Open Doors to Inclusivity: A Conversation on Design with pba

A new approach to contemporary design where inclusivity and sustainability lead the way

Key takeaways from the article:

  • The importance of functionality in design: An object must be functional to be truly valuable, highlighting the necessity for design to combine practical purposes with aesthetics.
  • The role of inclusivity: Contemporary design goes beyond mere functionality. The need to find a purpose embraces all aspects of sustainability, from the social sphere to the environment.
  • The synergy between inclusivity and environmental sustainability: Impactful design practices integrate both aspects, as exemplified by the TOCCO Collection by pba.


Picture yourself in a museum hall surrounded by Romantic paintings, bursting with color, action, and emotion. How would you feel standing before them? Perhaps a sense of wonder, transportation, joy, or even despair – whatever these masterpieces stir within you. That is the power of art, and we recognize it instinctively.

Now, let us transport you to a different place…
Imagine yourself in a living room so meticulously curated that it could be featured on a magazine cover. Among its unique items, a stunning lamp catches your eye. But when you turn it on, the light fails to illuminate the space adequately. Despite its beauty, it disappoints by not fulfilling its primary function. Why is this?
A lamp is not a romantic painting. As a design object, it must also be functional. 

However, aesthetics and functionality are just two of the defining dimensions of design items. Now, let’s explore all of them.


Beyond the primary dimensions of design: the role of inclusivity

Literature traditionally outlines three basic functions of design: aesthetic, teleological, and semiotic. Aesthetically, design influences our perception of beauty. Teleologically, it ensures functionality and practicality. Finally, semiotically, it communicates meaning and intent. [1]

But today, these three dimensions are not enough to describe what design is for. In a world where social, environmental, and economic sustainability are increasingly central, there is a fourth dimension to consider: purpose.

Designing without a clear purpose that goes beyond functionality becomes increasingly anachronistic, precluding further societal development. While a new generation of designers around the world is exploring innovative ways to apply this modern approach to their work, new branches of design – with an increased focus on social responsibility – are emerging.

Inclusive design is one of these. It refers to methods for developing products that empower people of all backgrounds and abilities by considering their diverse needs, including differences in accessibility, non-neurotypical characteristics, age, economic situation, geographic location, language, race, and more. The emphasis is on meeting as many user requirements as possible, rather than simply increasing user numbers. [2]

Kay Sargent, a thought leader in design and a member of the International Interior Design Association’s College of Fellows, affirms that in a society increasingly aware of the positive impact of diversity, design must be ready to embrace it, crafting spaces and objects with inclusivity in mind. This means creating environments where all individuals, with their differences and peculiar characteristics, can feel comfortable. [3]

However, inclusivity can’t walk alone. It must go hand in hand with other foundational principles that are becoming our North Star for reshaping the way we live.

The relationship between inclusivity and sustainability

As previously mentioned, designers should consider more than just inclusion. Social responsibility must be combined with environmental stewardship. In other words, caring for the environment also means caring for people.

Although inclusivity and environmental responsibility may appear unrelated to a naive eye, professionals and real-world examples demonstrate their potential to coexist and drive sustainable innovation.

One of these comes from pba, an Italian firm renowned globally for manufacturing door hardware and bathroom accessories. Their latest line, the TOCCO Collection, has captured the attention of design innovators for its ideal blend of inclusivity and environmental sustainability. 

Now, let’s hear directly from them about the most fascinating features of this outstanding initiative.


A conversation on design with Erica Anesi, pba’s CEO 

Hello, Erica. How does pba define inclusivity in design, and why is it important for the company?
Inclusive design embodies the idea of crafting products and environments that cater to the needs of individuals from varied backgrounds, abilities, and viewpoints. This involves recognizing the necessities of people with disabilities, diverse cultural identities, different age groups, genders, and beyond.

For pba, embracing inclusive design is a commitment that traces back to the launch of a collection of bathroom accessories aimed at preventing segregation and prioritizing accessibility, CAP. Inclusivity is not merely a means to an end for us; it is a guiding principle that influences not only the products we endorse but also our collaborative endeavors with partners and stakeholders, both in Italy and globally.

Can you explain what the TOCCO Experience is and what sets it apart from other product collections in terms of inclusivity?
The idea behind TOCCO collections originated from a simple question: how can door hardware contribute to the design of more inclusive and sustainable spaces?

Pursuing such an ambitious objective necessitates partnering with the foremost experts. Thus, we enlisted Kay Sargent, Director of Thought Leadership at HOK, to collaborate with us in exploring how door hardware, the initial point of physical contact for accessing a space, can foster not only inclusivity but also neuro-inclusivity within spaces.

Research findings reveal that people – whether neurotypical, hyper-sensitive, or hyposensitive – react differently to sensory stimulation. For door hardware, the sensory elements engaged are tactile and visual, including the material, texture, temperature of the grip, and color.

