Design of modular products and interconnected horizontal solutions could be the answer to the challenge of inclusive design.

A person is a combination of different solutions.” – Borja Romero, BJ Adaptaciones

With industrial production and standardization, products that had been limited to a small segment of the population reached a large number of people. In this way, the workingman could afford a car, a luxury that previously was only within reach of rich playboys.

The standardization of design, however, entails a counterpart: “a customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black”. We design for a certain alleged average user, thus excluding a large number of users that aren’t able to accommodate the product. As, indeed, no one fits the profile of the average user, the end result is a mediocre experience for everyone.

TRADITIONAL INCLUSIVE DESIGN STRATEGIES

Aware of this problem, designers have begun to look for possible solutions based on what is called “inclusive design” or “universal design”. The three most common strategies of inclusive design are:

1. Products that being designed for excluded users turn out to be valid (or better) for any user 

OXO Good Grids is a good example. Designed by Smart Design, the inspiration came when Sam Farber saw how difficult was for his wife, an arthritis sufferer, to peel fruits. Its line of user-friendly peelers was so popular that its use transcended the movement-impaired audience to attract anyone insterested in home cooking.

OXO-Peelers

OXO peelers

2. Different products for different types of users 

Furniture for children, such as toilets of tables, is a typical example of this design strategy.

kids-craft-table01

Table and chair for children

3. Flexible products adapted to the user characteristics 

Resposive web design for mobile sites is possibly the most successful and well-known example.

Trent-Walton-Responsive

Responsive web design

THE FOURTH STRATEGY: MODULAR DESIGN

Last July I visited the company BJ Adaptaciones, specializing in designing solutions adapted for people with disabilities. The aim of my visit was to make an article for PreScouter Journal on “Innovation in highly complex markets“.

From the field of design, people with disabilities are often classified under the category of “extremes”, ie, those who are far from the average. However, extreme users are not even remotely, a homogeneous group. There are different disabilities, each in different degrees.

Regardless of their characteristics, no two people are alike, but users with disabilities have an additional challenge for the designer: The suitability of the product for their needs is a must. “Good enough” is not enough.

The challenge is how to design products that must meet the following three conditions:

  1. They suit the particular needs of each user,
  2. They offer the best experience to as many people as possible,
  3. They are affordable.

The solution of BJ Adaptaciones is the design of interconnected modular products.

A solution is an intermediary between the user and a device composed of different modules. For example, imagine a wheelchair user who only can move her head. To use a camera, she will need a holder for this camera, an articulated arm connecting the holder with the wheelchair, a wheelchair that can incorporate an arm, and a switch adapted to the camera, that can be operated with the head.

All these modules must be compatible with each other to be combined depending on the particularities of each moment, user and device. If the user wants to use a tablet rather than a camera or needs an adapted bed instead of the wheelchair, the different modules should continue being useful. Innovation lies therefore in the ability of designing a highly efficient solution compatible with other ones.

An infographic will explain much better the concept of modular design:

Modular Design - Solutions to Users with Disabilities

In these cases, vertical design often leads to mediocre products. It is preferable to focus all our efforts to innovate in one of the modules with the aim of creating an excellent solution adaptable to other modules. To believe that the user needs a complete solution is a big mistake.

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