June is a month for social and civic transformation. The summer after the largest protest demonstrations in U.S. history Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday. LGBTQIA Pride Month celebrations have evolved from liberation marches in small numbers to month-long city sponsored events coast to coast. The heightened energy around diversity and social change this time of year can feel like a landslide of progress, but we know that we have a lot of work to do to truly be a generous, inclusive, and equitable society.
June’s vibrant celebrations of freedom, resilience, and optimism are emblematic of what it means to be an American. With flourishing support each year, they seem to signal a sea change in our ethos and beckon us to challenge our assumptions about equity, identity, and the future. As we reflect on another June, we’re thinking of diversity through a new lens guided by the voices in the streets.
We can show enthusiastic support for the LGBTQIA+ and the African American communities in an authentic way and still be left wondering if we’ve generated movement for good. Your logo may look fabulous in a rainbow pattern, but it looks even better as an extension of your brand promise. Emerging perspectives in design thinking may offer a few key insights and creative approaches to incorporating that promise throughout the year.
The Availability Heuristic
The availability heuristic suggests we tend to be swayed by the things that come to mind first. Taking this mental shortcut often means we are jumping to conclusions about what might be equitable based on our own experience. For example, we might not think about the needs of a blind person when designing an interface if we don’t regularly engage with any blind people.
In 2014, Facebook’s name policy created a user experience maelstrom because the name recognition technology didn’t recognize Indigenous American names as legitimate. Automatic soap dispensers using near-infrared light technology don’t dispense soap for people of color. Nobody thought to test the product on darker skin. As technology advances, subconscious biases continue to come to light revealing an uncomfortable truth about our systems. Even the most objective interface can’t reconcile what is ultimately a human problem.
Exploring new avenues of thought requires a Jedi-level focus to override the impulse to repeat things as we’ve always done them. Equity can be a differentiating factor in how you’re perceived and help further humanize your impressions. Simply put, an expansive perspective in your language and visual media can foster a sense of belonging and recognition in more people.
Reframe what it means to be an ally
Emphasizing equity in every step of the design process involves honing your ability to postpone your judgements, biases, and assumptions to cultivate listening, accepting, and learning as guiding forces. The core principle behind User Experience (UX) research and design asks us to understand interfaces from the perspective of the people who utilize them and not just the people who create them. This can be an invaluable step in establishing trust and reliability when it comes to inclusivity.
The emerging field of Human Rights Centered Design calls on web creatives to design for “vulnerable communities first” when implementing AI and future technologies. (Explore this topic deeper for ethical conundrums between policing and inherent bias). AI and algorithms are almost never neutral because they’re conceptualized and implemented by human beings with conscious and subconscious biases.
Is your campaign or your brand presence motivated by the needs of all of the communities you serve? Does the representation in your media reflect both an authentic experience in your organization as it is and, at the same time, express an aspirational state where a potential student, donor, or collaborator can see themselves as a perfect fit?
Seek a new perspective
Check out clever ways to beef up the availability heuristic by immersing yourself in perspectives you haven’t explored yet. You might be surprised at how much this fosters connection, empathy, and a sense of meaning.
Are you curious about how equitability in design thinking can help you access new ideas for meaningful relationships? — Let’s brainstorm!