The city of Helsinki aims to do ambitious inclusivity work to promote equality for all of its citizens. The goal is to advance equality in the city of Helsinki services and activities. This page guides how to design and develop inclusive services with Helsinki Design System.

The content of this page is based on the "Towards an Equal Helsinki" document published and ratified by the City of Helsinki council. Helsinki's inclusivity work is based on equality laws, expertise, cooperation, science-based information as well as city values and strategy. Please refer to the original document if you have questions about the inclusivity in Helsinki:

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design means taking into account the needs of the users who might experience exclusion in their daily lives. This exclusion may be due to being part of a specific group or minority. The goal is to intentionally include these groups to reduce the risk of unintentionally excluding them.

In Helsinki, we aim to apply inclusive design in all parts of the service development. Not only does this means designing, developing, testing, and releasing the service, but also everything related to it such as meetings, workshops, and daily interactions with other people.

As stated in the Helsinki equality plan, "The most important goal of all gender equality work is to make Helsinki develop into a city where people representing all genders, gender identities, and gender expressions can be seen and heard and are allowed to participate and act as equal citizens without direct or indirect discrimination".

Setting up your project for success

When starting a new project, there are two (2) main elements that come to ensure inclusivity.

1. A multidisciplinary and diverse team

The structure of your project team shapes the decision it makes. Always aim to have a multidisciplinary team and make sure your team members can work together. It is ideal if all team members can be part of the project right from the research and design phase to the testing and release.

It is not always possible to ensure that your team is diverse enough but it is important to acknowledge the diversity of your team. And especially in small non-diverse teams, it is important to make sure the designs and implementations are tested with a more diverse group of test users.

2. Involving users

To create services with a good user experience and accessibility, it is essential to involve real users. Plan early how you will involve real users during your project. Make sure users involved in research and user testing are chosen from people from varying backgrounds. You can find more information about research and user testing in projects in the Helsinki Playbook (in Finnish).

Best practices

While designing inclusive and accessible services may seem a daunting task, it gets easier when you take it into account from the beginning of the project. Here is a list of best practices from the city of Helsinki projects.


Most services in Helsinki use some kind of imagery either for conveying information or adding visual interest. Using imagery always requires some extra thought to ensure all users can feel welcomed and included in your service.

If you are using photographs, make sure you intentionally diversify your images. This means ensuring that a wide array of different users are represented in your imagery.

Using abstract images is another way of improving the inclusiveness of your images. Instead of using realistic and detailed photographs, your project can use more conceptual illustrations. The Helsinki Visual identity guideline has a wide array of abstract image materials to be used in your project.

Writing copy

Using inclusive language in your service is as important as using inclusive imagery. Text often contains the most important information of your service and it is accessible to most user groups in some way or another.

Prefer using simple words and short sentences to keep your copy as easy to understand as possible. Using infrequently used words and long sentences make the copy more difficult to understand for many people - especially if they are not fluent in the main language of your interface.

Provide your user interface in multiple languages. In general, at least Finnish, Swedish and English should be available. Depending on the users of your service you may need to consider providing other languages too.

Making forms

Forms in their different variations are very common in the city of Helsinki services. They are often used to collect sensitive information such as a user's name, gender, age, etc. When designing forms, it is important to consider:

  • Why are we asking a specific question? Is this data needed?
  • How the question is asked? What options can the user choose from?

Generally, if the data is not needed, the question should not be included in the form. Data should not be asked "just in case" either. If you do not know the data is needed or not, it should not be asked. It is a good practise to provide a short explanation to the user why the data is being asked and how it will be used.

If the data is needed, next you need to decide how the question is asked and what options are offered to the user. Often giving a set of choose-one options can make the user feel excluded. In these cases, it may be better to allow the user to freely type the answer if an inclusive set of options cannot be determined.

For further reading, please refer to these HDS documentation pages: