Diverse Teams in UX and UI Design: The Journey to User-Centered Design

May 28, 2021

Designing a product is like making a cake. It needs to be tailored to the audience it’s going to serve. Otherwise, it won’t taste very good.

Diversity is essential for any team, but it’s especially vital in the field of UX and UI design. A diversely skilled team means that you’ll have people from all different backgrounds working together on your project, leading to creativity, better products, more innovation, and less conflict among designers because they come from different perspectives.

When a diverse group of individuals comes together at work, they’re less likely to think about what one type of person would want or need when designing a product. They consider the needs and wants of various kinds of people and factors like age, gender identity, sexual orientation — not only race or ethnicity. And while it may seem easier to do this kind of research by looking at users like yourself, it will not benefit all of the users on the product. The world is not homogenized.

Designing a product is all about the people you design for. And if you’re not developing products for everyone, then your customers will never be satisfied.

This article will explore how diversity in teams benefits UX and UI design. We’ll talk about what exactly “diversity” means and why it matters in these fields.

Why is diversity important in design?

Designers are often asked to design for a diverse audience. But why is diversity important in design? The answer is simple: well-designed products are easier and more enjoyable to use.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Designers who don’t consider the needs of their users will not be able to create the best possible experience for everyone they’re designing for, which can lead to frustration, confusion, and loss of interest. To create an inclusive product that people want — and need — to use, designers must understand how different people think and behave to make informed decisions about what their next steps should be. Diversity creates opportunities for innovation because it forces designers to explore new ways of thinking outside the box while remaining true to themselves. It also provides a way for designers to find out how their users experience the world and use products.

To create a successful product, designers must understand that there is no such thing as “one size fits all.” UX/UI design can’t be done without considering diversity from start to finish because it’s an essential pillar of user-centered design. A diverse team will help ensure that everyone in your audience — regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or any other demographic marker you might have considered necessary before — can enjoy themselves when using the final product developed by your team.

Essentially, UX/UI design inclusive of diversity will help you build a product that your audience can use. A diverse team brings new ways of thinking outside the box while remaining true to themselves. It also provides a way for designers to find out how their users experience the world and use products differently than they might have otherwise anticipated or considered.

At its best, UX/UI design should be about building something beautiful. Still, it becomes so much more when considering all aspects, including diversity, as an essential pillar of the user-centered design process.

Nowadays, we see people of certain backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the design industry being celebrated for their contributions — like black female engineers who work at NASA.

According to the Design Census of 2019, diversity in design still has a long way to go. AIGA surveyed 9,429 for their annual report. 71% of the respondents are caucasian, 35% Asian, 8% Hispanic and 3% black, 5% multi-racial. It is up from last year, but there is still more to do to create diversity.

The report states that most non-binary and gender-fluid designers work full-time in-house or at an agency, while the number of LGBTQIA+ designers has risen by 5%. This now represents 15% of this year’s census.

In the study, 61% of respondents were females, and 36% were male! This is now tipping the scale and making a difference in the field of designers.

“more women than ever are in the design workforce.” — said AIGA

The study also found that the median age of designers is 35, which points to a profession with some stability. This means it’s more likely for people to have careers spanning decades and contribute their experience in design. The survey states this has been changing over recent years as many are now starting at an early age or switching jobs every few years.

Coming from all walks of life, diverse teams can bring varying perspectives on creating our work!

Building a diverse team culture: How to find the right team members

The user experience design field is becoming increasingly diverse. As the world population becomes more and more ethnically diverse, so too does the UX field. To create a product that appeals to everyone, your team needs to be as diverse as possible.

Photo by Leon on Unsplash
Photo by Leon on Unsplash

Whether you’re hiring someone or joining an existing team, here are some tips on finding and recruiting people with different backgrounds who will help you build better products for all types of users.

Diversity starts from the top

It is vital to have a diverse leadership team that can provide mentorship for all employees. Having people from different backgrounds will mean that more mentors understand and relate to the challenges of working in an environment still learning to be diverse.

Make the hiring process less biased with a diverse interview team

Ever wonder why your interview process is so biased? In her research of 120 interviews, Professor Rivera found that employers are looking for potential friends in new hires. That means that someone in the interview team would most likely hire someone that looks like themself. If you’re hiring a UX designer, it’s essential to have people on your interview team with diverse backgrounds.

“Hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting,” says Rivera in her study. “It is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but culturally similar to themselves.”

The best way to avoid this bias is by including interviews from different perspectives and backgrounds. The interviewer should ask questions about experiences the candidate has had that might not be related directly to the job they’re applying for to understand better who this person is and how they will behave in the workplace.

How do you incorporate diversity in design?

