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May 31, 2023

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Diversity is Future: Building Diverse Design Teams to Drive Innovation

Design is all about creating something that is not only visually appealing, but also serves its purpose effectively to various people. But here's the question. When you have a diverse audience that includes people of different genders, races, backgrounds, religions, how can you design a product everyone will find valuable? And the answer is, by building a diverse design team.

Of course, diversity is the buzzword you’ve probably heard many times by now. But when it comes to design, we, as a design agency focused on SaaS products, can surely say that a diverse team is the key to creating revolutionary designs. In this article, we’re going to tell you why it is important to build diverse design teams and show you examples of some industry giants that embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) standards to drive innovation. 

Without further ado, let’s start the ball rolling.

Why is it important to have a diverse design team?

When you start researching and actually talking to your users, it turns out that "normal" people are a myth. So designing a product with a mythical average Joe in mind won’t meet the needs of a huge chunk of your audience. For example, according to the CDC, there are around 61 million adults in the US who live with a disability – roughly 1 in 4. And disability is something we are obliged by law to keep in mind while designing new products. There are many more factors we might not even know, unless we talk to actual users, listen to their perspectives, and design the product accordingly.

Statistics on disability in adults in the US
Source: CDC

What’s more, some technologies, which started as assistive – for example, Siri – now are widely used by everyone. Inclusive technology benefits everyone, and you don't want to miss out on opportunities it brings.

So, what benefits exactly come from a diverse team? 

Diverse teams can bring different perspectives to your product

No matter how much empathy your design team has, they’ll never be able to understand whether the design is accessible for disabled people unless the latter are included in the design process. And it's better to do so from the very start instead of trying to fix accessibility issues later on (although, of course, better late than never.) So when you want your product to be accessible for everyone, you should definitely add disabled people to your team and learn from their experience. 

To prove this point, let’s look at two examples that show how diverse teams helped make their products easy-to-use for everyone.

Pinterest

First case worth mentioning is Pinterest and its experience in making their platform more inclusive for people with visual impairments. The company recognized the need to make their platform more accessible and took action by assembling a team of talented designers and experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences, including individuals with visual impairments. After conducting user research to understand the challenges they faced when using the platform, the Pinterest design team made a number of changes to the platform, including increasing the contrast of text, improving the readability of fonts, and providing alt-text descriptions for images.

Pinterest screenshot before redesign
Pinterest screenshot with accessibiity redesign

Pinterest’s example shows us how diverse design teams can drive innovation and create a better product for all users.

Slack

Slack is another great example of how diversity and innovation can work hand in hand. Among its product designers, Slack has people specifically advocating for accessibility and inclusivity. There's also an "Abilities Employee Resource Group" – community of disabled employees. 

The company created an accessibility toolkit for designers, which included guidelines and best practices for designing accessible features. This toolkit helped to ensure that accessibility was considered at every stage of the design process, from ideation to implementation.

How does that translate into the product itself?

First of all, a variety of keyboard shortcuts are included to ease the navigation. For example, F6 can be used to move between major sections of the app, such as the list of messages and the new message box. Other keyboard commands are included for switching between channels, messages, or changing the text size. 

Slack accessibility options

Slack will automatically read messages in a channel when pressing the Up or Down Arrow keys when one uses a screen reader such as JAWS, NVDA, or Narrator. The iOS and Android apps have been tailored to work well with screen reading and magnification tools. Buttons and controls are labeled, and a variety of low-vision options are included.

Slack's team both includes disabled designers and communicates with its disabled users to learn how they actually use the app and how the process might be made smoother for them. As the result, Slack is accessible and therefore continues to grow in popularity. 

Diverse teams allow avoiding unconscious biases

An important benefit of having a diverse team in product design is the ability to identify and avoid unintentional biases. For example, according to the report by The Verge, heart rate sensors on some devices, including those made by Apple and Fitbit, are less accurate for people with darker skin tones. This happens because the sensors use green light to detect changes in blood flow, and darker skin absorbs more of this light, making it more difficult to get an accurate reading. 

Fitbit smart watch
Image: Fitbit

Had this issue not been discovered, companies would have suffered reputational damage from products that reflect the biases and assumptions of the dominant group. So, when you want to avoid such biases and create a product that is truly inclusive, consider creating a diverse team that includes people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Diverse teams promote cultural sensitivity

A diverse design team ensures a consistent perception of your product across different cultures. If you're working for an international audience, offering your product in languages other than English is the bare minimum you can do. Make sure you're collaborating with native speakers to translate and proofread your copy. But it goes further than the languages.

