In July, our CEO and Founder, Amy Buckner Chowdhry traveled to RISE in Hong Kong to speak about voice marketing, customer experience, and product design. While there, Amy led a roundtable discussion on strategies for designing inclusive products and shared her insights on how you can prioritize inclusiveness and accessibility in your company and design process. I asked her to elaborate on the insights she discussed with attendees and share how to get started in inclusive design.
What does inclusion mean? And how should we think about it in the context of technology?
Inclusion is defined as the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. In technology, we can think of inclusivity as how well products and services work for marginalized communities and how they offer digital access. When dreaming up new products, we have to consider groups of users that may not be traditionally represented, unable to use certain functionalities, or who aren’t being considered in the development process at all. This includes women, older adults, the visually impaired, people of different ethnicities or with strong accents, and people with disabilities who may be unable to perform certain functions. When we overlook these populations, vast groups of users are isolated from using these products.
Recently, we’ve seen countless examples of inclusivity issues in technology. From voice assistants that can’t understand users with strong accents to A.I. powered systems that develop biases and discriminate based on faulty data sets, we’ve seen some severe missteps in how products are being developed.
How should companies approach being more inclusive in their product design process?
We believe that organizations should tackle this challenge using a defined framework, addressing critical best practices in leadership, building the right culture, and following a human-centered design process.
Start with leadership
Inclusivity must start with your company’s leadership and executive team. By including diverse voices at the top level of your company and ensuring leaders have both awareness and empathy, you set a standard across the organization. If your leadership is aware of marginalized groups and prioritizes inclusivity, they can support institutional changes around these topics throughout the workplace and advocate for users at the top level. If leaders don’t believe in building an environment that can cultivate inclusive products, then marginalized groups won’t have a chance.
Evaluate your culture
What needs to be true in your company culture for inclusivity to be a priority? Companies must have a mission statement and core values created that support rather than compete with the goal of inclusivity. From building empathy to communicating with colleagues and peers, these values can help foster larger discussions around inclusive and accessible environments and ultimately products. Alternatively, some values may be at odds with goals around inclusivity. For example, prioritizing high-speed development processes or independence to the point of creating departmental silos can often hinder open collaboration in the workplace.
Evaluating the implications of your current values is a key part of this process to understand how you can continue to refine what’s important to your company culture. If you foster openness and vulnerability to have honest conversations, teams and individuals can voice their thoughts, share opinions, and call out issues when they see them, leading to a more open design process that accounts for diverse voices.
Use a human-centered design process
A crucial part of building inclusive products is ensuring your end users are a part of the design process. Human-centered design is a problem-solving method that utilizes insights from real humans at every stage of the process. By conducting research during the process, your product team can build deep understanding and empathy for all users, keep their behaviors at the forefront of the conversation, create new prototypes and generate ideas, and ensure you’re developing products that meet the needs of more people.
Inclusivity isn’t a straightforward problem, and the solution is certainly not one-size fits all. This framework is a jumping-off point to begin evaluating how you can prioritize inclusivity in your company and make lasting changes for your products, and in turn improve the lives of your customers.