Here at Overlap, we often say that human-centred design is about putting the human at the centre of the design process. It’s about intentionally and creatively developing products, services, and systems that are grounded in the needs of the people who use them (clients, patients, customers) and the people who deliver them (frontline staff, managers). We start by getting curious about how people are experiencing the world and building empathy for the cultures, challenges, needs, and constraints they are navigating.

Defining Inclusive Design

Human-centred design is about making better outputs by leveraging the wisdom and experiences of the people your organization serves. Inclusive design is about asking who those people really are and engaging them in ways that are accessible and comfortable for their specific needs. As a subset of human-centred design, inclusive design isn’t a separate practice. It’s more of an extension or lens that helps us go a bit broader and deeper when we’re designing for and with people.

The Inclusive Design Research Centre (based at OCAD University) defines inclusive design as, “design that considers the full range of human diversity” (here’s a link to the Inclusive Design Research Centre’s definition of inclusive design). This means we’re not just putting a “generic” person at the centre of our process, we’re thinking about the different identities people have and how those identities shape people’s needs.

Understanding Intersectionality

An essential tool for approaching this is the concept of intersectionality, which is a framework developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw (here’s a short video of Crenshaw explaining intersectionality and Crenshaw’s TEDTalk on intersectionality). Intersectionality explains that each person has a vast set of identities and experiences that create for them a unique worldview. This is particularly important when looking at ways that people are marginalized and barriers they may experience.

To help illustrate, here’s just a small sample of identities and experiences that contribute to shaping a person: race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, mental health, intergenerational trauma, literacy, languages, experiences of trauma or abuse, financial stability and history, education level, experiences of immigration or displacement, etc.

White fluorescent light tubes intersecting and overlapping against a black, patterned background.

Photo by Susannah Burleson on Unsplash

Using Inclusive Design to Design Better

Each of these aspects of a person’s identity contributes to how they see the world—their values, needs, and behaviours. Their identities also shape how they are treated by the people and systems they interact with throughout their lives—healthcare, education, employment, and justice systems. The concept of intersectionality shows us that we can’t just put “people” at the centre of our design process and solutions. We need to think about the infinite diversity of the people we’re designing for, as well as the many different perspectives and needs our diverse audiences bring to the table.

Designing effectively for infinite diverse people may seem like a daunting challenge, and it can be. That’s why over the coming months, we’ll be sharing more about inclusion, accessibility, and how you can use inclusive design to break down barriers for clients or customers, and innovate at your organization.

We’ll be sharing about:

  • Top reasons to design more inclusively
  • Tips for creating accessible documents and emails
  • Ways to plan more accessible events


If you’re new to human-centred design, you can learn more about with our blog post: A Beginner’s Introduction to Human-Centred Design.