TOCCO is the first hardware collection designed to address sensory sensitivity. It offers various grip solutions, including different textures and colors, to accommodate the tactile and visual preferences of a wide range of individuals. The handle grips are crafted from a soft material that matches the environmental temperature, ensuring a pleasant touch that is neither hard nor cold.

The material utilized is ECONYL® nylon, known for its infinite recyclability and production from 100% regenerated waste, repurposing contaminating litter such as fishing nets, fabric scraps from mills, and plastic components destined for landfills. Additionally, TOCCO hardware components feature interchangeability and standard fixing systems, allowing for seamless integration into renewal projects without necessitating the replacement of existing doors or components. The sustainable, interchangeable, and sensory-sensitive features of this collection emphasize a genuine commitment to sustainability in all its dimensions.

Do you see a link between environmentally conscious design practices and inclusivity, and if so, how does pba address them in its products?
An inclusive product must inherently embody sustainability, and vice-versa, sustainability cannot overlook inclusivity.

Indeed, sustainable development must not only consider the social factor – encouraging broader and more comfortable participation of people, thus promoting inclusivity – but also focus on sustainability itself. As mentioned, the goal is ambitious, requiring us to identify the best materials taking into consideration factors such as workability for injection molding,  (necessitating various textures and colors) as well as the material’s temperature compared to room temperature (for grip comfort) and sustainability: ECONYL® emerges as the sole material meeting all these criteria effectively

When designing a space or product, we have a profound opportunity to influence the quality of people’s lives. While aesthetically pleasing design can garner praise, true excellence transcends mere form. That’s where we can talk of “good design.”

How does pba plan to continue promoting and implementing both in its future products?
To sustain the promotion and implementation of inclusion and sustainability in our products and processes, we must remain consistently dedicated to a core principle that encapsulates our founding values: Design for All.

Design for All (DfA) is a design approach that aims to create aesthetically pleasing and functional products without incurring additional costs or requiring adaptation. Its goal is to make products usable by the widest possible range of people, regardless of age or ability, thereby reframing disability in a positive light. This approach fosters equal opportunities for social inclusion and participation in all aspects of community life. While it’s acknowledged that no design can cater perfectly to every individual, striving for overall inclusion remains the ideal objective.

To integrate inclusion and sustainability into our products, we must consistently question whether there are better materials, processes, designs, or scopes we can adopt. Relying solely on our own perspectives is insufficient. We must partner with our stakeholders to engage in an ongoing process of surpassing the barriers of the past and exploring new possibilities in what we create, how we do it, and why. 

Consequently, in collaboration with Aquafil, we initiated a research project with the IUAV University’s Department of Psychology of Architecture. This study aimed to identify the perceptual components – called tertiary qualities – that convey the concepts of inclusivity and sustainability to expert designers and common users, and how individuals perceive the sustainability and inclusivity of the TOCCO Collection. 

The findings of this research will be presented at NeoCon, and ongoing collaboration with Aquafil and IUAV continues to explore these themes.

If you were to offer three pieces of advice to companies aiming to enhance both their inclusivity and environmental consciousness, what would they be? 

Inclusive Policies and Practices

Companies should diversify their workforce through unbiased hiring methods. This may include training hiring managers to recognize biases, utilizing diverse hiring panels, and establishing diversity hiring targets. While adjusting the boarding process, changes must also be made at a cultural level. We must start cultivating an atmosphere where every employee feels valued and respected, and we need to offer resources to empower employees to grasp various aspects of inclusivity, including gender sensitivity, cultural competence, and anti-discrimination practices. 


Sustainable Business Practices

This can entail optimizing energy consumption, decreasing reliance on single-use plastics, promoting recycling initiatives, and transitioning to renewable energy sources whenever feasible. From a product development standpoint, companies must engage in responsible material sourcing, minimize environmental impact throughout production processes, and design products with longevity and recyclability in mind.


Stakeholders engagement

Actively involve stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and the community, to comprehend their expectations and integrate their feedback into the company’s inclusivity and sustainability endeavors.

By integrating these strategies and working in partnership with suppliers, customers, and experts, we can create a more inclusive workplace and positively impact the environment, contributing to a sustainable and equitable future. No one can reach this ambitious goal alone. 


Don’t miss our next webinar on inclusive design!

It was a privilege to learn about pba’s core values and the story behind the TOCCO Collection. We understood that design is more than just aesthetics. Every step towards a more equitable and sustainable future represents a long-term investment in our well-being. 

If you want to learn more about pba’s study – realized in collaboration with Aquafil and IUAV – don’t miss our webinar taking place at the beginning of July. We will go over inclusive design in detail, share best practices, and present the main findings from this internationally recognized study.


[1] “The three functions of design” taken from “Towards A New Age Graphic Design” available at:

[2] “The definition of inclusive design” available at 

[3]“Design for neurodiversity and inclusion” available at 



Author: Tommaso Corso & Federica Paolucci