.
3. Prioritise identity
Including excluded people into our design process, by seeing them as co-designers rather than study objects, can help in coming up with new, and relevant, conventions.
4. Add nonsense
Designing for people with disabilities is in large part uncharted territory. Nonsense can be a useful tool to investigate the unkown. And it’s fun.
Complementing the idea of designing inclusively by adding the goal of “exclusive design” – true focus on the specific, hence exclusive, needs of those to be included – further deepens the understanding of real-world users’ contexts and thereby turns the often abstract design-for-all into design-for-every-single-one.
Innovatively designed, the publication can be read both in a linear and a non-linear way. Personally, I preferred the linear for the first read, and the non-linear for subsequent visits. There is also an e-book version.
Vasilis intends to integrate this thinking deeper in design education – in his own teaching, and in developing new curriculums. I for sure will make them a required reading in any teaching I do related to inclusion in design as well – they are a most welcome perspective to accessibility, a field that is easily and frequently reduced to technology rather than people.