Inclusive Design Adds Value

Kilwinning Main Street
Helensburgh Town Centre

Inclusive Design Adds Value

How can we measure the value of good design?
Blog by Siobhan Vernon, Austin-Smith:Lord

This is not the first time this question has been asked.  It is human nature to try to measure, quantify and categorise everything. Several studies have tried to quantify this value and each outcome varies depending on what the method of measurement is; Social, economic or environmental? Some recent studies have tried to put a figure on these aspects;

  • A 2018 study by Fields in Trust Charity estimated that the UK’s parks and green spaces save the NHS £111M through the health benefits that they generate within their communities in tackling mental health and supporting healthy lifestyles.
  • A study published by CBRE and Gehl Architects set out the correlation between higher real estate values and good public realm intervention.
Helensburgh Town Centre
Helensburgh Esplanade

So the facts and figures are out there covering whichever factor you prefer to champion. The conclusion is that a well designed landscape, streetscape, public realm, park or gardens have significant value to society. Great news!

This leads to the next question. What is good design? How do we measure good? How do we measure fantastic?

Again, this is not a new question or a new area of study. However if we take the measurement of good design as a measurement of the quality of the human experience, we may be stepping into psychology and theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. This considers hierarchy of needs; protection, comfort, security and so on. These could be considered as performance indicators of an output, of a product, of a space. This is similar to how the Place  Standards Tool assesses places.

Cambridge University have been undertaking research on product performance. This is based upon how well a product is performing and or how well a product or service suits the user’s needs with particular regard to Inclusive Design.

Following this rationale, it makes sense to consider public space as a product and the users the general public. Would a well designed public space meet the criteria set out by the Inclusive Design Toolkit, used by Cambridge University? How do the user’s needs fit into this? Is inclusive design a method of measurement for what is good design? How well does a space perform to service the needs of the public? When we consider the facts about who the public are: UK population of 64M within this figure;  11.6M are disabled, more than 10M have a hearing impairment, 8.9M have arthritis, 11.6M are over the age of 65, 2M have a visual impairment, 11.3M are children under 15. This means that there are potential barriers to the 11.9M living with a disability and the 11M over the age of 65, in accessing public spaces.


Teesside The Curve
Teesside University

Continuing with the line of thinking that Inclusive Design is a method of measurement for good design, where does that take us? Does developing an Inclusive Design create a challenge or does it undermine creativity? It provides an opportunity to foster innovation, improve design and therefore result in a superior end product. There are many examples of products which have become commercial successes due to innovation which developed truly inclusive design. It turns out that extremely well designed products or services are enjoyed and appreciated by the entire population. Many mainstream products enjoyed today started as an inclusive design product. Household names such as Oxo Good Grips, Ford, BT, Nestle, Google and so on have enjoyed this success.

Designing outdoor spaces for a range of user’s needs is complex and challenging to accommodate for sensory impairments, mobility impairments and mental health impairments. A design solution suitable for one user group may pose a challenge for another.  However on the basis of the evidence mentioned, I think we can conclude that Inclusive Design is a strong contender for measuring the value of design of public spaces.




Austin-Smith:Lord  were part of the consultant team which completed the study “Value of Design in the Built Environment” (2014) on behalf of the Scottish Government , with Douglas Wheeler Associates and Ryden.

Sources and references and further information at:

  2. CBRE Research/ Gehl Architects
  4. Fields in Trust
  5. Women’s and Equalities Act
  6. Value of Design in the Built Environment (2014) – Scottish Government (Douglas Wheeler Associates with Austin-Smith:Lord and Ryden)