How to design for people who do not look like youA quick primer on how to design for people who don't look as you do.
A few months ago, I was looking through my portfolio and I noticed something that made my heart sink: there were no people of color in my work. Every stock photo that I’d used in my years as a designer was lacking in the types of faces that I see when I walk the streets of New York.
My work was white.
As a designer, I felt embarrassed. As a black man, I felt ashamed. How can I critique the creative community for it’s lack of diversity when my own work shows the same bias? How can I speak for the need for more diverse voices when my work seems to speak to one particular group — white men.
And it’s not just about skin color.
It’s no secret that there is a lack of diversity within the creative community. The design world, (like the tech world), is predominantly white and male. Of course, there are some benefits to homogeny within creative teams: When people share the same worldview, there are fewer conflicts within group dynamics and less friction in the collaborative process.
But where’s the fun in that?
Creativity is about friction. The best ideas don’t come about when teams agree and everyone goes along. The best ideas come from the creative friction that only occurs when different perspectives crash — and the people behind them are forced to change and grow in order to find a solution that works.
Friction is what makes you a better designer — but where do we find that friction?
It starts with admitting that we all have bias.
No matter how “colorblind” we think we are, everyone has biases that, if left unchecked, limit our creativity and alienate our users.
But admitting bias is just the first step.
Here are the rest of the steps that I’ve worked out for overcoming unconscious bias and producing better work:
The very first step — and the most important step — is to make a choice. The average person spends over 60% of each day operating on habit — and designers are no different. Our workflows are built atop habits that make our lives easier while limiting our creative expression. The first step to designing for a more diverse crowd is to make a conscious decision that being inclusive is more important than creating within your comfort zone.
Between Facebook, Twitter, and reddit, it’s easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we have diversity at our fingertips. But to truly break out of your echo chamber, you need to get out of the building and go in search of perspectives that are radically different from your own.
Feedback is scary and, to mitigate that fear, we subconsciously seek out familiar spaces and faces to conduct our user research. By going to your favorite coffee shop or bookstore every time you seek out feedback, you’re limiting the type of person you get feedback from — and they’re probably people like you. Next time, go to a coffee shop in a different neighbourhood. Even a small shift in location can make a huge difference.
Really listen. Be conscious of the fact that there’s a difference between what is said and what you hear. A great way to do this is by taking notes, recording your user feedback sessions, and then comparing the two. It’s in the tiny space between transcription and translation that bias creeps in.
There’s no point in getting great insights if you don’t integrate them into your work. Bring your discoveries back to your team, share them, and continue to include those different perspectives as you move forward.
The steps above may seem simple, but the results can be very meaningful. For example, when I started using more diverse stock photos, my clients saw higher engagement in communities of color. The more age groups I included during user-testing, the more I understood how something as simple as font-size could alienate large groups of people. And when I listened to the experiences of non-binary genders? I realised that an arrangement of pixels can make entire groups feel as though they have been seen.
I believe design is about more than pixels.
We live in a world where most everything — from the apps on your home screen to the house that you live in — was designed to make you think or feel a certain way. As a result, our responsibility as designers is vast; perhaps even vaster than any other group, because we have the power to design a world in which we all feel welcome.