Researchers at Cambridge University's Department's Engineering Design Centre (EDC) have developed a guide which shows how products could be improved to appeal to a wider range of people.
As well as guidance covering all stages of the design process, the so-called 'Inclusive Design Toolkit' comprises a book and web resource.
By 2020, more than half the adult population will be over 50 years old. People's capabilities reduce as age increases - be it through medical conditions, or as a result of deteriorating eyesight and reduced grip strength.
These physical limitations may put them off certain poorly-designed products, even though people in older age groups conversely often have the highest disposable income. As a result there is a business case, as well as a strong moral argument, for designing products that are less frustrating for that age group to use.
'We can all cite examples of products that are difficult to use,' said project leader John Clarkson. 'For example, the average purchaser of a sports car is aged 55, but many models put off older buyers because they are difficult to get into and out of. By applying inclusive design principles, involving users in the design process, and considering the needs of people with reduced capabilities, products can be made more usable, useful and desirable.'
The toolkit features numerous examples of how poorly-designed products become especially difficult to use for those with reduced capability in seven different areas, namely: vision, hearing, thinking, communication, locomotion, reach and stretch, and dexterity.
A toaster viewed with full vision capability, compared to the same toaster viewed by someone with reduced contrast sensitivity
The toolkit, which is available to buy as a 350 page book with 280 full colour images, costs £30 + postage, and can be purchased through the inclusive design toolkit website.
The same content is also freely available at www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com. The website also includes interactive resources such as visual impairment simulators and an exclusion calculator. The visual simulator shows how common impairments like cataracts, colour blindness or glaucoma can make everyday activities like buying a train ticket or using a toaster near to impossible. It also demonstrates how simple improvements to the layout and contrast of these devices could make them easier to use for all.
The inclusive design toolkit was commissioned by BT, and constructed by EDC, together with contributions from Sagentia and the Royal College of Art, Helen Hamlyn Centre.
Further development over the coming year will focus on customising the toolkit so that it integrates seamlessly with an undergraduate degree project on inclusive design.