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Inclusive Wayfinding Information Design

Last week The Velvet Principle attended a symposium hosted by the SDS and SEGD London Chapter focussing on inclusive design for wayfinding information. The event featured a series of thought-provoking presentations exploring the ‘what, why, when and how’ of inclusive design. Distilling what was a packed agenda into a few takeaways, is a challenge, but these were some of the highlights and key reminders for any wayfinding consultant and designer.
Merging of toilet symbols to represent inclusive wayfinding design

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  • Inclusive design is fundamentally about welcoming all – irrespective of disability (whether permanent, temporary, contextual or situational), to provide a seamless environment, that doesn’t segregate between different communities. The accessible entrance placed alongside a revolving door entrance; or the stair and ramp combination given as glaring examples of segregation – that although accessible, are not inclusive.

  • Truly Inclusive design extends beyond physical, cognitive and neurodiversity considerations to embrace all protected characteristics as defined by The Equality Act 2010.

  • Although the appropriateness of the wheelchair symbol, used to illustrate accessible routes and facilities, is increasingly being questioned (with only 4% of disabled users being wheelchair users), it has wide domestic and international recognition.

  • Inclusive design requires a person-centred approach. Focussed on maximising confidence and independence for all, while minimising risk. For the best outcomes, this means involving people with lived experience of disability in user-testing, or as co-creators and producers.

  • What works for one marginalised group can reap dividends for a wider set of communities. This was aptly demonstrated by beautiful examples of 3D models created by Tactile Studio for museum clients. As well as providing information for visually impaired visitors, they extended the sensory engagement with a much wider cohort.

  • Regarding tactile maps – keep it simple and stripped back to the essentials. Too much information will take a long time for someone with a visual impairment to read, let alone remember. Co-locating textured paving in proximity to tactile information will help alert people to its availability.

  • And if you’re offering tactile information, it is critical to ensure that it’s regularly cleaned and maintained.

  • For familiar journeys, visually impaired people will use features such as street furniture located along the route to help them navigate. So careful consideration needs to be given to decisions to move items such as benches or planters.

Ultimately though, there is no single magic bullet. We all have different needs and preferences, and these may vary depending on our current context or situation. Approaches that suit one community could have a detrimental impact on another. For example, using light as an intuitive cue may help most, but if too intense could be problematic for some neurodiverse conditions. Some people will be happy to have information delivered via a digital device. For many reasons digital may be unsuitable for others and physical signs need to be provided. Consequently, to be inclusive, a wayfinding scheme should embrace several different strategies, but we also have to accept that some compromises will be needed along the way.

Clearly, there is much more to inclusive design than the points above. For anyone looking for more specific detail, the recently published second edition of The Sign Design Guide, will provide more comprehensive guidance.