Diversity and inclusivity in designWritten by Barella Roberson 11 November 2021
My one hard question? What have you had to unlearn, and at what cost?
Human beings are products of our environments and experiences. Often those experiences are based upon where we live, our gender assigned at birth, sexual orientation, skin color and intellectual and physical abilities. Intentionally or not, we bring our biased perspectives to work with us. The self-awareness required to abandon our unique frames of reference can be difficult to achieve, particularly for those of us operating from a place of privilege. For designers to adapt to a changing world, one that is beginning to acknowledge and do something about the oppression, harm, and exclusivity of marginalized peoples, we must look at ourselves as products in need of retooling and transformation.
Privilege isn’t fixed. I am a member of multiple marginalized groups but as an able-bodied person I did not notice how many New York City subway stations lacked clean, functional elevators until I attempted to commute with a broken ankle in a cast and an infant in a stroller. As a cisgender woman, it never occurred to me that my trans sisters had been begging feminine hygiene product manufacturers to be more sensitive to non-binary consumers until I read that Always was removing the universal symbol for female from its packaging.(1) It broke my heart when a dear friend of size told me that when my girlfriends and I would go out dancing she was always “the girl who held the coats” while me and my thin friends ripped up the dance floor.
Parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum has led me to have more empathy for the intellectually and developmentally challenged. All of that is ok. What matters is that we acknowledge our blind spots and be cognizant of and welcoming to opportunities for personal growth and understanding of the circumstances and lived experiences of others. We should seek out different frames of reference from folks that do not look, pray, or love as we do. Designers who take the initiative to increase their awareness develop empathy and can incorporate inclusive thought into the design process to develop product solutions for broader appeal and impact for clients. We can remind brands and each other that failing to consider diversity and inclusion in product design results in not only leaving money on the table but reinforces the harmful notion that some folks simply do not matter.
We are now working in a purpose economy. Design agencies such as ours can and should incorporate equity into its core mission and help brands demonstrate social responsibility and accountability for both their bottom line and the betterment of society. We can start by employing more diverse designers. Design teams consisting of diverse generations, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, nationality, weight, physical and intellectual ability generate diversity of thought and perspective. They create design solutions that are more comprehensively thought through, more angles are explored, and stones turned. Teams consisting of talented people from various walks of life have a competitive advantage over homogenous ones in that they are simply more likely to hit the mark for a client. We must redefine the status quo and the meaning of normalcy to include appealing to and designing for underrepresented consumers.
Humble yourself. You don’t know everything. And guess what? You’re not supposed to. Being intentional about unlearning harmful mindsets and beliefs and acknowledging one’s privilege is healthy and necessary for personal growth and contributing to the purpose economy in a meaningful, sustained, authentic and impactful way. The cost of not doing so is being left behind in an evolving, more inclusive world and economy.