Inclusive design is defined by Microsoft as “a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.” This methodology challenges everyone who is part of the Product Design and Development phases to design products and/or services which are accessible to and usable by as many people as possible.
Exclusion happens when we solve problems and design solutions using our own internalised biases. These are often unconscious, and therefore to build inclusive products, we have to actively seek out those biases and tackle those exclusions head on. Putting diverse people at the centre of every design decision is important to this process.
So many businesses have come under fire for releasing products that are either offensive or insensitive to a diverse audience. Whilst product teams don’t intentionally create and release biased products, unconscious biases can have unpleasant and sometimes serious consequences.
For example, historically, automotive design was largely defined and developed by men, and as a result of this, all safety features had been tested on male dummies. This meant features such as seatbelts were designed to be safe more men and for many years cars were sold that were unsafe for women. In this case, the danger of this unconscious bias and the exclusion of women from the testing process was a life-threatening exclusion. In fact, up until 4 years ago, women were 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. Thankfully this is shifting. However, many other modern unconscious biases are more subtle in design.
Some examples of this include Google’s computer vision system labelling African - Americans as gorillas, while Microsoft’s vision system was reported to fail to recognize darker-skinned people. Whilst this is problematic enough in isolation, think about if this software was applied to self-driving cars. In a scenario like this if systems don’t recognize people of every race as human, there will be serious safety implications.
Solution bias happens when a single, homogenous group of people is designing and developing a product or a service, as they build a solution based on their own selves and set of biases. Better and safer products start with a diverse team. But what steps can businesses take to proactively tackle unconscious bias create better solutions for everyone?
Biases aren’t inherently good or bad, and they don’t make us good or bad people. The simple fact is that we all have biases, and the important thing is that we address them. Here are some steps Product Teams can take to improve the inclusivity of their design and development process.
A great product starts with great people. And a product built for a diverse audience, starts with a diverse team. Which means building an inclusive product or service starts way back at the recruitment stage. Hiring a diverse team not only increases productivity and employee retention, but also innovation, creativity, and problem solving. Having a team with a mixture of experiences, backgrounds, and ideas means your team are more representative of your audience.
There is so much more you can do, but this is a great start.
What can be measured, can be managed. This means setting clear inclusivity targets and KPIs so that you can measure product improvements. These KPIs and targets should be set at the start of the process so that inclusivity is a primary core focus in the Product design and development, and not just an afterthought. Everybody in the product process is accountable for ensuring targets are met, but there should be dedicated leaders who are responsible for guiding their teams and making sure all targets are hit and that bias checks are implemented and held from the very start of the process.
It’s easy to rely on data to guide decision making processes in the Product lifecycle. It’s often perceived as objective. But that simply isn’t the case. Data can include some level of bias caused by a poor samples or algorithms that overcorrect in ways that exclude certain groups of people. Accessibility and formatting of data collection techniques may also exclude certain groups. To ensure you minimise bias in your data as much as possible, you should:
It’s likely there may still be some level of bias in your processes, but it’s important to acknowledge this and mitigate it where possible. Where you can’t naturally mitigate bias, you can adjust based on the guidelines you should have established.
Review constantly. At every stage of the product lifecycle, you should be questioning and challenging decisions with inclusivity at the forefront of your mind. By constantly reviewing your decisions you can quickly mitigate any emerging issues as they happen.
To reiterate again, great, inclusive products start with a great team of diverse people.
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