A few days ago, I was at an online event where the speaker’s presentation was about creating a diverse design. The presenter touched on topics such as gender, age, and ethnicity. All three of these are important aspects when designing for any user group, so we mustn’t neglect them in our work.

One thing that stood out to me was the idea of “representation”. We need to make sure that there is a representation of all genders and races within our designs because this will help us create more inclusive products/services. While you can’t please everyone with your design, making sure you have diversity within your illustrations and graphics goes a long way in doing so!

The speaker also mentioned that many designers might not be aware of the need to design with diversity in mind. We should consider this and actively think about it when designing for specific audiences/segments. It’s essential to know your audience so you can create a better experience for them!

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash
Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Designers should always take into account the needs and wants of their users. Customers come in all shapes and sizes, both age-wise and gender-wise. We need to empathize with our users while contemplating whether we are being too biased, which will lend itself to a better understanding of diversity within society by asking questions about the world around us.

The need for better diversity in the world starts with self-examination. To build a more inclusive future, we must question our biases and think outside the box when designing products or services. Companies such as Airbnb and News Deeply have made it their mission to create an internet that is free from bias by providing designers tools like this toolkit called “Another Lens”, which prompts users to rethink what they know about how people interact on digital platforms while also keeping accessibility in mind at every step along the way.

Inclusivity is not just a feel-good catchphrase. It’s vital if we want the world to be less biased and more diverse.

Be mindful of excluding certain groups from the design process. Ensure that personas have a diverse gender and ethnicity, conduct research with different demographic backgrounds, ask for feedback on designs in many formats.

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What are some challenges that come with a diverse team culture?

Diversity is the spice of life, but it can also create some challenges. It takes a lot of time and energy to make sure everyone is being heard. There are differences in thought process, culture, values, needs. We must take the time, so there aren’t biases when coming up with solutions for problems.

We must also recognize our biases, which might lead us to false conclusions about what certain people want or need from technology (for example, thinking women prefer pink).

Photo by Le Wagon on Unsplash
Photo by Le Wagon on Unsplash

Some tips for working with diversity in design include:

  • Include people in decision-making processes. This includes asking for input on decisions before they’re made or soliciting feedback after a decision has been made. Without broader participation, people may feel their voice isn’t heard or valued;
  • Please don’t assume that someone doesn’t know something because of their background (or other factors). It’s best to ask questions than make assumptions — this will help you see things from another perspective and allow others to share knowledge as well, and finally,
  • Value diversity in all its forms. When we design for a diverse user group, we need to include people from different genders, races, ages, and abilities so that our work is inclusive of everyone.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, said that “We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are”

People on design teams and in the design industry often have different experiences, languages, and cultures, which can lead to misunderstandings. This is especially the case when there’s a communication breakdown between those who speak English as their first language and those that don’t or are young vs. old. Throw in differences of opinions because some people understand instructions better than others due to cultural references they’ve been exposed to, and you’ll find yourself with low levels of productivity amongst team members.

This makes it very important to agree on the workplace’s language and encourages employees to ask more questions if they are unsure of any communication or task given.

One pitfall many companies find themself in when they only focus on diverse hiring is the trap of hiring someone just because they fit in the quota of diverse hires. Poor performers lead to damaging morale and can create a reduction in productivity.

When an employee is underperforming, and no additional training can change that, it’s time to move on. The ideal replacement may be right around the corner. Please don’t sacrifice your company for one underperforming employee despite their diversity.

The importance of empathy in UX/UI design

UX Designers are like empathy machines. They’ve got the skills to read people — what they want, how they feel, and why they do what they do.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Empathy is an essential ingredient in a successful UX design project. It’s not enough to know your audience or understand their goals; you have to get inside their head.

As designers, it’s our job to empathize with all of our users and identify which features will work best for them. We need this ability so we can create a product that makes sense for the end-user. And here, diversity plays a huge role, as we have discussed earlier in this article.

To create the best UX design, we need to understand and empathize with all of our users. This means listening closely to learn about their differences and how those differences shape them.

The problem is that as a society, we’ve been taught not only what certain groups like but also what they don’t like. We’re told who should wear certain things or say particular words; this limits us when it comes time for designing anything from an app to a website.

Designers must recognize that these stereotypes exist — especially if you plan on using them in your work — so you can avoid some potential pitfalls.

Empathizing is a crucial skill for designers, who rely on understanding users and creating products that serve their needs.

When you develop empathy, it’s like putting on another person’s shoes and walking a mile in them. You can understand how they feel just by being able to see things from their perspective.

Stopping unconscious bias from affecting your design process

We all have biases, and we don’t even realize it. Unconscious bias is defined as a bias against or in favor of certain groups without realizing it. In the workplace, this can lead to making decisions based on stereotypes rather than facts about an individual’s qualifications.

