How can I design for diversity? UX Question #65

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Gianni from Anaheim, California, asks: How can I design for diversity?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Gianni. This is UX Question number 65 and I am Ben Judy.

How can I design for diversity? Well, it’s a great question because good design is good for everybody. One of the fundamental reasons user experience exists as a discipline or practice is because, when I design a digital product, I will naturally—by default—design for people like me. In other words, I won’t design for a diverse user group, because of my own bias. Bias is an inherent part of human nature, and it takes intentionality and a thoughtful approach to overcome our biases.

An important thing to understand about human diversity is that there is an infinite number of diversity factors. What do I mean by ‘diversity factors?’ Well, I mean categories like demographics, cultural identities, ethnicity, training and expertise.

Humans are different in so many ways. We can study a population of people—software users or website visitors, for example—in countless ways. Language and communication abilities, income and social class, the technology they use, physical abilities or disabilities, diets, attitudes and opinions about any topic.

And people aren’t static. Many aspects of what makes us individually distinct change over time. So not only is designing for diversity an incredibly broad target, it’s also a moving target.

Here’s the inescapable truth of designing for diversity: you must choose which diversity factors you will focus on and why. You have to prioritize because the concept of universal design—one, single product design that serves the needs of all people, everywhere, for all time—is actually impossible.

I love this quote from the book Moments of Impact by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon:

“You can’t possibly take into account—less optimize for—all the possible combinations of these perspectives… Thankfully, you don’t need to. Your purpose isn’t to gather a Noah’s ark of token representation. It’s to find creative and effective solutions to real challenges.”

So the path to designing for diversity begins at the same place all UX design efforts begin: know your users. Study them, build empathy for them and the specific challenges they face.

Make a list of as many diversity factors as you can discover, and then do the hard work of strategically prioritizing. What diversity factors will you solve for, and why are you narrowing your focus to those factors?

I’ve spoken at length about diversity, inclusive design, and related topics. I encourage you to go back to episode 45, “What is inclusive design?” And also check out my half-hour episode, UX Questions Special #1, “Inclusive Design Strategy.”

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: How can I lead performance evaluations for UX professionals?

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