Products and technology, when done correctly, have the potential to amplify people's lives. But when experience varies, it can be alienating.
As a Haitian-American, left-handed woman, I've experienced when a social media filter automatically lightens my skin tone or held products that were made for right-handed people. I've taken a photo where members of my family didn't show and seen services not understand the accents of my friends.
These kinds of scenarios have made me ask "who else?". New Zealand has an increasingly ethnically diverse population, with the numbers of those identifying as either Māori, Asian, Pacific, and Middle Eastern/Latin American/African ethnic groups all increasing in the most recent census. What's more, nearly one-third of people counted were not born in New Zealand.
We must also consider other aspects of diversity; its estimated 11,000 use sign language and 30,000 New Zealanders are blind, as an example. Therefore we must always ask, "Who else needs to be included in the product design process?" and "who else do we need to involve and collaborate with?"
We need to ask these questions for two reasons. Firstly to ensure that the product works for everyone in our multicultural world but also that Kiwi businesses are making the most of their potential. At Google, we believe that diverse perspectives lead to innovation and better outcomes for everyone, so it's important that we are intentional when creating products.
When you are building a product or service for another person, it's important to ensure that you've collaborated and co-created with under-represented communities so that you are building for everyone, with everyone.
Google is working on this through many different avenues. On Pixel cameras we've worked hard to ensure all skin tones are rendered accurately, by Googlers from under-represented backgrounds testing our products and bringing their experiences into product design. We've actively proposed new emojis to help improve gender and racial representation in our emoji keyboard. Google Assistant will soon introduce new responses for abusive questions, in order to promote gender equity. Google Maps now presents more dual name locations, presenting both the Māori and English place names.
When we build inclusively, the outcome is better for everyone. As the world shifts and becomes even more diverse and globalised, it's important to realise that your user or consumer may not look, act or think like you.
Think about a time when you felt completely yourself. You felt at ease, devoid of judgment because you could shake any preconceived notions of who you are supposed to be ... and just be.
Now, think about a time when you felt excluded or ignored. How did that make you feel?
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel welcome in their relationships with their family members, their friends, their pets and their colleagues.
When we don't fit in or when products or services do not feel as though they were built for us, we feel excluded, frustrated, disappointed or even upset. We can feel ignored or disregarded by those involved in the product design process. Our feelings can range from mere annoyance to deep alienation or hurt.
Knowing that we've all had an experience of being Othered (marginalised by a social group that considers itself superior) regardless of our background, it's imperative that we don't create that feeling in people who interact with our products, services, content, or customer service. When creating products, we want to avoid building anything, even unintentionally, that makes anyone feel this way. Isn't that why we got into this work — to be able to create products, services, and content that shape the world for the better, that empower people to live richer lives, to experience things they haven't with the people (or creatures) they love?
People want to feel seen, heard, and considered; they want to feel that people like them matter to companies, that their unique backgrounds and perspectives are valued. We must think and act with intent and deliberation, centring inclusion at key points in the design, development, testing and marketing processes to ensure that differences among users are considered and addressed.
Thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion in product design may be new to you or your team, so having a solid plan that everyone understands and buys into is important.
Innovation increases, new ideas surface and we avoid alienating or leaving out users. Be intentional about bringing in the brilliant expertise of under-represented groups, name
exclusion and build for inclusion and equity.
When we do that, we can create inclusive and equitable products that work for everyone.
• Annie Jean-Baptiste is head of product inclusion with Google.