When designers are unaware of their unconscious biases, they may unintentionally discriminate against members of underrepresented groups when deciding who to hire or promote; gender-based hiring practices are often not intentional but stem from unconscious bias. So how do you stop unconscious bias? The first step is identifying your personal biases so that you can work consciously towards eliminating them from your decision-making proctor to create more equal opportunities for everyone in the workplace!

If you need help identifying your biases, a few tests can give you some insight. One is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures how strongly we associate certain groups of people with positive or negative words and images in our minds.

Another test is called an “Ambiguous Scenario”, where participants must choose one out of three options to describe different situations involving either racial issues or gender-based discrimination issues; this helps identify if unconscious bias could affect decision-making processes at work. Once these types of biases have been identified, it becomes easier to eliminate them from everyday office life!

A person’s unconscious bias influences how they behave or make decisions throughout their life, even in the workforce. Designers may unintentionally discriminate against members of underrepresented groups when deciding who to hire or promote if they are unaware of their implicit biases. The conscious practice of overriding those biases is a powerful tool for creating more impactful experiences.

Achieve equity and inclusion in design: Breaking down barriers

Equity is about the feeling that everyone in an environment is treated fairly and given the same treatment regardless of personal characteristics.

Break down those barriers! Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Break down those barriers! Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Equity in the workplace is about creating a level playing field. Although being good at what you do is essential, the idea of a level playing field and hard work being enough to get ahead are not always accurate. Some people have an advantage over others because of their gender, race, social circles, etc.

Although being good at what you do is essential in achieving equity and inclusion in design, meritocracy isn’t always true. It may seem from the outside looking in because some people’s advantages have been identified (i.e., white privilege). It becomes easier once these barriers have been identified for designers to eliminate them from everyday office life!

So how do you achieve more equity and inclusion?

  • Be thoughtful. Explore your assumptions about groups of people. What are my norms, standard practices, and usual networks? Who’s in them (are they diverse)? How would it be different if you included more individuals with various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives than your own? And who can help me find these connectors from within the organization?
  • Go beyond your assumptions, norms, standard practice, and usual networks by seeking out connections that will benefit all parties involved. This is not only an essential step for designers but everyone else at work as well!
  • Ask more open-ended questions: “How do you think?” “How was it received by the participants?” — Encourage an appreciation for the goal, as mentioned earlier. Remember, you are working toward a more equitable organizational culture. An environment in which people believe their ideas and opinions are valued and respected
  • Reflective thinking: We have been talking about diversity and inclusion efforts for decades. If we want to leverage what has already been accomplished, then equity is critical.

Everyone has the responsibility to break down the barriers that exist in our workplaces and communities. If you want to achieve more equity and inclusion, be thoughtful about how your actions might affect others.

Explore your assumptions about groups of people; go beyond what is understood as norms, standard practice, or usual networks by seeking out connections with all parties involved; ask open-ended questions like “How do you think?” or “What was it received by the participants?”.

Reflective thinking can help us learn from mistakes we may have made without realizing them and understand why they happened. We’ve been talking about diversity and inclusion efforts for decades now, but there’s still so much work left to do! Let’s come together through these final steps to get closer to achieving accurate equity and inclusion

Wrap up and takeaways from the article

Yes, that was a lot to think about! Photo by Doğukan Şahin on Unsplash
Yes, that was a lot to think about! Photo by Doğukan Şahin on Unsplash

The topic of diversity and design can seem complicated and overwhelming. 
Still, it all boils down to you and your attitude towards other people, the organization you work for, and your own biases. That one slight shift in perspective can set your whole outlook on diversity and inclusion.

I haven’t touched on it much in this article, but the financial benefit of having a diverse workforce is too significant not to acknowledge. It has been shown that the cash flow of companies that have a diverse workforce is 2.3x higher than those that don’t, and they can boost a 19% increase in their revenues, according to Forbes. You’ll create a more innovative and creative team when you have different perspectives coming together on one project, which will lead to an overall better product.

The rewards for a diverse workforce are too big to ignore — you get new perspectives, different approaches, less bias, and even more opportunities to be creative! You also foster an environment where people feel welcome and respected, which is good for morale. Why would anyone want that?

The most important reward for having a diverse workforce is the opportunity to create better products. You’ll have more creativity, less bias, and there will be an atmosphere of respect which will lead to higher morale.

I hope this article has helped lay the groundwork for understanding what it means to work towards diversifying design teams to create products with users at the center. Let me know in the comments below or reach out directly here!

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RÅDAHL is a leading eCommerce and UX design company with over 12 years of experience in the industry. We have a unique perspective on how to approach new ventures in eCommerce and state-of-the-art technology, and we are skilled in problem-solving and understanding the needs and motivations of users. 
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