In 2021, Airbnb changed its paradigm. Now, it automatically translates the listing into the user's native language and shows the button to go back to the original language instead of vice versa. They use machine learning, but also, as they claim, "Every single correction from the localization team improves the machine translation instantly."

Airbnb automated translation

Except for this unique approach to language accessibility, Airbnb provides guidelines for hosts to create a welcoming environment for guests from diverse backgrounds. It also implemented a multicultural training program for their product design and customer service teams. The program focused on cultural awareness, bias, and communication skills. The program was successful in increasing awareness and understanding of cultural differences, and in promoting more inclusive and diverse work environments. 

How you can build a diverse team: tips and best practices

Now that we understand why diversity is important in design, let's move on to the practical issues. Namely, how do you create a diverse innovative team? There are some tips on how to build a design team and increase diversity in your workplace whether you're a small startup or a successful corporation, and we’re just about to discuss them.

Implement inclusive hiring practices

Before the team is even formed, inclusive hiring practices are crucial to building diverse design teams and creating a culture in which everyone is accepted and appreciated. What specifically can you do?

  • Cast a wide net for candidates to ensure that the applicant pool is diverse.
  • You can remove identifying information from resumes to ensure the process is unbiased. Check out the table below: various bits of information from one's name to their hobbies can indicate a person's race, age or religion, and sway the hiring manager one way or another. It might be a good idea to employ special software to ensure these details are edited out of CV before they get on the table of people who make hiring decisions so they are not unconsciously biased. 
Sources of unconcsious bias in CV
Source: SHRM
  • Create diverse interview panels: make sure hiring team consists of people with various backgrounds (for example, includes people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and so on.) 
  • Provide training on unconscious bias for hiring managers. 
  • Use inclusive language in job postings (for example, go for gender-neutral terms and pronouns, such as “they” instead of “he” for genderless positions). 
  • If you fear your locale might stand in the way of diversifying your team, do not hesitate to broaden your geography. With contemporary design collaboration tools you might not even notice you aren't working in the same office or country. If that's something you are willing to try, check our article on how to build productive relationships with external design team.

Provide training and education on diversity and inclusion

Throwing in some training and workshops is always a good idea when you think on how to manage a design team, and training and education on diversity is no exception. This can include workshops and training sessions for employees, as well as leadership training on how to promote diversity and inclusion within the organization. This can help to foster empathy and understanding among employees, which can lead to better collaboration and more innovative solutions. 

Support employee resource groups

Supporting employee resource groups (ERGs) is another way to build diverse design teams. ERGs provide a supportive environment for underrepresented groups within the organization, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ employees, and more. ERGs can also help to promote diversity and inclusion within the organization by providing feedback and suggestions on company policies and practices.

Our approach to building diverse design teams 

At Eleken, we strongly believe that diversity and inclusion are crucial to building a successful design team and innovative problem solving. Our team is made up of individuals from different backgrounds, and we value the unique perspectives and experiences that each person brings to the table. 

In contrast to the wide-spread prevalence of men in tech, our design team is predominantly female (to the point our HR jokes we need to have quotas for male designers and not vice versa.) The ratio of women to men is approximately five to one. When asked about that, our lead designer shrugs: "Well, women are simply better." 

We provide UI/UX service to people from around the globe and are always trying to better understand and address the needs of our clients and users, especially those from different cultural backgrounds. As a design agency based in Ukraine, we are aware that our cultural context may differ from the countries our clients come from, but we are committed to aligning ourselves with these values and making sure that our team reflects the diversity of the world we live in. 

Final thoughts 

How diversity makes teams more innovative? Well, it simply broadens the horizons and allows you to answer the questions you would not even pose in the first place otherwise. 

Building diverse design teams is essential for creating fresh and inclusive products and services that meet the needs of different people and communities. By implementing inclusive hiring practices, providing training and education on diversity and inclusion, and supporting employee resource groups, companies can attract and retain diverse talent. 

At Eleken, we are aligned with these values. As we continue to grow and expand our team, we remain committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do. If you want to diversify your team and bring our unique perspectives to the tables, don't hesitate to drop us a line!

Stan Murash

Author

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