How to Design Inclusivity

How to Design Inclusivity

Last year, Stanford architecture students joined studio staff for a workshop on inclusive design at our San Francisco studio. It sparked a continued dialogue about how we can foster a more inclusive process and product in our work as designers.

In a national climate that seems increasingly divisive, designers are exploring ways to affect change and bridge differences using design as a force for inclusion, community and sustainability. When the Stanford architecture students joined WRNS for a brainstorm about inclusivity, we kick started their thinking about the theme for their final project.

In an hour-long workshop, we divided the design process into three categories: people, places, and process. Unsurprisingly, they’re interconnected and multifaceted. People represent both the architects engaged in the process of creating a place and the people who will then inhabit it. Process is as much a product as it is a method of getting to one. So what does inclusivity look like in each of these categories?


  • Respect
  • Equity — across gender, race, age and disability/ability
  • Diversity
  • Experimentation
  • A culture of empathy
  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Structure
  • Fun
  • Technology and tools


  • Respect
  • Honor individual skills and perspectives
  • Less division between your work self and your “real” self
  • Smaller teams to allow airtime for all
  • Create a safe space
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Honoring different forms of communication
  • Involved leadership
  • A sense of belonging


  • Diversity of work environment
  • Spatial participation
  • Flexibility / the ability to personalize
  • Variety of scales
  • Diverse material choices
  • Remove physical barriers
  • Mix of shared territory and personal ownership
  • Tailored lighting that facilitates various activities
  • Fostering interaction
  • Accessibility
  • Providing active engagement space versus heads down space
  • Create a safe space
  • Informal / non conventional space
  • Public access
  • Choice
  • Contextual and cultural sensitivity

Across all categories, a few themes immediately emerged: respect, honoring diversity, and safety. We discussed how an inclusive process leads to a more inclusive building. From the smallest internal design charrette to a large public outreach meeting, committing to inclusion is a foundation upon which you build all other aspects of the process. It amplifies from the architectural team into client interactions and finally manifests in a built environment that is contextual, accessible and propagates the kind of thinking that created it.

After the workshop, WRNS Associate Lynn Soleski served as a juror for the students’ final projects. True to form, the jury included two architects and a psychology professor and deviated from the harsh critiques of Lynn’s school days, “This was a different kind of critique. It was very positive, and we focused on giving feedback in an inclusive, safe way. In the end, the critics walked away learning as much as the students did. It was a reciprocal relationship.”

We’ll be hosting Stanford students again this year for another workshop, and we can’t wait to share what we learned from the last round.