Inclusive Design Training Program

Advancing equity in the design process.

A curriculum to equip designers and non-designers with the capacity to respond to the shifting realities of the 21st Century.

The Inclusive Design Training Program (IDTP) is a modular curriculum comprising of seven core learning sessions consisting of at least two activities each, plus team assignments. The program is augmented with a combination of workshops, demos, and guest presenters. The IDTP can be flexibly reconfigured to meet the needs of various purposes and audiences. It provides grounding ideas and an orientation to the opportunities and challenges of building inclusion and equity into a design process. It provides approaches to communication, negotiation, feedback, and leaning into difficult conversations. It provides a basis for exploring the ethics, care, and approaches to working with communities on social design projects. It also delivers practical strategies for developing shared metrics as a part of the need for transparency, responsibility, and accountability within inclusive design projects.

In early 2020, rootoftwo was selected in a competitive bid process by Design Core Detroit and College for Creative Studies to develop a new cohort-based learning model that centers equity and inclusion within design practices and approaches. Our role was to manage the participatory design process to develop the IDTP informed by best practices with input from local stakeholders.

The IDTP focuses on participatory and collaborative design approaches that consider the full spectrum of human diversity with the objective of creating a design process in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected, and decisions are made in ways that are fair and transparent. It addresses topics such as cultural competence, social justice, systemic oppression, and power asymmetries as they intersect with the design process. The program centers the tensions and conflicts that may arise in multi-stakeholder processes to develop models of more inclusive design practices. It aims to foster a design culture that is facilitative of and empowers Detroit residents in making their own decisions based on a cross-sectoral approach to positive social transformation.

Through the process of developing the IDTP, it became obvious that the curriculum should initially be offered as part of Design Core’s 2021 Detroit City of Design Challenge. In partnership with Connect313 and College for Creative Studies, Design Core invited participants to develop community learning and resource hubs to improve access and opportunity in Detroit neighborhoods. Six selected teams received funding, professional development in the form of the Inclusive Design Training Program, and other resources and support to develop their concepts. The teams shared their final concepts during Digital Inclusion Week in October 2021. Three teams received additional funds to test their concept and document the process, showcasing results during Detroit Month of Design and the Cumulus Conference in Fall 2022.


Central to developing the IDTP, was for this to be done with, and not just for our community members, policymakers, entrepreneurs, educators, students, and other creative professionals.

Phase one (April–August 2020) focused on gathering input, assessing, and learning from stakeholders, peers, advisory members, and the public. A key part of our work was to translate and apply this robust information and insights in the planning, development, and design of the Inclusive Design Training Program within the context of the Detroit City of Design Challenge on community learning and resource hubs.

Input was gathered using a combination of methods. We conducted a survey of 65 faculty, students, staff, and alumni to understand how the IDTP could augment existing curricula at metro Detroit educational institutions (including College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University, and University of Michigan). We interviewed 18 resident/community, industry/entrepreneur, and government/policy stakeholders. We conducted a field scan where we gathered and synthesized comparative and contextual information through desk research activities. We assembled a bibliography of over 77 relevant books, articles, and papers. We did comparative analysis of 6 benchmark programs. We conducted analysis of 25 adjacent approaches and practices (e.g., social design, designing for society, design with society, social innovation, social entrepreneurship, etc.) From these, we built profiles of each with clear definitions, aims, methods, social values, locus of impact, and impact for each one. We used this to articulate the value proposition of inclusive design from Design Core’s perspective, and how they might differentiate their approach within the field. All this information was analyzed, synthesized, and presented in a summary report and related documents.

In September 2020, we did the first virtual edition of College for Creative Studies’ Toyota Lecture Series. In this talk we discussed the process of codesigning the Inclusive Design Training Program under COVID-19 lockdown conditions, and facilitated a workshop for 45 participants getting their input on what the IDTP should do through a series of interactive exercises.

