Designing for inclusivity is something that is always on interior designers’ radar. ADA regulations instituted in 1990 blossomed into the concept of universal design: the creation of environments that, despite differences in age, size, and ability level, are safe for all users, can meet their needs, and support their health and well-being. However, the pandemic experience, the current political and social climate and the new need for virtual connectivity have challenged interior designers to push beyond implementing basic strategies to create inclusive environments.
What are some of the characteristics of inclusive environments? How can interior designers and their clients pivot to prioritize inclusivity?
Inclusive environments recognize that not all people experience space in the same manner. People want to feel supported and represented by the spaces they inhabit. The visual narratives that space creates for one person may trigger very different feelings within another. How do the colors, textures and light level affect one’s experience of a space? A conversational design process that discusses how elements within an environment land for the user helps to create relevant (and desired) environmental experiences.
Inclusive environments recognize that different people need different things in order to perform their best. And, that these things may change over the course of a day or may depend upon one’s mental state or the tasks at hand. Spaces that offer the user choices are key to managing these nuances. Some points to consider are: what posture might one want to have while in this space or performing their task(s)? Will they want activity to surround them or will they prefer more solitude? Do they want to see activity nearby or should visual distractions be minimized? What level of acoustic privacy is desired? These questions illustrate that not “one size fits all” and that inclusivity is prepared to provide options for users.
Inclusive environments enable everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. People can move through and use the space intuitively – or, the information needed is provided and is easy to understand and implement. Wall graphics, signage, artwork, the integration of technology are considered. Also, not all accessibility concerns are centered around a permanent condition – our needs may change over the course of a lifetime or in different situations: we might experience limited mobility if using crutches, navigating a stroller or carrying bulky luggage. Empathy for the user helps interior designers consider as many variables as possible. This allows for intellectual and emotional access to a space and invites users to feel relevant and engaged.
Designing for inclusivity is important because it propels our culture forward. Inclusive environments and the experiences users have within them tell them their opinion and perspective matters. It allows them to be present and to bring their skills and knowledge into the conversation and hopefully, enriches everyone.
By Laura Serecin, Interior Designer