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What inclusive design means to the LGBTQIA+ community today

Colourful, different and visible

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A modern, democratic society thrives on diversity. Nevertheless, the voices of certain groups are not always heard – and that applies to the worlds of architecture and design too. In a survey by Queer Design Count , 40 per cent of respondents said that, on at least one occasion, they had had to point out to colleagues that their designs excluded the LGBTQIA+ community. The opposite approach is known as inclusive design. Find out exactly what this involves and what its advantages are.

Chair in rainbow colours

The sweep of rainbow colours isn’t just beautiful to look at, it also carries a special message. But LGBTQIA+ design is about much more than this. (Photo: Guillaume De Germain on Unsplash)

Why is inclusivity important?

The term LGBTQIA+ encompasses all people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual. Although our society is much more inclusive these days, many people still face discrimination.

It’s important to realise that discrimination is often unconscious. For the most part, it’s established patterns, ways of thinking or our language that exclude certain people. But inclusivity also means taking all people into consideration. Just like gender-neutral language, inclusive design can raise awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community – with an impact that extends beyond the world of interior design.

Challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community

A study by PwC, the German Retail Federation (HDE) and Google has revealed that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to diversity in Germany’s retail trade. Only a quarter of the SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) surveyed have engaged with the topic so far; among large companies, a third have taken initial steps. And what about diversity in the architecture and design scene? According to the accounts of various designers, while teams often have diverse members, their ideas are not always incorporated when designs are drawn up. In an industry that thrives on creativity and innovation, this (at least perceived) discrepancy is surprising.

One reason for this could be commercial. Designs that appeal to a wide audience usually sell better. The market for products with, for example, a close link to symbols of the LGBTQIA+ community or that turn traditional concepts on their head, is therefore smaller – for now.

Examples of inclusive design

Inclusive design is not actually a new concept. For example, Elsie de Wolfe (1865–1950), one of the first professional female interior designers, was in a same-sex relationship with theatrical and literary agent Elisabeth Marbury. Part of New York high society in the 1920s, they can be considered a lesbian power couple. The Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray (1878–1976), known for her Dragons armchair, was bisexual. She was closely associated with the lesbian art scene and, among other themes, used her designs to oppose clearly defined identities.

Some recent examples of inclusive design have emerged in London, Brooklyn and Los Angeles:

  • In 2019, 2LG Studio designed bench seats in a rainbow design for ercol, which were auctioned off with the proceeds going to LGBT projects. 2LG Studio’s designs are organic, colourful and reminiscent of the 1960s.
  • Sophie Collé’s work features decorative flourishes, waves and loud neon colours in keeping with the splat aesthetic . Her furniture is playful and radiates a certain levity that can also be found in designs for children’s bedrooms.
  • Isabel Rower does away with gender-specific attributes. The organic shapes and bright colours in her designs look like they’re from another planet.
  • Uzumaki Cepeda loves to provoke and presents her feminine forms with confidence. Ranging from accessories to furniture to wall art, her works are gaudy and fluffy.

Designs by the LGBTQIA+ community. Chair and table. (Photo: Davide Cantelli on Unsplash)

Some designs by the LGBTQIA+ community are particularly futuristic and innovative. (Photo: Davide Cantelli on Unsplash)

What can be achieved through design diversity?

There are lots of young designers from the LGBTQIA+ community. Whether futuristic or retro, explicitly gender-neutral, playful or with an emphasis on physicality, their designs reflect their own experiences and feelings – but they aren’t exclusively aimed at diverse people.

Inclusive design therefore has huge potential from a retail perspective, because a rich variety of products and services can reach new target groups. From sustainability to diversity, young people in Generation Z in particular have very different requirements and values. They embody tomorrow’s purchasing power, so their buying criteria must be taken into account today.

The same applies to companies themselves. Diversity in a company stimulates innovative ideas and concepts, because each different perspective focuses attention on something new. And this approach pays off: according to a study by McKinsey, companies with diverse workforces make bigger profits. Furthermore, employee satisfaction and loyalty also increase, which is a hugely important factor when there’s a shortage of skilled workers.

Embracing inclusion in the future

While inclusive design takes the experiences and ideas of diverse people into account, it also appeals to target groups outside the LGBTQIA+ community. By becoming more diverse, companies and retailers can achieve greater success in the long term. Inclusivity and diversity are values that are playing an increasingly important role, especially among young people. One of the factors they base their purchasing decisions and career plans on is how diverse companies are.

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