New European inclusive design consortium seeks competitive advantage

8 August 2011

Food giant Nestlé and Marks & Spencer, the UK retailer, have been working with other major European companies to address the challenge of designing mainstream products and services that are easier to use by an ageing population, in a consortia programme run by The Centre for Business Innovation (CfBI), an independent organisation based in Cambridge, UK.

The Second European Inclusive Design for Competitive Advantage Consortium (ID-2) will launch next month (September 2011). The first consortium was set up in May 2010.

The CfBI aims to attract leading companies across Europe, ‘who want to benefit from a shared programme of work that addresses a key business issue with potential to significantly increase revenues or reduce costs’.

‘Inclusive’ design (known as ‘universal’ design in the USA) is about designing mainstream products and services that are usable by the greatest possible percentage of the population, without special adaption, potentially to significantly increase revenues or reduce costs.

The demographic change of an ageing population is seen to bring a major opportunity for companies to develop and sell products and services that better meet the needs of this growing and affluent sector. There are already 130 million people over 50 years old in the European Union and by 2020 one in two European adults will be over this age.

To address the challenge the CfBI built the First Inclusive Design for Competitive Advantage Consortium (ID-1) with European companies from throughout the supply chain, covering FMCG, pharmaceuticals and retail - sectors in which packaging and display products play a part – as well as financial services, media and home appliances.

Consortium members learn together how to apply the latest Inclusive Design tools and techniques to enhance competitive advantage within their businesses.

This one-year consortium launched in May 2010 with members Nestlé, Marks & Spencer, Roche, Bayer Schering. The BBC, Bosch and Siemens Home Appliances, the University of Cambridge and Royal Bank of Scotland also took part.

“The success of ID-1 has led us to plan the launch of a second Consortium (ID-2), which will start around September 2011 and run for one year. This will take a similar course to ID-1, benefiting from the experience gained from running the first group,” Rob Morland

Director, Inclusive Design Programme Centre for Business Innovation, told Packaging Today.

“The programme will include five one-day business meetings, preceded by networking dinners at memorable venues. Meetings will include tutorials covering key elements of the Inclusive Design process together with group workshop sessions to apply what we learn. There is a full set of deliverables for each member, including presentation material, reference books, software tools and simulators, plus appliances to simulate impairments in vision and manual dexterity. As for ID-1 we will travel around Europe for the Consortium meetings, often as invited guests of Consortium members.

“We are now seeking leading companies from across Europe to become members of ID-2. Consortium membership will be limited to a maximum of twelve companies and the programme will benefit any organisation whose products or services are used by consumers in their daily lives.”

The Consortia are working closely with the ‘renowned’ Engineering Design Centre (EDC) at the University of Cambridge, led by senior research associate Ian Hosking. Exclusion Audits is one of the new Inclusive Design techniques they have developed to enhance competitive advantage for companies in the Consortia.

As Morland explains: “Exclusion Audits allow us to measure the proportion of a target population that will be excluded from using a particular product, or will find it difficult and frustrating to use. This measure can be related directly to the bottom line in terms of missed sales and potential customer complaints. We can re-run the audit on an inclusively designed solution to yield a quantitative measure of the improvement in usability, and hence sales potential and customer satisfaction, of the better design.

“Use of Exclusion Audits allows a closed loop to be formed between features (and their cost), potential sales volumes and after sales costs. This greatly improves the accuracy of return on investment (ROI) calculations and eases the challenge of selecting features that the market will value,” adds Morland.

The EDC is also ready to apply its recent work on 'multiple minor impairments', which allows account to be taken of real-world abilities in the population. For example, ageing often leads to some degradation in eyesight, hearing, cognitive ability and dexterity, but most older people are not blind or deaf. With up half the adult population expected to fall into this category by 2020, there is both a social need and a substantial commercial opportunity to increase product differentiation and market share by designing for diversity along these lines.

“The subtlety of designing inclusively is that it isn't obvious to the customer – the best inclusive products don't shout that they are for older people or those with reduced abilities. They are just seen by most people to be good products,” concludes Morland.

Joining the Consortium

Membership of the Consortium costs £10k for a full one-year programme including five business meetings, research reports, Inclusive Design aids, software simulators and project support. A full prospectus for the Consortium is available on request.

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