5 Things You Need to Know About Diversity and Inclusion in Design
World Interaction Design Day (IxDD) took place on 25 September, a global celebration of interaction design’s ability to improve the human condition, presented in partnership with Adobe and the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). There were over 70 events in 34 countries, covering some of the top UX trends around diversity and inclusion in design, the theme of this year’s inaugural initiative.
In New York, for example, attendees got an exclusive sneak peek of the upcoming Stark plug-in for Adobe XD, which will let you check your design prototypes against eight different colour-blindness profiles, as well as check your designs for contrast. In the UK, meanwhile, the London chapter of IxDA organised an all-day event bringing together a group of passionate practitioners, leaders and advocates to advance the discipline of interaction design through a series of presentations, workshops and discussions.
A recurring theme was that diversity and inclusion affects us all. As David Rogerson, principal consultant at Foolproof, explained: “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.”
Here are 5 things we took away from the event.
1. Technology is a design material that can change people’s lives
Haiyan Zhang, director of innovation and technical advisor at Microsoft Research, shared some incredibly inspiring case studies of how technology can impact people’s lives and make a real difference. “Technology isn’t magic,” she said. “It’s empathy, observation, being obsessed with our users, prototyping, implementing, deploying, and iterating.” Technology becomes a design material that can be used to bridge boundaries between physical and digital products.
On BBC2 show The Big Life Fix Haiyan and her team from different disciplines worked rapidly to create a tremor-reducing wristwatch that helped a woman with Parkinson’s write again. In the design process they made use of Arduino, 3D printing, and off-the-shelf prototyping tools.
2. Inclusive design results in better experiences for everyone
Ruby Steel, senior design strategist at Smart Design who also works on The Big Life Fix, explained how designing with, not just for, users at extreme ends of the spectrum (who can better articulate their desires) can help create better experiences for everyone.
Ruby and her team designed a playground that enabled Josh, a blind 8-year-old, to finally play with his friends, but in the process they realised that focusing on Josh alone was not designing inclusively. Once they also took into account other children’s needs, they started seeing other possibilities.
3. We all have situational and temporary disabilities
Reduced ability isn’t about disabled people—it’s a state we can all empathise with, Ruby pointed out, a message that popped up throughout the day.
- lifestyles (including users, for example with prams, shopping carts, or suitcases)
- abilities (including agility and height)
- ages (not assuming that everyone who’s older is a ‘Luddite’ and all Millenials are tech geniuses)
- ethnicities and religions
- genders (including non-binaries)
- professional perspectives
This theme was also picked up by Neil Churcher, head of design at Orange, who explained that, as we’re looking into emerging markets such as Senegal, we need to reframe our thinking. People who are coming online for the first time in these countries tend to do so using low-spec mobile phones and poor internet connections. We need to research and talk to these users to properly understand the issues and challenges involved.
When we design a product and its content, we therefore need to understand more about the context it will be used in to create better solutions.
4. Our algorithms are biased
The technology we use is flawed, because we rely on algorithms, which are only as good as the data set used to calibrate it, warned Rahel Anne Bailie. Unfortunately, all of our data is inherently biased, and organisations are rarely transparent about their algorithms because they believe it gives them a competitive advantage.
One in two adults in the USA have their faces stored, Rahel pointed out by way of an example, but results aren’t audited for accuracy, and facial recognition doesn’t recognise black faces well. Algorithmic scores that include facial recognition, however, are used to determine prison sentences.
As algorithms are prone to the biases of their creators, which affect design decisions, Rahel suggested we ask who is coding, how and why it’s coded, how the algorithm is being tested, and how the loop is being closed. She also recommended insisting on team diversity; interaction design, code and content audits; transparency of code and rationale of factors; involvement of an ethicist; and the examining of data sets as well as explanation and justification.
5. The game industry is finally paying attention to accessibility
The $100bn game industry is bigger than music ($43bn) and movies ($38bn) combined. As game accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton explained it’s a huge opportunity, and if games aren’t accessible, companies are excluding a large part of the audience. Eight percent of men, for example, experience colour blindness.
Most accessibility issues in games can be solved by either communicating information in more than one way or allowing some flexibility in how the game is played. Check out the game accessibility guidelines for details.
Within the last year, the game industry has made significant advances in accessibility and user experience. Microsoft, for example, developed an Xbox Adaptive Controller, which was based on the company’s own inclusive design principles. Even the packaging has been designed to be opened by gamers with limited mobility.
Inclusive design, accessibility and diversity should be part of the UX process and workflow from the beginning when we plan a new product or service, whatever the industry and discipline. Seemingly small design details can have a significant impact on people’s lives, and it’s our responsibility as creators to change things and build products that truly reflect the rich diversity of the human condition. After all inclusive design is, as Neil Churcher put it, a matter of intent.