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Diversity in Design: Why Does it Matter?

Building a diverse design team is not only important, but it’s the right thing to do. Diversity helps companies create more inclusive experiences with innovative solutions that reach broader audiences.

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion lately—and for good reason. Unfortunately, they’ve also become buzzwords that not everyone understands the meanings of. Let’s clear that up. 

Diversity, especially in the design world, is about much more than the way a person looks. It’s about their skills, backgrounds, and personal experiences, too. Historically speaking, design industry demographics have largely been homogenized. It hasn’t been until recent years that we’ve seen more women, members of the LGBTQIA community, and people of different ethnicities enter the field.

At Big Human, we make a conscious effort to build diverse teams—on both the design side as well as our other departments. It’s necessary for professional and personal growth, and it helps us produce great work. 

Here’s what diversity in design means and, more importantly, why it matters.

What is diversity?

When people hear “diversity,” they automatically think about it in terms of race and ethnicity. But there are so many other details to take into account—age, gender, location, sexual identity, and ability or disability also play key roles. 

People need relevant experience to do their jobs, but relevant experience is more than a resume. Diversity addresses skill sets, professional training, personal backgrounds, and perspectives. We often draw inspiration from our own history and that affects our ways of thinking and problem-solving. A 20-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman of color, and a 40-year-old with a hearing impairment can all be faced with the same problem, but they’ll all have different solutions.

Diversity in the workplace is really about diversity of thought. It’s the blending of unique perspectives to create unique innovations, especially ones that help meet client and user needs.

Why does diversity matter in design? 

The same way of thinking paired with the same skill set leads to the same products with the same results. 

Building a diverse design team means bringing together those with complementary skills but different frames of mind. Varied backgrounds change the way companies identify and solve problems. Relevant experience, whether its expert knowledge of a design tool or a personal interest in a client’s industry, is needed to produce great work.

In the same vein, creative diversity inspires creative outcomes. More diverse design teams produce a bigger impact when building products. They’re able to design for more inclusive experiences that reach broader audiences and better serve users. When you bring together diverse perspectives, you’re really gathering diverse resources and solutions.

Here’s an example: One of your clients needs help designing an app for the LGBTQIA community. If your team is made up of only cisgender males, the app won’t deliver the experience it needs to. With a more diverse team, you’ll be able to pinpoint and address different needs, use cases, and the overall feel of the app itself, leading to a greater user experience for the target audience.

A designer’s lived experiences shape the experiences they create for millions of people every day, and what they create influences who can use a product and who can’t. It’s on us to make sure the products we build can be accessed and used by as many people as possible. We have to design with everyone in mind and that starts by including everyone on the team.

Current state of the industry

Each year, the Design Census, a yearly collaboration between Google and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), polls the design industry to track its demographic makeup. It includes students, educators, business owners, and other roles that keep the design industry moving.

At 71%, Caucasians still make up most of the industry. LGBTQIA representation grew 5% from 2017 to 2019, and more women are now entering the field.

Note: The Design Census notes the data set is too small for these numbers to be “statistically significant.”

How to keep diversity top of mind

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace means making sure everyone feels seen, heard, and supported. It takes time and effort, but we’ve got a few recommendations for how to get there.

Here’s what’s working for us: 

Offer opportunities for employee engagement

Employee Resource Groups are team-led groups where the members share characteristics like ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or lifestyle. ERGs create spaces where members can talk about their interests or experiences and feel supported. They’re also an opportunity for employees to voice their concerns and communicate them to leadership. BIPOC, Women in Tech, and Parents & Caregivers are a few ERGs we have; they’re completely voluntary and meet every two weeks.

Be open to feedback and emphasize communication

While ERGs provide a comfortable environment where the team can communicate to leadership, it’s leadership’s job to genuinely listen to all commentary or criticism. When a team member moves on to a new opportunity, organize an exit interview so you can assess what’s working and what’s not. Leadership should actively seek feedback from their team and use it to improve work culture, shape company policies, and even inform business decisions.

Create more inclusive company policies

Companies should make employees’ lives easier, not harder. Make new policies or change existing ones based on your team’s needs.

Be aware of religious holidays and provide those days off, even if they’re not nationally recognized. If you’re back in the office, designate a gender-neutral restroom. If you’re still remote, offer flexible work hours and supply the team with sufficient work-from-home equipment. Work should be equitable, whether the team is at the office or at home.

Seek referrals from diverse employees

US companies hire 29% of their workforce through employee referrals. To get more diverse referrals, all you need to do is ask. Encourage employees to send leads and you can even provide incentives.

Use inclusive language, especially in job descriptions

It’s worth creating a style guide for inclusive language so you can avoid biased and discriminatory phrases. Keep job descriptions simple and gender-neutral, and watch out for any unnecessary details. Emphasize your company is an Equal Opportunity Employer and share any inclusive policies you may have in place.

Plan projects around inclusive content

Organize company-wide diversity training and activities, but also consider taking on projects that foster inclusivity and expose the team to different issues or concerns. Last November, we released Subdial as a response to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a free mobile app that provides first-responder alternatives to emergency situations as most incidents don’t need police intervention. Subdial has resources for mental health, domestic disturbances, homelessness, youth services, LGBTQIA, and even medical care.

We’re Just Getting Started 

Diversity and inclusion in design aren’t one-time initiatives; they’re constantly evolving. At Big Human, the products we design and the teams we build reflect the world around us. We’re proud of what we’ve done to encourage a diverse team and an open environment, but there will always be new things to learn, and it’s on us to put them into practice.

September 13, 2021design