Inclusive Design Isn’t a Checklist

May 1, 2019 / Julia Swenson Director of Product Design


As a hiring manager in tech and design, considering diversity and my own implicit bias as I build a team is part of my job. I’ve taken trainings and try to educate myself as much as I can about diversity, inclusion, and my own biases as a manager. Still, my own biases can creep into building products and managing my team. There’s no end to this kind of work, no moment where we can say, “We’re inclusive now” and stop thinking about it. And that’s okay.

Inclusive design is an ongoing conversation with your colleagues, clients, and users of your product to determine if we are leaving someone out. To guide that conversation, here is an ongoing list of thought starters:

  • Embrace diversity — Diversity isn’t a problem to be solved. Rather, diversity in teams and audience can help us create better products.
  • Get comfortable with discomfort — Acknowledge our own implicit biases. Acknowledge when we have missed the mark. Expect there to be discomfort when designing for someone other than yourself.
  • Practice a growth mindset — Look at inclusive design and accessibility as an opportunity, not a constraint.
  • Edge cases as opportunity — Consider how an edge case could solve a bigger problem in a product, rather than writing off edge cases as unpractical use cases that could be deprioritized.
  • Consistency creates clarity — Designing for consistency helps users understand paradigms quickly. Consistent patterns create more usable products and let users know what to expect.
  • Accessible design is good business — Accessibility is more than a checklist and should never be an afterthought. When making decisions, always ask, “Is this leaving someone out?”

Here are a few concrete instances where having an inclusive mindset positively impacts design thinking:

  • Form Fields: Think about the form fields you’ve seen that ask you information about your identity, such as gender, race, and ethnicity. These are not simple questions to answer because as humans, we aren’t simple. When designing a form field, ask stakeholders tough questions around why, for example, gender might be needed. If gender is needed, how can the gender form field dropdown be made more inclusive?
  • Default Settings: Without thinking, we may experience the default effect, valuing preselected choices above other settings. Should you need to design defaults—such as placeholder profile images or notification settings—think through your decisions critically before creating something that may never be changed in your software.
  • Personas: Critique personas just as you’d critique mockups. Are we creating bias in who we consider in our personas, or creating empathy?
  • Copy & Imagery: Be inclusive and intentional when drafting copy and selecting imagery for your project. Assuming gender and identity by using specific pronouns and images can make users feel left out, or disenfranchised.

Inclusive design isn’t a checklist–it’s a practice. I haven’t figured it out, and I won’t always get it right, but by creating a dialogue and listening to the humans we are designing for, we can slowly get better at this important part of our craft.

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