Should we design with people, or for them, or to them?

As designers, are we better-placed than people to understand their needs; or are they?

Where can a designer claim to be an expert, and where do they need to be open to new influences that could be far different from their own?

When is inclusion tokenistic, and when is it valuable?

These are questions that have been on my mind recently, as I think about diversity in the design and communications industry.

Today I’d like to share a short blog post, in the spirit of working openly – so please forgive me for my ideas not being fully-formed. I’m still learning and exploring, and I’d like to invite you to explore with me, too.


Don’t just listen. Collaborate

I’ve been thinking a lot about my aunt, Clari. She has various identities. To some, she’s the mother of a disabled man. To others, she’s Oscar’s mum. To some, she’s Iain’s wife.

But to others, she’s a talented illustrator and artist; and a wonderful technician at an art school. And if you’re only seeing her as a mum, you’re missing out big time.

As a designer or communications professional, how can you best understand what engages, informs and inspires people?

These questions aren’t new; and yet, still, the answer is often focus groups, or something similar. Put people in a room, ask them questions, send them surveys, maybe do a few interviews. Is it valuable? Perhaps. But is it making the most of their assets? Absolutely not. It is putting people in a box – the box of the end-user – and actively removing them from the possibility they have to co-create with you.

There is something very wrong here.

There are illustrators with autism. There are designers with dementia. There are comms professionals who are also refugees. There are social media pros with dyslexia.

It’s time we change the conversation around what ‘inclusion’ means, so that it means truly building on the value that people from different backgrounds can bring to the table.


Diverse team, diverse thought

What would it look like for HopeWorks to approach hiring with the intentionality of building on people’s lived experience? How could we do so in a way that recognises both the unique talents of the team members we already have, and combines them with the talents and lived experience of others?

I’m not sure yet. I’m still exploring. I have some ideas, but I’d be keen to hear yours.

Adam is the Creative Director of HopeWorks. Tweet him @hopeworks_adam or email us.