Inclusive Design Studio

Digital exclusion is designed into our technological systems and practices in many ways. The Inclusive Design studio works with faculty, staff, students, and community partners to identify opportunities to investigate, design, and create inclusive digital spaces. Our approach is grounded in an ethic of care and an orientation toward equity.

About the Studio

Our work begins from asking questions such as, What does it mean to be excluded from digital spaces? What are some of the systemic ways in which people are excluded from digital spaces? “Who is seen, and how?” We intend to explore the ways in which we can design for inclusion across many dimensions and spaces, curricular and non-curricular. We draw on Creative Reaction Lab’s Equity-Centered Community Design framework to define inclusion and design. Design underlies action; it “ is the intention (and unintentional impact) behind an outcome. It’s also the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with physical products, such as a plan, visual and textual content, or attire. Every design has an impact on equity...” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2018, p. 11). Inclusive spaces work to purposefully and meaningfully bring together “diverse perspectives and creat[e] a better outcome for all. Inclusion is an invitation that not only accepts differences, but celebrates and embeds them” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2018, p. 10).

Using a critical, inquiry-based approach to inclusive design allows us to engage with the ways in which design processes and solutions intersect with social, historical, and economic factors that reproduce unjust systems, while exploring the potential for design to disrupt these systems and create digital spaces that embrace inclusion. We see the work of the Inclusive Design studio intersecting with a number of Envisioning Middlebury strategic directions, including digital fluency and critical engagement, full participation in diverse communities, and emergent teaching, learning, and research horizons.

Frameworks and Methods

Broadly, we look to the Design Justice Network Principles which articulate a stance toward design that "rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face." We have identified Equity-Centered Community Design (ECCD) as one framework that can guide our work. ECCD addresses gaps in traditional design thinking approaches by framing a “... creative problem solving process based on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2018, p. 3).   Participatory Action Research (PAR) provides a methodological framework for conducting inquiry with stakeholders as partners in the inquiry, with a goal that the inquiry will result in a concrete change in the world.

Studio Projects

Digital Detox 2.0

By mindfully taking on a digital detox, we are encouraging the development of critical habits in digital spaces. Our topic for Digital Detox 2.0 is Inclusion and Bias in Digital Spaces. In the Digital Detox newsletters, we’ll share concrete, small-move strategies for combating bias and increasing inclusion in our everyday, personal and professional digital spaces.

Proposed Future Projects

Inclusive Design Jam

The goal of this event would be to generate inquiry and project ideas for the coming year. Activities would include uncovering bias in existing digital spaces and prototyping designs to make the spaces more inclusive, using the Equity-Centered Community Design Scenario worksheet as a guide. These ideas would form the starting point for a more in-depth inquiry and design process.

Inclusive Design Challenges

Inspired by the Digital Detox, these are small design challenges that we can design and invite the broader community to engage with.

Evocative Objects Gallery

Studio members construct “evocative objects” related to exclusion in digital spaces and share them publicly as a conversation starter around inclusive design.


Essential Readings and Resources


Want to find out more about our projects, or how to get involved?

Email Dr. Sarah Lohnes Watulak for more information!