Putting Inclusive Design Ambition Into Practice

A team reflecting on their decision making

Design decisions help you put inclusive design ambition into practice

We make lots of decisions.

Research has shown that we make thousands of decisions every day. They vary in size and importance. Some are made consciously, others unconsciously.

As designers, we make countless design decisions every day. How will we approach a project? How will we engage people? What methods are we going to use? Which opportunities will we prioritise? The list goes on.

Not only do the types of decisions vary, but how we make decisions varies.

Sometimes we will make them individually using our own knowledge and experience, other times they can involve more complex assessments with others.

So yes, decisions vary, and we make lots of them. But why is this important?

An opportunity to pause and reflect

We have spent much of the last year talking with colleagues and partners about what it means to be inclusive. How might we embed this into our daily practice?

As part of this we undertook a broad review of approaches used across the public sector, in community settings and those referenced in academic literature. Our review raised more questions than it answered, but we felt that the role of the designer was an important and sometimes overlooked component.

With this in mind, we have been exploring how design decisions present an opportunity to pause and reflect on what we are doing. This allows us to critically analyse a decision, how it is being made and what impact it might have.

The other benefit of focusing on design decisions is that they offer a real-time, practical way to review your thinking. This is in contrast to traditional approaches which review decisions afterwards (e.g. retrospectives and lessons learned).

Here are three things for you to consider:

  • Where and when do you make decisions?: Before we can reflect on our decisions, we need to recognise when and where we are making them.
  • When might we reflect on a decision?: How do we know when a decision is worth reflecting on?
  • How can we use design decisions in practice?: It helps to draw up a simple approach to putting this into practice.

Where and when do you make decisions?

 We make countless decisions every day. As we build our own competence and confidence over time, we reach a point of “unconscious competence” which allows us to move faster.

Sounds great: but it does have a downside.

Many people will be aware of the larger decisions made during a project (such as prioritising research findings) but may be less consciously aware of the smaller decisions (choosing whether an interview should be in person or online, for example). If we want to become more inclusive, we need to become more conscious of our decision making and the potential impact of our choices.

Taking the research interview as an example. If we stopped and paused at this moment, we might ask ourselves, “what is the best way to engage this person?”. This may lead us to choose an alternative approach that is better suited to their needs, or indeed realise that we don’t know enough about their needs to decide.

Becoming aware of the design decisions we (and those around us) make is an essential starting point.

One caveat: We make far too many decisions per day to become consciously aware of every one, so there clearly is a practical and proportionate balance. As a consequence, we need some way of choosing which decisions to reflect on.

When might we reflect on a decision?

We said earlier that design decisions vary by type, significance, complexity and the processes we use to make them. If we look at a simplified version of a design process, we can visualise when and where these occur.

A graphic illustrating that we make design decisions continuously throughout the design process.

To illustrate this further, we have included examples of larger and smaller decisions taken from a recent project. These are for illustration and are not an exhaustive list.

Phase Example of a larger decision Example of a smaller decision
  • What are the aims and scope of our research?
  • Who are we involving or not involving in this project?
  • What channels should we use to conduct our discovery sessions?
  • What sources of existing insight do we draw on?
  • Which opportunities should we prioritise for the next phase of work?
  • What channels should we use to enable access to this service?
  • What tools do we use to design our service?
  • What language do we use to describe the problem and solution?
  • What format should we use to document and communicate our designs?
  • Who benefits from the changes we choose to deliver first?
  • How do we engage service users to help us make decisions about operating the service?
  • What channels should we choose to engage people about the changes?
  • How do we communicate what we are doing?


So how do we know when to pause and reflect on a design decision? This depends on the people involved and the nature of the project.

As a starting point, we suggest that you pause (even for a few moments) when making larger decisions to consider the impact of your choices.

For smaller decisions, we wanted to focus on choices which have the potential to create barriers to engagement – something we have been keen to explore in our own work.

How can we use design decisions in practice?

Once you have identified a design decision you want to reflect on, what might you do next? How might this work in practice?

We have been experimenting with prompting questions to facilitate our reflections throughout projects. Our aim was to create something simple and easy to use (see an example below).

Example design decision prompts

This design decision prompt can also be downloaded as a word document here.

We see this as a flexible framework that can be adapted to suit each project. For example, for one project we have expanded this to capture ethical considerations.

How we used this in a recent project

We were working with a new client to redesign their services which supported a technically complex and safety-critical operation.

Our client was keen to ensure that their team could actively participate in the process to co-design a new service. The group had specific support needs (such as people experiencing mental health problems) and conversations were dominated by a vocal minority.

We sketched out a prompt for this project based on what we felt we needed to know (such as “what do we bring with us?”) and to create equal opportunities for people to participate (such as “who is excluded from taking part?”).

When we started to develop our design approach for this project, and decide how to use our time, we tested our thinking against the prompts to see if there were alternatives we had not considered.

For example, one of our specific prompts was around “who is excluded from taking part”. We used this to reflect on our assumptions about how we engaged the group. This helped create new opportunities for people to participate by:

  • Altering how we used in-person and remote conversations
  • Providing an open space (in Miro) for people to share their reflections and engage others in the work

At the end of the project, we asked the team if they felt they had been actively involved in the process. 90% of those who responded either agreed or strongly agreed that they had been involved.

What we have learned

We continue to experiment with this approach and refine our own prompts. We have found decisions offer an opportunity to pause, reflect and identify how we (as designers) and our decisions are impacting the design process.

Here are a few things you might consider when using this approach.

  • Make your reflection as big or small as you need it to be – as long as it’s meaningful and helps you improve your decision making.
  • Reflect on our own, with a colleague, or in a group setting. There is no right or wrong here, find what works for you.
  • Start small and give it a go.

We are treating this as an ongoing experiment and expect our thinking to continue evolving. If you have found this helpful or have an alternative perspective, please get in touch. We’re always keen to hear from others and improve our work.