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Reaching the minority: inclusive design begins with the right data

By Tim Banks | Head of user experience

Reading Room

|

Opinion article

December 9, 2021 | 6 min read

Diversity and inclusion are values in themselves. But what’s the best route to genuine representation? For our Deep Dive on Marketing and the Marginalized, Tim Banks, head of user experience at The Drum Network member agency Reading Room, argues that it should start with real data and research.

The diversity conversation has led many organizations to re-evaluate policies, products and services with inclusivity in mind. But once you admit that you are excluding people, how do you learn what will make experiences more inclusive for them?

A jigsaw puzzle

Reading Room’s Tim Banks on data-backed inclusion and diversity

The first step toward inclusivity

You can start by identifying all the groups that might want to use what you are putting out into the world. That can be a big list, so sometimes it’s better to start by defining those that won’t. Both approaches will require honesty and a healthy dose of debiasing.

When defining what makes a minority, focus on lived experience when profiling your user groups. For instance, when, where and how easily people can access technology is nearly always more important than age or socioeconomic status for digital services. Despite this, many businesses still use demographics as a default starting point.

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Beyond the inherent needs of individuals, context can also define a specific group that is being overlooked. Situational factors such as weather, time of day and background noise will reduce the quality of the experience for many, but for some it will be a barrier.

This means your research needs to be sensitive to the accessibility needs of participants and the real-world environments in which they may interact with you.

Find communities, not just individuals

Understanding groups’ needs will often involve reaching those in the margins whose voices are hardest to hear (and under-represented on consumer panels). Their participation is an unavoidable step on your journey to becoming inclusive.

Methods such as snowball sampling, which utilizes networks within communities, can be an effective way to find the right people.

Rob Plant, director of research at our sister research business Ronin, regularly faces this challenge: “A global pharmaceutical provider recently tasked us to find information on patients and caregivers of an extremely rare disease that only occurs within 16 out of every million people worldwide. The only way to conduct this research was to tap into already established patient networks and support groups. Without these existing communities, the starting points and seeding of participant recruiters would not have been possible.”

This is an example of how the snowball sampling method works – finding people already embedded in communities that can help you to find and engage others in their network.

Make the research inclusive, not just the output

If the research methods you use fail to be inclusive – if there is any part of your audience that is unable to participate because of the approach you use – you’ll be left with skewed data.

When recruiting participants, you must understand what their motivations will be, the challenges they face and the sensitivities you need to consider.

Think carefully about even the choice of words that you use in conducting this research. Some terminology may not sit well with certain communities or may be offensive to certain groups. Finding the right language can be tricky, especially around sensitive topics. Consult with members of the community you are trying to reach to ensure your methodology is not alienating or othering.

Transparency, in terms of your process, recruitment and input, is also integral to engaging with more participants. Make sure that this research is relevant to these audiences, and that means being clear about why their participation is so crucial, but also what the outcomes will be – how it can specifically benefit these segments of your audience.

Deliver on your promise

When the result broadens the base of people who can take part in the experience you are creating, there’s no question that this will be beneficial to your business.

If you aren’t inclusive by default, you must accept the risk of frequent and costly re-designs as you broaden the number of groups you wish to include. In the worst cases, you risk severely damaging your brand.

As Gareth Ford Williams of the Readability Group says: “... instead of building things and trying to make things accessible, the most efficient and effective thing to do is to build accessible things.” Accessible UX (user experience) is efficient UX.

Remember that it’s not a box-ticking exercise in compliance. You are designing something to meet the needs of real people, so test with real people and continue to implement their feedback. Having a diverse team or involving users with accessibility needs in ideation, design and testing will always lead to fewer biases and better solutions.

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