Graphic designers and web designers must ensure projects are inclusive and representative of the diverse audiences and communities clients do business in.
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Diversity and inclusion in web design are critical to the long-term success of any creative process. Creativity is about seeing things in a new and different way and solving problems with intuitive solutions not yet thought of; web design requires creativity and to achieve creative quality, you need creative diversity. Being aware of the principles of inclusive design can help broaden your perspective.
“As designers, we spend most of our day imagining and building experiences that, when added up, take a big portion of people’s days and affect a lot of the relationships they have with other people and with the world around them. We design signup forms for government websites that ask people to define their ethnicity. We design profile pages in social networking apps where people define how they want to be seen in the world. We also design online forums, medical forms, services for citizens, social interactions, dating apps, learning platforms — the list is huge. Aren’t we somehow responsible for more inclusive, diverse experiences?”
When considering diversity and inclusion as part of the graphic design or web design process, we as professionals need to address what happens in our companies, behind the scenes of projects, and how the final product is presented to end-users.
Diversity And Inclusion In Web Design Agencies
When creative companies and design agencies hire within their network, hire friends, and hire people just like them for “culture fit,” you end up with teams where everyone looks the same, has had similar life experiences, and thinks alike.
The problem is that hiring for culture fit alone often fails to build teams that reflect the diversity needed to design an end product relevant to the audience they are trying to reach.
As a result, you end up with design teams creating experiences for people who are not like them, with stories and needs that are not fully understood.
Diversity in web design means building non-homogeneous companies and teams with a wide variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences where all people feel valued, involved, connected, and respected. This ensures that everyone who is part of the design process is surrounded and supported by a diverse group of colleagues who will challenge assumptions, ask insightful questions, and review concepts with a discerning eye.
Tracy Levesque, diversity champion and co-founder of the Philadelphia web design agency Yikes, Inc., speaks often about diversity and inclusion in web design. I’ve had the privilege of learning from her on multiple occasions.
Tracy shares that “diverse and empowered teams create better, more inclusive products.” And, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin in the article How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, “when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end-user, the entire team better understands that user.”
Inclusive web design means building a diverse team, giving everyone on the team a voice that is valued, and looking outside the team for additional insights and feedback. As Vernā Myers famously said, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Inclusivity is considering the perceptions, experiences, and needs of the widest variety of people possible throughout the design process, from ideation and planning to design, development, testing, and launch, so we can use design to enable more positive experiences for the users of our products.
Diversity And Inclusion In Design
In her presentation Diversity Works, Levesque features visionary television producer Shonda Rhimes who is quoted as saying:
“I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ I have a different word: normalizing. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary.”
Freelancers, agencies, and creative teams can learn a lot from Shonda Rhimes. Graphic designers and web designers need to stop looking at diversity and inclusion as a tactic or strategy and view it as the expected norm.
To make diversity and inclusion a foundational part of the design process, begin by thinking about web accessibility and plan your design projects with all potential users in mind.
Questions to ask include:
- Is the design clear and concise, and does it follow expected conventions? Is the clickable logo in the upper left where it is expected to be? Is the navigation at the top? Is interacting with the design as easy as possible?
- Are all elements of the site keyboard-navigable and screenreader friendly?
- Are you considering that blind site users often prefer navigating the site using the site map because it is less cluttered and creating ways to move through the website other than the primary navigation menu?
- Are you thinking through any user interaction that affects a change, like links, so you can alert users in advance to what they do?
- Are the forms easily completable by all users? Have you considered instructions, labels, form field interaction, required field indication, indications of all form stages and the current stage, error handling, error messaging, and success messaging? Do your forms have a “skip to errors” link at the top of the page to help blind users fix their form errors without frustration?
Then, take accessible web design a step further and practice inclusive web design, asking:
- Am I creating a brand experience that is relevant and relatable to our entire audience?
- Does the imagery on the website represent a diverse group of people and the normalcy of the world we live in? Are different ages, races, genders, and styles of people represented so all visitors feel welcomed and that they are in the right place?
- When referring to hypothetical people, are you using gender-neutral pronouns, or at minimum, are you switching between gender-specific pronouns equally?
- Do your membership applications and job descriptions use masculine wording that alienates women applicants? Or is it welcoming for all candidates?
- Are you making unfair gender assumptions in your design? Please stop making all things for women pink and soft and ultra-girly and using bro-culture language on gaming and sports sites!
- Do you include a diverse group of people in your brainstorming and strategy sessions? Are you hosting focus groups with a wide range of potential users? Are you investing time in actual user research?
- If a form asks for a person’s gender, are you providing non-binary choices or forcing every person to choose male or female?
Become A Champion For Diversity And Inclusion
You have the opportunity to become a champion for diversity and inclusion in your own business, within your company, and in the industry.
If you’re not sure how to get started, here are a few ideas:
Become A Mentor
Work with someone who is very different from you; someone with a different nationality, race, gender, age, or background. Mentorship is a valuable opportunity to encourage and foster the potential of up-and-coming talent, improve the design industry as a whole, and widen your own awareness and experience.
Speak Out Against Discrimination
Speak up and speak out no matter how subtle or passive a comment or action may be. The act of standing up for another person demonstrates support and communicates that they matter, they are valued, and that their contributions are needed. You may think speaking up is a small action, but to someone who is underrepresented or feels uncomfortable, it can make a big difference.
Keep Diversity Top Of Mind
Be aware of diversity any time you’re in a group or meeting, on a committee or board, at an event, conference, or workshop, or in a class or training. If the group is too homogeneous and almost everyone looks and sounds the same, check in with the organizers to find out why and explore how this can be changed in the future.
Hold Event Planners Accountable
If you see an event, conference, or workshop with little to no diversity in the lineup of speakers, reach out, as they may not be aware of the impact their speaker selection and choices have on their audience.
Build A More Diverse Network
When you’re networking, make an effort to introduce yourself to and connect with people who are different from you so you can build a diverse network that expands your mindset, experiences, and awareness.
Use Blind Applications During Hiring
This is where applications are anonymized candidates and all hints of gender or race are generalized. With this approach, you can remove all bias and evaluate candidates on their talent, skill, work, and potential alone, and not how they sound or what they look like.
Inclusive Design Is Required
A lack of diversity hurts everyone — and not just in the broader tech community. According to Ankita Saxena in the article Workforce Diversity: A Key to Improve Productivity, in research-oriented and high-tech industries, the broad base of talents generated by a gender-and ethnic-diverse organization becomes a priceless advantage.
If we want clients, customers, and subscribers to feel like they belong and feel like they matter, our companies, marketing, and products and offers must accurately represent the communities we do business in and the audiences we serve.
Diversity and inclusion in web design are critical to the long-term success of any creative process and imperative in the design of positive experiences.
Graphic designers and web designers are in the unique position of creating marketing materials, websites, apps, platforms, and tools that people around the world interact with on a daily basis. While our work has the power to ensure people feel seen, understood, and welcome, it also has the power to alienate people and cause them to feel ignored, isolated, and alone.
If you’re a designer, use your talent, skills, and position to step up and be an ally for those who are underrepresented. Be a champion for increased diversity and inclusion. Support and amplify underrepresented voices whenever possible. And work with clients to ensure their marketing, websites, and messaging accurately represent the communities they do business in and the audiences they serve.
Let’s work together to elevate the industry, create better work, and do more good.