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From Guide to Un-Guide: About the Inclusive Design Un-Guide

Guide: “to assist (a person) to travel through, or reach a destination in, an unfamiliar area, as by accompanying or giving directions to the person” (

Our desire for the un-guide is not to present a “definitive something,” but rather to ask, “have you considered this?” Along those lines, we feel strongly about being transparent about our process and deliberations and considerations. This page tells the story of how we started out with a guide and ended up with an un-guide.

Let’s make an inclusive design guide!

The spark for this project came out of a serendipitous Twitter connection. In July 2019, Hannah Davidson and Sarah Lohnes Watulak connected around a mutual interest in accessibility, OER, and inclusive design. Recognizing that inclusive design benefits from more people at the table, Sarah reached out to Noraya Razzaque and Jess Mitchell, and Jess brought Jenni Hayman into the conversation. Everyone had an interest in putting something out into the world around inclusive design, and initially we thought we might create an inclusive design guide for faculty, to be used as a means of professional learning and engagement around inclusive design. 

The problem with guides 

A guide may be useful in helping a person to navigate toward a known destination. For a person with a set of questions or topics to explore, with a set goal, a guide may be a handy tool. But, how useful is a guide for navigating through terrain that is not-yet-known? In one of our early conversations, Jess shared these provocations, which got us thinking about how often we’re not quite sure how to formulate the questions that will bring us the answers we seek – or, the many instances where we thought we needed one thing and in fact needed another. If I’m just starting out with inclusive design, I might not be ready for solutions, for a guide; I might need to just reflect on what brought me here and what questions I should be asking. 

In other words, a guide assumes a destination. Where are you going, and how can I help you get there? Another thing that troubled us with the concept of an inclusive design guide is that it runs a bit counter to a core tenet of inclusive design, which is, inclusive design is never done. We have to be uncomfortable with being comfortable, in order to ensure that our designs evolve with our learners and users. Rather than being a fixed point, the destination may (should) change and evolve. 

From guide to un-guide

As we started thinking about what an un-guide might look like, it became clear that we were looking at creating a space for connection and community, rather than a transmission of information. As the antithesis to a guide, our idea was to put a series of provocations out into the world – to ask questions rather than provide answers. We hope that the questions provoke reflection and conversation and clarification that may eventually point in certain directions. 

At this point, our group grew again with the addition of Charles Logan, and we looked at CLMOOC and ds106 as models for how we might engage with a distributed audience and still have points of connection and community. In designing the un-guide, we asked ourselves questions like, How do we make the entry points and connection points clear? How can we create a site that is inclusive and with low barriers to participation? We found The Fallacies of Open: Participatory Design, Infrastructuring, and The Pursuit of Radical Possibility by Stephanie West-Puckett, Anna Smith, Christina Cantrill, and Mia Zamora, to be helpful in exploring these tensions.

And perhaps most importantly, How can we make sure that we’re open to critique along the way, and that our process is reflective and transparent? The design is a work-in-progress, and I’m sure we’ll make changes and improvements – and, you can count on us to share our thinking and to deeply consider your feedback and ideas.

“Using” the un-guide

In a nutshell, each month, a pair of provocateurs will post a new provocation and invite you to reflect, react, and respond. You’ll find the provocations on the home page of this site. You can participate by reflecting on the provocation and making something in response. You may choose to share your response with other participants (if sharing on social media, we encourage using the hashtag #InclusiveDesignUnGuide), or you may prefer not to share. Either way is fine. For more info, check out our FAQ page.

[This page is currently at Version 1. We would love for you to comment on a Google Doc version of this page. Comments will be synthesized into Version 2.]


Photo by William on Unsplash