Designing for Care: Inclusive Content
with inspiration for writers from a recent OneDesign release
Communication is imperfect — it’s messy and complex. And it’s beautifully human. Situated at the heart of our lives and everyday experiences, the language we use and the interactions we create are key to promoting people’s ability to freely connect and participate in authentic relationships across our differences.
Why Inclusive Content?
Earth has 7.5 billion people — with 7.5 billion diverse and shifting identities, abilities and contexts. We’re influenced by beliefs, personal experiences, social norms and cultural values — and we often express them through one or more of today’s 7,097 living languages.
As humans evolve and diverge in our changing world, designers must adapt to new and unique circumstances to offer usable products. This starts with content — and an understanding that what we say and how we say it has the ability to influence or determine outcomes in people’s lives.
Inclusive content acknowledges the power language has in providing access, shaping knowledge and triggering our emotions — for the greater good. And with it, we endorse the liberatory power of speech and accept responsibility to protect and promote the well-being and dignity of others.
How We’re Approaching It
I’m fortunate to work with a purpose-driven team in HR Design — and more largely with 50,000+ Capital One associates — who strive to act compassionately, practice empathy and use the growth mindset to create a culture of belonging at work and in our industry. We’re at the beginning of this journey and have a long way to go.
To help bring this work to life, I’m excited to share our first release of inclusive content guidelines. It’s for the writer, storyteller and anyone who dares to act on shared principles — like OneDesign’s deliver what’s meaningful, invite people in and connect the dots.
Writing More Inclusively
Find out what brings people together — and weave it throughout your narrative.
People have a basic human need for inclusion and belonging to feel loved, safe and understood. Human to human, get to know the people in your audience and customers using your products and services. Bring who you are into these conversations — as a designer and a person — to establish connections. And be patient — people with unmet needs may find it difficult to express them.
Help your subjects shine through your writing.
Narratives are a means to reflect others in a way they want to be represented and portrayed to the world. Treat each space and pause in your sentences as a chance for readers to absorb the essence of the person, community or idea you’re bringing to life.
Consider if identity-specific language such as using pronouns, is even needed. If it is, don’t make assumptions. Reach out and ask that group or individual how they prefer to be addressed.
You’ll know you’re successful when your writing delivers understanding by celebrating someone’s differences and care by making specific connections to build trust with your products from a positive light in their life.
Make copy clear, consistent and accessible.
Content that’s digestible, legible, scannable and delivered in plain language — free of jargon — helps more people comprehend content’s purpose and meaning. Getting your product’s voice and tone right by using natural language will help further connect and represent the subjects and objects of your story.
Provide diverse options with equal experiences.
Inclusive content doesn’t mean one size fits all. If a person needs to take a next step, offer multiple ways to accomplish a task if possible. That gives people control and a choice to suit them under any circumstances.
Identify biases, exclusive language or situational challenges, and update designs to remove them.
As an inclusive writer, you’ll strive to always learn about the powerful role language plays in shaping attitudes, influencing behavior and driving action for others.
To carry this mindset into practice, make time to reflect on your own identities, influences and intentions. It’ll help you surface the strengths and limitations of your design abilities.
Work closely with people in diverse communities with abilities not like your own to yield stronger results. These partners show up as stakeholders, co-designers or users of your content. By creating space and welcoming more people to the whiteboard, you can both hold each other accountable and celebrate in the successes of cooperative design.
In conclusion, take responsibility, stay curious and practice writing inclusively.
A huge thanks to associates and advocates who’ve contributed to this work by sharing their stories and personal experiences. Many thanks for the support and encouragement from Design, Diversity & Inclusion, Talent and Accessibility partners — including Dan Singer, Lori Schwabenhausen, Christina Chang, Mishel Horta, Dorothy Levin, Casey Smith, Traci Ford, Michael Domina, Sarah Dengel, Charity Zerull, Jo Ernst, Anne Kave, Joel Shaw, Melissa Flynn, Schuyler Atkins, Alexis Shannon, Sean Adams, and Sara Walsh for their expert opinions and contributions to start (and keep) this conversation going.
Heather Myers is a Content Design Manager for HR Design at Capital One. She’s a connector, systems thinker and language practitioner who loves helping to make work work for people and businesses. She also loves gardening and cozying up with a good book or documentary.
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