What is inclusion innovation?

 Summary: Inclusive Design innovation is the result of deliberately searching for opportunities to elevate design equity. Design equity includes discovering diverse user needs and addressing them. When you default to so-called edge users, you address those users’ needs while offering features all users can benefit from, thereby “raising all boats.”

What is Inclusion Innovation?

Experiences from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others show that your ability to innovate increases when you start with an equity-centered approach that defaults to inclusion. Inclusive Design uncovers ‘extreme user‘ needs, neutralizes bias, and discovers valuable features and functions that can appeal to all users.

See What is Inclusive Design?

First, you can build inclusion into your product or service strategy by questioning your defaults and recruiting intersectionally. That means user research includes people with overlapping identities + lived experiences.

Next, it is important to remember that ignoring edge user needs is a precursor to design debt. Design debt follows ‘technical debt,’ a term that Agile Manifesto leader Howard Cunningham coined. Technical debt results when short-sighted decisions are made, shortcuts are taken, and system-level issues are not addressed. Design debt results from broken or complex interfaces that add mental effort or ‘cognitive friction’– poor UX.  Over time, this destabilizes the overall quality of user experience.

Finally, we can extend these definitions with our current emphasis:

Design equity debt is the result of ignoring or poorly optimizing for access. This includes Web Accessibility, cultural insensitivity and perpetuating stereotypes, bias or harm toward underrepresented communities.

Example: Fitness tracking ‘Mi band’ made by Chinese Xiaomi initially failed to work in Africa due to its skin tone bias. Spoiler: Google solved this right out of the gate with their Pixel 6 phone, detailed below.

Xiaomi Mi band Chinese user holds arm out displaying fitness tracker.

5 Benefits of Inclusive Innovation

Inclusive Design is about taking a more comprehensive look at your “target users.” In particular, Inclusive Personas help you discover untapped opportunities where you can innovate, boost equity, and avoid risk. In addition, this type of breakthrough design offers:

1. Enhanced User Satisfaction and Equity

By integrating principles of inclusion, the result is a holistic and enjoyable user experience that actively prioritizes equity and justice. Users from underrepresented communities see themselves and their needs accounted for in a product or service experience. This dramatically improves satisfaction and loyalty.

Example: Google Pixel 6 phone- ‘Google’s most inclusive phone ever’. Working with photographers and influencers from underrepresented communities, Google overturned a decades long photographic bias in cameras that prioritized white skin tones over all others.

google pixel 6 inclusive photography left "default" and right color enhanced showing Black beauty in a woman.Image: Google Inclusive Design

2. Competitive Advantage with Equity at the Core

Businesses prioritizing equity, safety, and justice gain a significant competitive edge. Products and services designed to be inclusive and equitable stand out in the market and resonate with a diverse and inclusion-conscious consumer base. e.g. Two out of three ⁠Americans say their social values now shape their shopping choices (McKinsey 2022). And they want equity, inclusion, and transparency from advertising to product design and AI.

Example: Apple’s Accessibility commitment includes innovations like live captioning for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals–now in all Apple products. Given that Netflix reported that 80% of users are enabling captions on movies (Netflix 2022), this example shows how inclusion innovations can respond to overwhelming demand too. Inclusion is not an ‘edge case’ phenomeoon, as many firms are now demonstrating.

Apple live captioning on phone demoImage: Apple Accessibility

3. Cost Reduction with Equity in Mind

Identifying and addressing barriers and biases early in the design process reduces the cost of fixing issues post-launch. Furthermore, service design helps streamline processes, allocate resources more effectively, and actively promote equity.

Example: Airbnb’s commitment to inclusion ranges from search and host filtering (avoiding housing discrimination laws) to Inclusive Design principles. Their latest comprehensive Service Design blueprint reviewed policies alongside the service experience.

Airbnb Service Blueprint

Image: Brian Chesky, Airbnb Service Design team

4. Greater Accessibility and Equity

Inclusive design ensures that products and services are accessible and equitable for a broader audience, actively breaking down historical barriers and addressing disparities.

Example: Getting the word out on best practices is important. In this case study for Mobility International USA, Experience Dynamics shares how we designed an accessible website to promote Global Disability Rights.

Global Disability Rights Now home page

5. Enhanced Brand Reputation with a Commitment to Equity

A strong commitment to UX, service, and inclusive design reflects positively on a brand. It demonstrates that a business cares about its users, values diversity, and is dedicated to promoting equity, safety, and justice.

Example: Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit introduced a range of “adaptive” peripherals designed alongside users with disabilities. The inspiration came from MSFT user researchers who noticed that many gamers were comfortable using accessibility features in the Xbox adaptive controller.

Gamer with disability plays with Microsoft Surface Adaptive KitImage: Microsoft Inclusive Tech Lab

Finding ethical use cases: Dead voices or Lost voices? 

Advances in AI mean that AI can learn and mimic any voice in a few minutes. Amazon announced a breakthrough first with a ‘bring back the dead’ feature, that is designed to help you remember a dead relative, such as a grandparent. Meta (Facebook) said it had a lab-only version of the same thing for the same use case. The assumption in those use cases is that anyone would want to do bring a dead relative back to life or that doing this would evoke positive responses.

In a display of Inclusion Innovation, Apple, on the other hand, is using the technology to help users who have lost their voice. Extra points for the ethical use case.

Key Take-Away:

Inclusion innovation results from deliberately searching for ways to elevate design equity and avoid design equity debt. Inclusive Design builds innovation potential by prioritizing informed design decisions, minimizing risks, and actively promoting equity, safety, and justice for underrepresented groups. The slogan of Inclusion Innovation is “Design for one, extend to many” (hat tip to Microsoft Inclusive Design)–meaning don’t be afraid to focus needs on edge users.

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