We need to change the way we design

It’s clear that being smart is not enough if we are committed to undoing inequalities. It’s also clear that being well-intentioned doesn’t necessarily mean that our creations and products actually do anything to end inequalities. And even being neutral to inequalities, doesn’t make you a good person.

We know this, because we’ve seen well intentioned, good and very smart people perpetuate and reproduce inequalities, time and time again:

Snapchat

Air BnB

Bic

Gap Kids

Google

Apple Health App

Twitter

Pepsi

We are on a mission to change this.

Companies are readily adopting Design Thinking (DT) as an approach to solving problems and creating a culture of innovation, empathy and collaboration. We love design thinking and agree that it can play a critical role in developing transformational solutions. It is fundamentally about believing you can make a difference and giving you a process for transforming difficult challenges into solutions that create positive impact. However, we have found that DT, alone, is insufficient.

Your organisation may already be a melting pot of genders, cultures, ages and races. Or not. One thing is certain: in a classist, sexist, racist world, we are all get fed a diet of this stuff. What’s more, inequalities across race, gender and class, to name a few, are some of the best designed systems of all time — made all the more powerful because we may not even know we’re in them and they may appear “normal” to the untrained eye.

A brave new approach: Design for Inclusion

If we want to truly ensure our creations and solutions better challenge the systems that maintain inequalities, we must add a power, privilege and inequalities lens to the Design Thinking process. For that, we need Design for Inclusion.

Toolbox participants created after a 4 day programme at Hyper Island, Karlskrona

Our Approach — Design for Inclusion

How does your organisation ensure that its creations, products and services:

  • Are truly valuable to the world;
  • Best serve all your customers and employees;
  • Engage meaningfully with new groups of people;
  • Defy the normalised status quo;
  • Are held to the highest standards of creativity; and
  • Are intentional about positive social transformation?

To answer yes to the above questions, we need to come to terms with: 1) Power and privilege at the micro and macro level and 2) Systems thinking.

Power and Privilege: who are you as a designer? None of us are neutral as designers. All aspects of our identities inform how we see the world. And none of us is just one thing. We must develop our critical thinking capacity. We need to become comfortable with discomfort and have the tools to engage in courageous conversations about the root causes of inequalities — and our role in them — because privilege is invisible to those who have it.

Systems thinking: what impact is your idea really having? We need the tools to critically analyse what we have created and why. Are your ideas upholding systems that create inequality or are you actively dismantling them? The future calls for critical thinkers who don’t follow the status quo; because the status quo badly needs a status update.

What’s the benefit of this?

Designing for Inclusion could be engaged in because potential sexist and racist ‘errors’ are embarrassing and awkward. Or — because your organisation’s contribution can be more powerful than you ever imagined, you are open to being accountable to the world and you want to be the best version of yourselves. As customers demand more from their brands, by investing in your capacity for diverse thought, action for justice and challenging inequalities, we can better pioneer new ways of imagining the world and then get on with building it.

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