Design Ethics: Diversity in Design

August 4, 2020
4 min read

I’ve written before about the importance of accessibility in design and becoming “responsible” designers. Why do we need to be responsible? Because, as designers, we facilitate interactions between humans and the world – be it a mobile app, urban planning or a kitchen utensil – and the way we design them determines who may participate in society and to what degree. To be a responsible designer means to design experiences that resonate with every person in society, but this is only possible if we are including all kinds of different perspectives in the creative process.

According to AIGA, the professional association for design, in 2014 approximately 86% of professional designers in the U.S. were caucasian. That percentage simply does not reflect the rapidly changing society we live in. At the time of the 2010 census, 30% of the population was of non-white origin, and it is predicted that by 2050, over 50% of the population will be made up of people who are now considered to be in minority groups. And while race in America is at the forefront of our minds this year, it’s only one part of the conversation on diversity.

“Diversity in design means diversity of experience, perspective and creativity—otherwise known as diversity of thought—and these can be shaped by multiple factors including race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual identity, ability/disability and location, among others.”

– Antionette Carroll, Diversity & Inclusion in Design: Why Do They Matter?

Diversity in design is important because having a wide variety of perspectives at the table throughout the design process allows us to design more inclusive experiences for a broader audience. Working in homogenous teams, where everyone has a similar life experience, means that we narrow the scope of our work and seriously limit the possible outcomes. Speaking about designing for diversity, Arin Bhowmick, Vice President of Design at IBM, says “When building teams we have to realize that, we aren’t just assigning resources — we are framing our approach to the problem.” Intentionally assembling teams of people who differ in age, race, gender, cultural background, and ability, means that we approach problems in a different way from the outset.

More diverse teams “tend to generate more ideas, making them more effective problem solvers [and] will have the deepest impact in building products and experiences designed for everyone”, according to Arin Bhowmick. And by having representatives from various demographics of a population on a team, stereotypes can be more easily avoided. Homogenous teams often fall into the trap of portraying groups of people who are different from them in insensitive ways which can lead to alienating them and losing them as an audience. A good example of this is Intel’s 2007 ad for it’s Core 2 Duo Processor. When the complaints rolled in, Intel pulled the ad and issued an apology, but what damage was already done? And could this blunder have been avoided by having a more diverse creative team? 

“If you want creative quality, you need creative diversity.”

–Fabricio Teixeira

Fabricio Teixeira is leader of the Experience Design department at R/GA San Francisco and co-founder of the largest Medium publication on UX– Fabricio has been doing amazing work to highlight the need for, and benefits of, diversity in the design industry. He dedicated a month to publishing articles on various aspects of diversity, which you can find here and are such a valuable resource when having these conversations. He has many thoughts on the steps we can take to improve the industry as designers, which he summed up in his final article of the month. It’s a lot, but it’s not complicated. He recommends paying more attention to the diversity of the groups we work with and audiences we’re speaking to. He encourages us to stand up when we see discrimination in our workplaces, to welcome new & different ideas, to connect with our team, to strive to redefine what is considered “normal”, to build accessible experiences, and to step into other people’s shoes, to name just a few. 

As designers, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and take steps each day to remove barriers to a truly inclusive and diverse industry. If we are determined to be thoughtful in how we work we can look forward to a richer & more interesting ideation process, higher quality creative output and the opportunity to connect with more people than ever.

© 2024 Soubriet Byrne & Associates, Inc.