6 February, 2024

Marco Guadarrama, a design strategist and UX researcher at IKEA, has collaborated with Our Normal Association on multiple projects. In this interview, he expresses his perspectives on the significance of universal and inclusive design, elaborating on why it holds importance and discussing his personal motivation to champion inclusion in design.

Marco lutar sig mot ett bord, tittar snett nedåt och skrattar

Can you briefly share a few words about your professional background and role within the company?

“In my dual role at IKEA, I primarily serve as a Researcher within the Data and Technology department, specializing in research related to home technology. This involves keeping pace with the rapidly evolving landscape of home technology to ensure that IKEA’s offerings remain innovative and pertinent. Simultaneously, I take the lead in the strategic initiative called ‘Inclusive Offer,’ where my focus is on integrating universal and inclusive design principles throughout IKEA’s processes, products, and services. The objective of this initiative is to address the diverse needs of our customers, promoting accessibility and inclusion for all. This distinctive combination of responsibilities places me at the crucial juncture of technology innovation and inclusive design, allowing me to contribute significantly to IKEA’s vision of “creating a better everyday life for the many people.”

Gula solglasögon, en röd högtalare och tre vita tekniska saker mot en rosa bakgrund
IKEA´s new smart sensors for water leakage and motion detection – VALLHORN, PARASOLL and BADRING.

What personally motivates you to champion inclusion?

“I delved into various fields of design during my academic journey including product design, design strategy and UX research, and presently, I am immersed in a PhD in Design Research program. My motivation to advocate for inclusion in design stems from a profound belief in the transformative potential of design to significantly enhance people’s lives. What propels me is the recognition that design can be a potent force for good, especially when it prioritizes inclusivity. Having witnessed firsthand how inclusive design can markedly improve the quality of life, particularly for individuals with diverse abilities, has been a life-changing experience. This has strengthened my conviction that excellent design should not be a privilege reserved for a select few but rather a norm accessible to everyone.

My dedication to fostering a more inclusive and accessible world is driven by the notion that design can serve as a unifying force, transcending mere aesthetics and functionality. It involves creating environments, products, and services that are not only usable but also beneficial for all, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds. In essence, my passion to champion inclusive design is grounded in the belief that it can be a transformative force for society as a whole. While it may sound idealistic, I firmly believe in the profound impact that thoughtfully designed inclusive environments and products can have on enhancing the lives of everyone. It is this faith in the universal power of design that continues to fuel my motivation and enthusiasm for advocating inclusion”

Why do you believe it’s essential for companies and organizations to work with inclusion in general, and inclusive or universal design in particular?

Incorporating inclusion into the core of companies and organizations is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic asset. It introduces a diverse array of perspectives and experiences into the decision-making process, igniting innovation and fostering creativity. When a company embraces inclusive or universal design, it produces products and services that appeal to a broader audience, including individuals with diverse abilities and circumstances. This approach not only broadens market reach but also demonstrates a profound understanding and respect for the diverse needs of consumers. Inclusive design strives to create solutions that are relevant to a wider range of people, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction and showcasing a commitment to social responsibility – an increasingly valued trait in today’s society. Cultivating an inclusive environment and adopting universal design principles are indispensable for businesses seeking to innovate, expand their reach, and forge deeper connections with a diverse customer base.

Could you explain a bit about a specific area or projects where you have collaborated with Our Normal Association?

Our partnership with Our Normal Association was focused on assisting IKEA in comprehending the unique requirements and perspectives of individuals with diverse abilities within the context of home life, especially those living with children. This collaboration has proven pivotal in providing profound insights into how inclusive design can empower these individuals in their everyday routines. A significant facet of our collaboration involved close cooperation with Jenny, a key figure in the organization. She has played a vital role in expanding our understanding and sensitivity to the diverse needs of families. Beyond her contributions to inclusive design research, Jenny has been instrumental in conducting training sessions, fostering awareness within our team, and addressing challenges related to language and communication in the realm of inclusive design. A key takeaway from our partnership has been the dynamic nature of language and the importance of staying attuned to the evolving terminologies and concepts in this field. Jenny’s unique perspective on diverse family constellations has provided us with a distinctive lens to perceive and comprehend the varied realities faced by our customers.

A particularly impactful moment in our collaboration occurred when Jenny assisted in organizing a workshop where a family shared their personal story with IKEA leaders. This session was transformative, emphasizing the significance of narratives in understanding and addressing the needs of diverse families. It underscored the value of direct engagement with the communities we aspire to serve and highlighted the ongoing nature of our learning and development in inclusive design. In summary, our collaboration with Our Normal Association, particularly with Jenny, has been a driving force in propelling IKEA’s initiatives toward creating more inclusive and accessible living environments.

