Inclusive Design Training Program

Advancing equity in the design process.

Unique learning opportunities that equip designers and non-designers with the capacity to respond to the shifting realities of the 21st Century.

Selected in a competitive bid process by Design Core Detroit and College for Creative Studies, rootoftwo is developing a new cohort-based learning model that centers equity and inclusion within design practices and approaches. We are devising the Inclusive Design Training Program (IDTP) via a participatory design process that engages diverse partners, stakeholders, and participants.

The Inclusive Design Training Program addresses topics such as cultural competence, social justice, systemic oppression, and power asymmetries as they intersect with the design process, so that designers and other participants can contribute their creative skills to help address the complex social challenges of the 21st Century. The IDTP 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.

The IDTP focuses on a set of participatory and collaborative design approaches that takes into consideration the 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. The IDTP builds and deepens equal collaboration at every stage of the design process between residents affected by, or attempting to, resolve a particular issue.


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.

Our role was to facilitate a participatory design process, informed by best practices and with input from local stakeholders, to develop programmatic learning opportunities in inclusive design. Our work involved conducting precedent research, interviews, benchmarking, surveys, stakeholder analysis, engagement workshops, prototyping and developing learning materials and session content, guidelines and more.

We compared existing, equivalent programs nationally, and internationally in a field scan. We did in-depth comparative analysis of six benchmark programs. Subsequently, we conducted semi-structured interviews with eighteen people involved with the exemplar programs to understand the opportunities, challenges and models they have employed. We also created a bibliography of more than eighty books and journal articles related to inclusive design to provide an overview of the field, indicate thought-leadership, and establish sources for further investigation.

We undertook a survey for students, alumni, faculty, and admissions and alumni relations staff from metro-Detroit educational institutions, including College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University, University of Michigan (Stamps School of Art & Design + Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning) to understand how an Inclusive Design Training Program could augment existing curricula.

We analyzed twenty-five adjacent practices to Design Core’s articulation of Inclusive Design to establish clearer definitions, challenges, and opportunities around the term. This resulted in a visual framework of the social design spectrum along the axis of design-led participatory approaches towards collective and social ends, rather than the predominantly commercial objectives of traditional design practice.

From all this information, we iteratively and collaboratively developed descriptions of participant archetypes and potential learner journeys to inform the suite of offerings and curriculum development. This was augmented with a graphic flowchart of professional development options, and documentation of practices and protocols required for future program delivery.

We developed a blended learning structure for digital and physical environments considering the COVID-19 context. We also contributed to the design of the cohort recruitment, application, and selection process, and the design of feedback and evaluation mechanisms working with inclusion as a guiding principle throughout.


Inclusive design practice is making an impact at all levels and diverse settings across Detroit, as articulated through the “Detroit City of Design Action Plan” and “Inclusive Design Together” reports. Projects encompass neighborhood renewal, digital inclusion, environmental justice, mobility and more; highlighting the work of non-designers and designers alike. Detroit’s ongoing transformation requires a values-driven approach if it is to be truly equitable. This training program offers needed capacity-building opportunities to designers and non-designers that will further establish Detroit as a leader in leveraging the power of inclusive design.

Throughout the process, our work was richly informed by the Detroit City of Design Research Lab Advisory Board Members with representatives from non-profit organizations, higher education, community development groups, government agencies, philanthropic organizations, design and other creative businesses, and large corporate partners. The cohort-based learning opportunities will launch as part of the 2021 Design Core Detroit City of Design Challenge.


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: 2020-2021
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)

URL: Detroit City of Design Challenge

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