Developing diverse, equitable, and inclusive products and services.
Designing products and services for mass audiences is extremely complex today. From Facebook to Amazon, some of the world’s most popular organizations are realizing that offerings are falling short for the people they claim to support. This reality, however, isn’t negative. Rather, it is a positive sentiment because it’s a reflection of how society is more aware of the differences that exist and the great lengths that need to be taken to meet everyone’s needs. This is where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) come into play as they become mainstream objectives. Together with empathy, DEI is a framework for all companies to adopt as they focus on fairness, respect, responsibility, and objectivity in developing innovative products and services.
What does ‘designing with empathy’ truly mean? According to California-based author, researcher, and speaker Indi Young, to empathize means to comprehend another person well enough that, given a particular purpose, you can act and react the way they would and make decisions based on their principles while dropping your own actions, reactions, and principles. Further, empathy requires imagination, interpretation, and deep understanding. Adopting an empathetic mindset enables companies to uncover customers’ unmet needs and understand the motivations behind their behaviors.
Focus on process
Why do solutions fail the inclusivity test despite the increasing attention being paid to new frameworks for inclusion? One answer comes from the lack of a defined method. To address that, businesses need to build DEI into every step of development and beyond through available tools, techniques, and processes. Companies can magnify their actions to help create sustainable ethical behaviors on a collective scale if they are willing to invest time and resources accordingly.
Embracing DEI does not always require an entire reboot of company culture. Rather, companies can start building inclusive practices with a sense of empathy as the foundation by hiring more diverse talent, recognizing exclusion in their products, and finding ways to practice inclusion in the design and development of products and services to consider differences among individuals in how they work daily.
Whether conscious or subconscious, there are self-imposed challenges that business professionals face when it comes to manifesting DEI and empathy. Companies can become more inclusive by fostering a greater sense of innovation, inspiring engagement, accelerating diverse talent on staff, and building a digital mindset. Some pragmatic questions to ask when creating and maintaining customer-centric inclusive business cultures include:
■ Are we designing with the customer or for them?
■ What is the main customer-centric problem we are trying to solve?
■ What has been learned from the past and how is that information impacting future opportunities?
■ How have we made the customer experience better?
■ Are we acting with intention and modelling a learning mindset in which differences between people are seen and celebrated as valued contributions?
■ Are we investing in our systems and processes to measure inclusion and use it as a parameter to make product creation/scaling decisions?
■ Are we sharing best practices to align our work with inclusive outcomes?
In many instances, challenges to maintaining empathy across a diverse scope are inherent in that organizations are not diverse enough among staff to foster DEI through their products and services. People tend to think of DEI efforts in terms of implicit bias workshops, employee resource groups, and hiring processes. These efforts are all important, but DEI as action means that it has become a mainstream part of organizational life. Business leaders and practitioners should consistently share best practices and align their work with inclusive outcomes, such as dignity and accessibility, as they create and apply design systems.
Furthermore, companies can build inclusivity into all steps of product design and development or product lifecycle. They need to go beyond individual efforts on isolated projects to magnify actions and create ethical, equitable, and sustainable corporate behaviors.
■ Get buy-in from all relevant stakeholders.
■ Identify users and their needs. Embrace a learner’s mindset that allows for comfort with failure, flexibility with change, and surfacing new, innovative ideas quickly and effectively.
■ Drive outcomes for customers.
■ Design for privacy and user safety. Engineer for accessibility.
How to avoid biases and exclusion
Exclusion occurs when products and services are designed, using one’s own biases, especially when those biases are used to ‘solve’ problems along the way. Negative outcomes are often the result of specific groups or stakeholders not being included at the very beginning of designing all the way through to product creation and enablement. Social cognitive neuroscience studies are helping to shed light on the effects of social exclusion, ostracization, and rejection. There’s evidence that feeling socially rejected activates some of the same areas of the brain that are activated when a person feels physical pain. In her book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, author Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to, and also remedy, exclusion.
Organizations that want to avoid exclusion and improve on their current performances need to reevaluate their own staff and make it a practice to interact with people with disabilities, who should be seen as experts by experience and collaborators who can help to create more innovative products and services. More than 90% of small business owners surveyed say they try to hire diverse teams, but the same study found the employee makeup usually mirrors founders’ racial, ethnic, and gender characteristics. Only 13% of Caucasian founders say a majority of their employees are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to 47% of minority founders, and seven in 10 female founders say more than half of their employees are female while 36% of male founders say the same.
Achieving the goal
Designing and delivering global products, services, systems, and messages have never been more essential. Just think … something as simple as a color choice can render a product unusable for the 300 million people who have a color vision deficiency. Ensuring inclusivity by design has become an ethical priority and one that makes sound business sense. By including individuals who have traditionally been excluded from the design lifecycle, diversity is being achieved more frequently.