Phase two (September–December 2020) focused on turning our insights into action – developing, iterating, and testing the inclusive design programmatic offerings. We co-created 8 descriptions of potential future program participants. These were made up of composite characteristics based on real, local people. Beyond demographics, we recorded their networks, skills, workstyle, motivations, and possible barriers to participation. Among these personas were not only people that we hoped would apply for the first iteration of the program, but also those that we believed we would have to earn buy-in over several iterations. For each of the personas, we also developed learner journeys looking at their current situation, the inciting incident that would make them pay attention to the program, early participation, their experience during the program, immediate results from participating, and the long-term impact of participating. In this way, we considered a diverse array of people’s needs, perceptions, and the factors that might contribute to or detract from their experience.

We used these personas to problematize and test all our decisions about the practices and protocols required for program delivery, cohort recruitment, the application and selection process, program content and requirements, and feedback and evaluation mechanisms. We also created an IDTP decision tree – a decision support tool to guide Design Core staff through helping potential applicants decide if the program was the right fit for them. At each of 12 steps, we provided a range of alternative resources, opportunities, programs, and organizations that might be a better fit if the current program was not. Our intent was to provide Design Core with a tool to ensure that their engagement was always an invitation to reconnect and never a case of “No. Goodbye.”


Having designed the modular curriculum for the Inclusive Design Training Program, we were subsequently invited to implement it for the 6 participating teams in the 2021 Detroit City of Design Challenge (June–August). The challenge experience consisted of 7 inclusive design training sessions, a design clinic with 7 guest reviewers, 17 talks, 5 workshops and demos, 2 virtual tours, 32 guest speakers, a popsicle social, 3 coffee meet-ups, a happy hour, a showcase, and $60,000 awarded to 3 teams. We shared an overview of the entire process at the 2021 Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Symposium ‘Must Give Us Pause: Diversity + Sustainability’ hosted by the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, November 4-6, 2021.

In 2022, the Detroit Regional Partnership (DRP), and a regional coalition of partners secured a $52.2 million advanced mobility grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC). The Global Epicenter of Mobility (GEM) initiative seeks to be inclusive, deeply embed economic equity into every aspect of industry cluster growth, and fuel progress for all people living and working in the region. rootoftwo and Design Core Detroit developed a BBBRC Inclusive Design Workshop (IDW) held at College for Creative Studies’ Taubman Center for Design Education in November 2022. This was the first formal opportunity for the leaders of the co- and sub-recipients of the grant to come together. The activities were adapted from the IDTP to focus on the needs of the participants.

In 2023, we are working with Design Core Detroit to adapt the IDTP for the 2023 Detroit City of Design Challenge, which aims to support community ideas for building community connection and resiliency during times of disruption.


Knight Foundation Discovery Louder than Words, Design as a Verb

Developing a more inclusive approach to design
Toyota Lecture Series: 
College for Creative Studies’ Toyota Lecture Series online presentation followed by interactive online workshop. Wednesday, September 23, 2020. This talk explored our work as a studio and also focused on expanding learning opportunities for designers. The talk had over 100 people in attendance. We followed the talk with a workshop focused on the in-process ideas and elements of the inclusive design training program. The workshop had over 40 participants that included residents, designers, artists, academics, entrepreneurs, and policymakers.

Design Core Detroit Blog Post Inclusive Design Training Program Update 


Date: 2020-present
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Client: Design Core Detroit and College for Creative Studies

January 2020 – Present
Completed: Ongoing

Funders: College for Creative Studies, Design Core Detroit, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, William Davidson Foundation, Lear Corporation, and Detroit Public Library Foundation

Partners: Detroit City of Design Research Lab Advisory Board

Cézanne Charles (rootoftwo)
John Marshall (rootoftwo)
Elizabeth Vander Veen (rootoftwo)
Ellie Schneider (Former Director, Detroit City of Design, Design Core)

URL: Detroit City of Design Challenge

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