By: Whitney Hill
Created: November 2012 / Posted: July 23, 2013

There is a problem.  An epidemic, a sickness fragmenting our societies very fiber and woefully little is being done to eradicate it. This debilitating problem, plague to sanity, endangers over a third of the world’s population; the end is not nigh. I’m of course talking about the disease of the designers.

            It can be argued that the sole purpose of a designer is to constantly create and destroy, which in turn creates a correlation with the individuals who purchase, use and discard what’s been generated. What the affluent designer assumes is needed for the community becomes implemented and unless a thorough user and market analysis is researched and taken into account, a flawed product becomes born. However, the imperfections of this bastard product (product of urban plans by architects, social structure by the lawmakers and government) at times become overlooked and instead scapegoated towards the ‘imperfections’ of the individuals who use them. I repeat, there is problem and it is with the ideology of the designer and their flawed product that alienates their users.

            The unfortunate consequence of using flawed ideology to make decisions for the masses is usually paired in conjunction with flawed terminology. The words themselves are weighed heavy when they are inaccurately paired to an unfamiliar demographic. Basically, the more incorrect guesses and assumptions there are about a community, the higher chance that the words that are used to describe said community become inaccurate.

More harm is done when these particular labels not only begin to stick, but also used to define the individuals within the particular community. A good example of this is the phrase “deaf and dumb” which was coined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He concluded that since (inaccurately so) deaf people were incapable of being taught and lacked rational thinking, basic cognitive abilities, that they were a burden to society, an ideation that was encouraged by the design of the Greek empire. The unfortunate longevity of the phrase “deaf and dumb” far outlived Aristotle and has plagued the deaf community ever since.[1] 
Indeed, the ‘disabled’ communities are not the only ones being mislabeled. Almost every community that strays from the norm when it comes to race, gender or creed also becomes ill defined and therefore underdeveloped by designers who are unfamiliar. The needs are hardly ever then addressed.

When a design for an object, floor plan or legislation is actually considered from a non-biased perspective - leaving pre-conceived notions and poor definitions aside – the “objects escape the boundaries of categorization [and] they become wild, and like the wild card in a pack of cards, can be used to take on different values according to the state of play of the game.”[2] Case in point, Apple’s iphone has been repeatedly praised by not only various ‘disabled’ communities (i.e. blind, deaf, autistic and cerebral palsy, to name a few) as well as the elderly community, but also by the already much designed for, mainstream market. A couple of the notable features include the software VoiceOver, which has been integrated with AssistiveTouch, Zoom and Maps and Guided Access. The inclusive features allow for easier access to map navigation (audio GPS tracker) and interpretation of text without depending solely on one’s personal mobility or technical understanding.[3] The idea and word of “limitation” becomes rethought as a much broader user base is brought together. The age-old designer concept of different looking people needing to be segregated from one another other and forced to use only what’s available for them - starts to loose its appeal and thus becomes economically unviable for a companies success.
In turn, with many electronic devices on the market that are usually split between aesthetic and function, the iphone does become a rare case of a highly popularized and universally sought after product that actually includes good/inclusive design and interface. It should be noted that other companies start to base their business models after inclusive design if it is shown that it has been viable and finically successful for other companies (i.e. How Android phones are now heavily influenced by Apple’s inclusively designed iphone)[4]. The design can directly change corporate ideation, if done right.

            The disease of the designers can be treated. It’s possible. The designer needs rehab, re-education. The remedy is surprisingly easy to understand. Simply by looking at the honest needs of the individuals within a specific group/demographic and designing an inclusive system that not only supports and empowers their community but the ‘mainstream’ as well, gets rid of conflicts dealing with lack of resources, improper handling, harmful terminology and destructive influencing of other communities. A higher quality of life is given to all members of society. A resuscitation of good design and designers can then be used to place the stepping-stones for a future of tolerance.

[2] Judy Attfield, Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life (2000), page 74