A critical tenet of good design is the ability to bridge the gaps between the designer and the end product – the gaps that exist when a single person or team is responsible for creating digital products accessible to endless amounts of users. In a world that’s wrought with wars of culture, politics and identity, practicing inclusive design will be at the forefront of well executed user experience and successful digital initiatives moving into 2019 and beyond. There are too many examples of potentially great design failed by a lack of inclusive process & thought – like the AI passport checker that rejected one Asian man’s photo on the belief that his eyes were closed, or the multiple Snapchat filters that have demonstrated overt cultural insensitivity – the type of tone-deafness that lowers stock prices.
Even the agency go to – the use of stock images to represent diversity – is a trend that most algorithms – including Google and Facebook, are signaling designers and art directors stray from. The idea of using stock photography to represent diversity may seem like a legit solution based on many factors – production budgets, timelines and quality – but the insincerity of these images isn’t lost on end users. Investing the time upfront to authentically represent a client’s diversity will have a long term return of trust, loyalty and conversions.
There have already been loads of studies on the point that much of our efforts as designers are falling short when it comes to inclusivity. When AI language processors like Google’s SynaxNet flagged African American language as “not English” at much higher rates than standard English, it prompted important discussions on how to teach AI learning systems to become more diverse. Much of this boils down to hiring diverse teams in the creation of these products, which in and of itself has shown to be a huge struggle for tech and creative industries, inciting tense debates at the largest tech companies and agencies in the world.
Currently, men hold 76% of the jobs in the United States tech industry and 95% of the tech workforce is white. In advertising, the United States workforce is 81% white and while women make up 46% of the industry, only 11% are creative directors. That, coupled with the egregious way in which women and minorities are misrepresented through ads themselves is reason enough to demand and start accounting for major changes when it comes to hiring, process and implementation.
Tone deaf advertising proved disastrous for major brands in recent years. Consider the viral mistakes of Pepsi, Dove, & Facebook – all having had negative effects on brand use and perception. In an increasingly diverse world, failures of inclusivity within design will prove to be a failed user experience and ultimately become an unsustainable model at scales that surpass the scrutiny of press and social media – whitewashed design will cease to function for profitability, experience and use. Most recently, Prada came under fire for their 2018 holiday campaign wherein massive ad and production spend were squandered as the brand was forced to not only remove it from Facebook and Instagram, but also to discontinue the products they were selling because they lacked inclusive concepting at the core stages of development.
The innovators and most successful strategists of 2019 will be those that aim and succeed at not only being inclusive, but that focus on solving problems as they relate to diversity. Teams that, instead of pointing to a low number of diverse applicants or program graduates, go out of their way to find them. When faced with the problem of designing and hiring for diverse outcomes, any extra investment of time will be a long term success as the future of design and user experience is indiscriminate. At its core, user experience must be rooted in what’s best for the most types of users – across an infinite spectrum of time. If diverse types of users aren’t included in the design process, they will be eliminated from the outcomes.
This leads us to a key consideration – how do we accomplish inclusivity in the workplace, and in the work? Here’s a few starting places:
Diversify your leadership – with women, people of color, and non-binary talent.
Develop inclusive customer journeys that detail the relevant, culturally diverse persona’s of the end user.
Use data to prove you point and state your case to clients who lack diverse thought leadership and strategy.
Have uncomfortable conversations – confront lack of inclusive thought at its inception, rather than wait for a trend.
Do not think and create in a silo – this is the most confounding aspect of Pepsi and their campaign with Kendall Jenner – leaving many to wonder what type of bubble existed in the first place to have that level of ignorance approved for public consumption. There are woke people at your agency. Let them use their critical thinking skills to the benefit of your company and the brands you represent before missteps occur.
Micro level UX considerations for designing with inclusivity:
Photography – be mindful of your stock photo selections – and when you can, authentically represent diversity rather than re-create the illusion of inclusivity.
508 Compliance – make sure your digital products are accessible to people who have limitations in the way of filling out forms, viewing photos, getting in touch and reading content.
Iconography – always be diverse in your representations as not to recreate the mistakes of Apple and Facebook when it comes to charting icons or other symbolic imagery.
Content – use clear, concise language that isn’t seeped with stereotypes or implied uses of gender.
Browser & platform testing – ensure your designs are tested across multiple platforms and browsers. Not every user is using Safari from the latest iPhone.
Interactive experiences – plan for the future by engaging users in your end designs. Polling, surveying and interacting with your end users makes for stronger optimizations and includes the user within the experience itself.
Stop stereotyping your user base – don’t design off assumptions. Research and test your beliefs before implementing them into your designs. For instance, don’t use a hamburger menu simply because it looks cool. A basic level of research will show you that these menus lack the proper information scent to lead users effectively, which ultimately hurts conversions & sales.
And finally, educate yourself. As our current state of political affairs suggests, not everyone will understand nor care about sensitivities across gender, culture or race. That doesn’t change the fact that ignoring them will provide for a bad user experience, and ultimately have a negative impact on your bottom line. As user bases are becoming more diverse than ever before, mistakes of exclusion and ignorance will drown the talent and agency pools in an increasingly competitive field moving into 2019.