Summary: Why is research critical in Inclusive Design efforts? Because it lets you contact impacted communities and center their needs. To avoid harm, unsafe, or bias in your design, make sure to include underrepresented community users. Another source of insight is subject matter experts (SME’s). User research aims to represent hidden voices and views you might normally take for granted or miss.
From technology and business to healthcare and education, the drive for inclusivity has prompted the adoption of Inclusive Design practices. However, to truly achieve inclusivity, it is imperative to recognize the significance of thorough research, especially when it comes to understanding underrepresented groups. This article will explore why research is critical in Inclusive Design efforts and how studying underrepresented groups can bring about genuine inclusion through their lived experiences. Because as Arnie Lund, UX Director at Microsoft liked to say:
“Know thy user, and you are not thy user”
Understanding Inclusive Design and the power of research
Inclusive Design goes beyond the realm of accommodating disabilities; it encompasses creating products, services, and environments that cater to a wide spectrum of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and needs. The aim is to provide equal access, opportunity, and participation to all individuals, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds. While this endeavor sounds noble, achieving true inclusivity requires a deeper understanding of underrepresented groups’ unique challenges. These users have been left out of your product or service design efforts. They have also historically been left out.
Research forms the bedrock of Inclusive Design efforts. It acts as a compass that guides designers, developers, and policymakers toward crafting solutions that address marginalized communities’ actual needs and aspirations. Without research, Inclusive Design risks becoming tokenistic, merely scratching the surface of the complex issues underrepresented groups face.
Studying Lived Experiences for Genuine Inclusion
The key to effective Inclusive Design lies in uncovering insights from the lived experiences of underrepresented communities. These insights provide invaluable context that enables designers to create solutions that are functional and resonate with the users on a deeper level. By immersing themselves in these groups’ daily lives, challenges, and aspirations, UX researchers can gain a holistic understanding that transcends stereotypes and assumptions.
For instance, consider the LGBTQ+ community. Through rigorous research involving interviews and immersive context interviews involving ethnographic studies, designers can learn about the unique struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in various aspects of life, including technology and public spaces. This research-driven approach allows you to create digital platforms and service spaces that are sensitive to their needs, promoting a sense of belonging and safety.
Unearthing Bias, Harm, and Missed Opportunities
One of the most significant benefits of research in Inclusive Design is its potential to unveil hidden biases, unintended harm, and missed opportunities. Products and services are often developed with certain assumptions that can perpetuate stereotypes or inadvertently exclude specific groups. Thorough research helps expose these biases and allows course correction before harm is done.
For instance, a product that assists elderly individuals may unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes about aging. Through research, designers can gain insights into the preferences, aspirations, and challenges faced by the elderly population, enabling them to create products that empower and celebrate this group’s diversity.
Furthermore, experts from the community (like activists), aka SME’s can act as amplifiers of your user research. Hint: start your research with SME’s, then involve the community.
User involvement can take the following forms (do at least two):
- Conduct day-in-the-life visits (Ethnographic field studies)
- SME interviews
- Hire a person from that community to join your design team
- Bring users onto your design team using Radical Participatory Design, as defined by NASA’s Victor Udoewa, CTO, CXO, and Service Design Lead of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR) Program.
Why this matters
Underrepresented groups, such as Black, Asian, Hispanic, and lower socio-economic communities, possess unique cultural needs that mainstream solutions might overlook. Research plays a pivotal role in uncovering these nuanced requirements and tailoring design efforts accordingly. By understanding these communities’ cultural context, values, and norms, designers can create solutions that respect and celebrate their identities.
The impact of research in Inclusive Design reverberates beyond the realm of design itself. Designers who invest time and effort in understanding underrepresented groups contribute to a broader cultural shift. They challenge stereotypes, debunk biases, and pave the way for more empathetic and equitable societies.
For instance, consider a healthcare app targeting low-income individuals. Without proper research, the app might assume access to high-speed internet and smartphones, inadvertently excluding a significant portion of the target audience. Through research, designers can identify barriers and develop a solution that accounts for the limited access to technology while still delivering valuable healthcare information.
Another example: The Google Pixel 6: Real Tone™ camera technology ensures all people, particularly people with darker skin tones, feel accurately and beautifully seen in photos. Google used a broad community of photographers from underrepresented groups to train its algorithm to better see beauty in skin tones.
Inclusive Design is not a buzzword; it’s a philosophy that requires diligent research to achieve its true potential. By immersing ourselves in the lived experiences of underrepresented groups, we can gain insights that lead to genuine inclusion. Research unveils biases, prevents harm, and unearths missed opportunities while respecting diverse communities’ cultural needs. Through this inclusive UX research approach, we can foster a more inclusive world where everyone’s needs and voices are heard and respected.