When I began to look more closely at the topics of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (short: DEI),” the first thing I learned was what all this does not mean. Diversity is not a momentary whim of society, nor is it a trend that rises briefly like a wave and then ebbs away. Equity does not simply mean equality, just as you can divide a cake into equally sized pieces. And inclusion does not only refer to people with disabilities.
During my research, I found many people approaching these issues through their opposites, putting themselves in the marginalized position. How does it feel to be on a team with only white men? How does it feel to not have an equal opportunity to achieve a goal, to have a voice that is valued less or not heard at all? How does it feel to be disadvantaged because of certain physical characteristics?
Design as a lever for change
And again and again I read about the lever that could change so much, the trigger of a possible chain reaction: design. Designers and the design industry have the power to change things from the very bottom up. What do we need to do? Create more awareness. Change the industry and ourselves. And start. Today.
Because yes, a designer can have great influence. But: If this designer is male, white, and heterosexual, he has built up numerous filters in the course of his life, through which everything he hears, sees or feels is processed. The assumption that a designer can think himself into every person and thus, everyone can design for everyone, would mean that designers would have a special ability to understand another person objectively – and that is (unfortunately) not true. And let’s be honest: How many women feel misunderstood or not understood by a man every day? Why then should a male designer understand a woman’s needs and demands? And how much more difficult is it when the designer must try to empathize not only with a person of a different gender, but of a different skin color, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status?
An industry dominated by white men
But that’s exactly reality in the design industry. An industry that is still dominated by white males. That’s because despite progress over the past 20 years, a 2019 survey (Source: Designcensus) of nearly 10,000 design professionals found that 71% of designers are white. Moreover, the small percentages of Asian (9%), latinx (8%), and African American (3%) design creators are nearly unchanged since the last survey in 2016. In addition, while 61% of respondents identify as female, men largely hold the leadership and decision-making roles. Only 29% of those employed as art directors are female, and the higher up the career ladder you go, the faster that percentage shrinks. Another key metric: only 15% of respondents reported identifying as LGBTQIA+.
Back to the question: How should an industry that is composed like this develop designs that reflect diversity, equity and inclusion? How is an industry composed like this supposed to make a difference and be a pioneer?
By starting with oneself and becoming a role model. Because diversity is, among other things, the simple desire to reflect the reality of difference and thus change perceptions and behavior. To involve and include all people with their different skin colors, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, education level, etc., to represent and make visible marginalized groups. We as designers inside need to create a balance between marginalized and marginalizing people in our industry. We need to create more awareness, space and visibility for diverse people and issues. Because diversity is certainly not a trend because the people it affects aren´t (a3Kultur).
Inclusion is a huge promise – as huge as human diversity – and that’s what makes it a big design challenge.
And then we must ensure equity. In contrast to equality, this is about paying attention to fair participation. We need to talk about the barriers meaning that we don’t all have the same conditions, the same starting point to get where we want to go. Just as inclusion should be an ongoing topic. Goal: Every person is included naturally. Appearance, language, disability do not matter, because everything should be possible for everyone and because if everyone is included, being different is normal (Aktion Mensch). You should also read how my colleague Sarah classifies the terms and the impact DEI has on innovation (click here).
There are many tips on how and what to start with. As an individual, for example, I can take care not to reject ideas that are completely different from mine and to see the strengths in them, or when inviting people to meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc., I can make sure that the group is diverse. For example, a company can formulate clear goals and a vision of diversity, pay more attention to any bias that may exist during recruiting, and involve all colleagues in the topic. And every design project should also be seen as an opportunity to redefine what is “normal” or the norm. The opportunity to redefine and design for gender stereotypes should be embraced while creating accessible experiences that work for more differently abled users. Prejudice avoidance should be thought of at every step of the design process and putting yourself in the shoes of the “non-norm conforming” people (a post-It on your desk might help). (Source: uxdesign). In addition, methods such as inclusive design, universal design and accessibility should be repeatedly addressed and applied, and skills in these areas should be expanded, improved, and shared.
So, the answers are obvious. We need more diverse design teams, and we need to raise awareness that we cannot design for our diverse world without a diverse team. To do this, we need to hear every voice and, when in doubt, give greater weight to minority voices. To do this, we need to bring in people from marginalized groups as experts. And ideally, the white men dominating this industry will provide the impetus for all of this. Then design will make the difference.
Two other articles have been written on the subject of DEI.