In my experience as a designer, the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are used interchangeably. And while they do overlap, they are distinctly different. Diversity is the “what”, while inclusion is the “how”.
Today’s world is undergoing its biggest transformation. Over the past few years, the need for acceptance, empathy, and equality has become paramount. Design and technology haven’t just advanced our own industry – they’ve transformed everyday life for billions of people. The two elements combined have the power to permeate every product, moment, and solution in our lives, providing immense opportunity for change.
As designers, we spend a lot of time imagining and building experiences. Once our creations are finished, they take up significant amounts of time in people’s days – but they can also affect the relationships people have with others around them.
So, how can we make sure we are doing justice to the responsibility we have in our role as designers? When it comes to inclusion and diversity, are we where we need to be? Is the industry too exclusive? Do we only talk about inclusivity? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Inclusive Design?
If you put this question into an internet search engine, you’ll see a range of long, short, detailed and bird’s eye view definitions. Here’s one from the Design Council that caught my eye:
“Inclusive design aims to remove the barriers that create undue effort and separation. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities.”
While this stood out to me, it still feels relatively broad and top line.
Many of us mistake inclusive design as being the creation of products or services for people with disabilities. But I believe true inclusive design is much more than this. It is about designing for the most diverse range of people possible. It is a philosophy that encourages us to consider how size, shape, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, education level, income, spoken languages, culture & customs, and even diet can shape the way people interact with the world. Above all, it’s about designing products and services with this understanding at the heart of everything we do.
Inclusive design is about having empathy for users and adapting interfaces to address their various needs. Inclusive design generates inclusive-design patterns.
What is Diversity in Design?
According to David Rogerson, Principal Consultant at Foolproof, “People are often excluded from the opportunity to make progress, because the solutions offered up cater for a specific subset of people, and are designed so rigidly that the opportunity to adapt it are limited.”
Although user-centred design is important, before we begin to search for our ideal “user” and start developing personas or user profiles, we must examine existing power structures and our own biases – not to mention the problem with designing for the average user.
As designers, we must recognise a wide spectrum of users and commit to understanding their individual needs. Successful design means putting diversity at the forefront of our conscience. We must think about it every day until it is so ingrained in our minds that it becomes the norm.
We must also redefine good design. To achieve this, try to imagine a world where the people employed by a company does not just represent diversity; it is also imperative in the design choices and work output.
What came first – diversity or inclusion?
Does diversity lead to inclusion? Or does inclusion lead to diversity? The term “inclusive design” is a relatively new term. In the past, many people believed that one size could fit all, and designing for the “average” man was good enough. However, as designers, we must commit to creating designs for a diverse audience, not just a global one.
What can we do?
Designers have the power to redefine what is normal. Why do cooking apps look so delicate and feminine? Why is the language on gaming websites so “Oh bro”?
It is our job to build more accessible experiences. Most of the time, we design from how we think users perceive the environment. We need to reframe this and experience the users’ pain points before designing for user experience.
And we need to remove biases. After all, it is one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem – it is another to consciously address it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope my thoughts are a good starting point to build from.
By accepting and working with diversity, the design industry can rise above assumptions and stereotypes. This will help to bring fresh perspectives, alternative views, and a different set of filters. With this unrestricted way of thinking, we can help to influence a new era of acceptance and generate more innovative solutions within our products and services.
Benjamin Evans, Inclusive Design Lead for Airbnb, describes inclusive design as “the process of bringing those who are outside, or ‘the other’, or those whose experiences is, like, the extreme. It’s about bringing those groups into the core of your creation, in the way that you create”.
The disparity between diversity and inclusion is usually down to misunderstanding the definition of each term. While they are similar, they are certainly not the same. But if you want your product to be widely accepted, usable and touched by many, they are both of equal importance – right from the start of the UX journey.