Was I taught to be a good designer?

Words by Ashleigh Finn

Hi, I’m Ash, and I am a design student about to finish a three-year tertiary degree. Throughout my time at University, I’ve learned to design across many different formats and platforms. I can take feedback, I can iterate, and I have a strong design process. Until now, I thought I was a pretty good designer.

My peers and I were taught new skills and to know what it feels like to be bad at them, which is necessary to keep learning and improving. It’s called ‘feedback and iteration’ and is the backbone of the design education we’ve received.

What I was not taught, however, was the need to consider the full range of human diversity in my designs. Since learning about Inclusive Design practices, I’ve realised diversity, inclusion and equity were never prioritised throughout my education, and as a result, I’ve designed things not everyone can use. This leaves me to wonder, if people can’t use the things I design, are my designs any good? Ouch. As a perfectionist with unrelenting standards for myself, this has been challenging. Now I know about Inclusive Design, I can’t un-know it. Three years in a highly regarded institution, thousands of dollars in students’ fees, only to make things that exclude. Yikes.

It is difficult to not feel frustrated, although, I also don’t think this issue is specific to my experience. Look around and it’s too easy to see designs excluding and failing to work for so many people. Had all designers been taught about Inclusive Design, imagine what the world would look like.  

As I’m almost done with my degree, it’s an opportunity to reflect. For the past two and a half years, I rarely questioned my education. I did not realise, by failing to embrace Inclusion throughout my design process, I was missing an opportunity to create products for the broadest audience, irrespective of individual differences. My design education did not prioritise, or mention inclusivity or accessibility much. This sends the message, if design students do decide to be inclusive, then they’re going above and beyond.

I used to think design was about making things look pretty, but it’s much more important. We design things for people, so it’s important we design for all people. I hope Inclusive Design practices are integrated into design education so we can stop excluding and isolating people.

In the meantime, if we want to be good designers, we will need to catch up ourselves.