What were the main insights and outcomes from this collaboration?

Our collaboration with Our Normal Association yielded critical insights that have significantly shaped our approach to design and product development at IKEA. Firstly, we came to the realization that inclusive design extends beyond mere physical accommodations; it involves creating an environment of belonging and active participation for everyone. This realization has become a guiding principle in our subsequent research projects and initiatives in product development. A key outcome of this collaboration is the aspiration to infuse principles of inclusive design into every facet of our product development process. We acknowledged that inclusivity should not be confined to specialized collections or separate efforts but should serve as a foundational element in the creation of all our products, whether it’s a chair, a sofa, or a piece of technology.

This shift in perspective has led us to incorporate a more diverse range of voices in the design process, ensuring that our products resonate with a broader spectrum of users and genuinely enhance the lives of people with diverse abilities. This approach has prompted a strategic shift at IKEA. Rather than viewing inclusive design as an isolated project or a one-off collection, we now see it as an ongoing commitment. It’s about consistently building connections with various communities and actively involving them in the design process. Inclusive design enables IKEA to make a positive impact on society by ensuring that our products cater to and celebrate the diversity of human needs and experiences.

Workshop collaboration with Our Normal and IKEA

Any lessons learned for future similar initiatives?

“One fundamental takeaway is the acknowledgment that inclusivity is not a fixed destination but an ongoing journey. It necessitates continuous engagement with diverse communities and stakeholders to comprehend their evolving needs and perspectives. A crucial element of this ongoing journey is a profound commitment to empathy and open-mindedness. As designers, we’ve come to understand that our role extends beyond merely creating solutions. It involves actively listening, understanding, and observing. This empathetic approach enables us to glean insights that may not be immediately apparent and grasp the nuanced needs of different groups.

Another pivotal lesson was the significance of language. We recognized that words are potent tools that can either restrict or facilitate thought and action. The manner in which we discuss design, inclusivity, and user needs can profoundly influence our approach and ultimate outcomes. Additionally, we grasped the importance of concepts such as participation and representation. Inclusive design is not just about designing for people with diverse abilities; it’s about designing with them. This entails recognizing that the individuals we design for are experts in their own experiences. Shifting from a designer-knows-best attitude to one that values the lived experiences of users is paramount.”

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other companies looking to begin or enhance their efforts in inclusiveness?

“First and foremost, it’s crucial to start by listening and engaging with representative communities. Involve them in the design process, and ensure a diverse team that reflects the broader society. Understand that inclusivity is a holistic endeavor that extends beyond products to include culture and practices. Ensuring diverse representation within teams is key. This became evident in a project where we collaborated with the blind community. Having a developer from that community join the team for a sprint altered the dynamics significantly, fostering a more collaborative environment. Bringing diversity into projects should be a standard practice, yet it can be challenging for companies to acknowledge exclusion. One effective approach is openly recognizing and admitting areas of exclusion within the organization. While it may be difficult to address everything at once, the initial step is acknowledging and vocalizing the exclusion.

Another vital aspect is transparency. Companies should publish examples and share stories of products and initiatives. This is particularly important for amplifying the voices of those who have found empowerment through inclusive solutions. Microsoft’s Inclusive methodology has been influential in our work, especially in the realm of technology. Recognizing that organizations don’t need to have all the answers right away is essential. It’s about setting a destination and viewing the journey as an ongoing process rather than solving everything with a single product or collection. This advice extends to individuals as well. If someone is attempting to initiate change, acknowledging the effort and being understanding is crucial. Creating an inclusive environment is challenging work, and it’s a continuous process that requires patience and collaboration.”

Looking ahead a decade, what is your vision for the role of companies in your sector in promoting inclusion and accessibility?

In the upcoming decade, I envision companies in our industry not only leading the way in creating inclusive products but also championing policies and practices that prioritize inclusivity. They will dedicate efforts to establish diverse and equitable workplaces, fostering a culture of inclusion that permeates every facet of their operations, from product development to distribution. This transformative shift will acknowledge that embracing inclusion is not only a savvy business strategy but a moral imperative crucial to our shared future.

The most captivating aspect lies in reimagining everything — from commonplace items like furniture to broader concepts such as urban planning and logistics. By embedding inclusive design at the core of innovation, we will not only cultivate empathy but also contribute to human progress. This approach will unlock a realm of possibilities, enabling us to innovate in ways that promote a more inclusive and transformative society. Ultimately, the focus will be on shaping a future where the needs of every individual are considered and valued, laying the foundation for a more empathetic and inclusive world.

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