Building a Design Culture of Inclusion

Lia Garvin
Aug 8, 2018 · 4 min read


Design is a discipline centered around building empathy for the user; enabling you to help solve problems they encounter, and improve their lives in a way they never thought possible.

Empathy is about being able to put ourselves in our users’ shoes to anticipate what they might want or need, the obstacles they might face when interacting with a product or service, and helping them achieve their goals using the product or service as seamlessly as possible.


Empathy is not possible without understanding; and understanding is formed by moving past our assumptions, both conscious and unconscious, and making an effort to to actually experience something first hand.


Understanding relies on exposure. We cannot truly understand the contexts, experiences, desires, and challenges of other people if we never come into contact with them, and rely on our assumptions or past experiences to form our opinions.


Exposure helps us to establish meaning. We make sense of the world around us by experiencing others and building meaning around those experiences and interactions.


Once we have gained a sense of meaning from the world around us, the different people, backgrounds, geographies, experiences, it is our responsibility to think from an inclusive lens. How can we create a better world for everyone?


And so you can see that a truly inclusive environment does not come together without thought or deliberate effort, and really takes an exercise in design thinking to bring a great team together.

It starts with having empathy for each other, and the desire to think broadly about how might we come together as a team to solve challenging problems. It takes collaborating on potential solutions, thinking about what you would need to do to get from where your team is today to where you want it to be tomorrow. It takes jumping in and trying out solutions, even if they aren’t perfect, because you can always iterate as you learn.

How we promote inclusion on a team

Research on emotional intelligence and psychological safety tells us that team members who feel included are more engaged and do better work. But this does not only mean hosting happy hours and lunches.

A few areas that really make an impact on inclusion are:

Team composition & representation

  • Recruiting people from a diverse set of backgrounds to represent different experiences and contexts of the world around us
  • Providing all members of the team access to interesting projects and things that can build their career
  • Ensuring some of the work on the team is not valued as A team vs B team work (ex: visual design vs. production design)

Establish psychological safety

  • Actively listening when people raise concerns or contribute ideas
  • Making sure people’s opinions are heard across the team
  • Soliciting feedback across the team

Open and transparent communication

  • Transparency in decision making
  • Openness on where you are with a team strategy, hiring, team direction
  • Ensuring people’s roles are defined, even when there is overlap so that people can establish their sense of purpose

And the risks of not being inclusive?

We don’t need research to tell us what happens when we don’t see inclusion as a value on a team, we’ve all seen it:

  • Apathy towards the product and the users
  • Disengagement from the team
  • Attrition — people leaving the team at higher rates
  • Negative team culture
  • Us vs. them mentality between team members or team vs. another team in the company (ex. design vs. pm, design vs. eng)
  • Suffering of work quality

People make products

Remember — we are talking about people here, people designing and creating experiences for other people. There is no shortcut to establishing a positive team culture, and no way to be effective for the long haul without it.

When there are seams in a team and organization, they show up to the user — they break the experience, they make things confusing — the user suffers from our inability to build a positive environment.

But when we do remember, we can solve problems and build solutions that we never thought possible. Let’s think bigger and broader as we hire — to bringing in people who look and think differently than us, who represent other aspects of the world we might not have exposure to, who came from different schools or industries or backgrounds that will bring unique and innovative perspectives to how we solve problems. Let’s include everyone in the meaningful work, and give each other opportunities that allow us to grow and extend our reach. Let’s listen.

Lia Garvin

Written by

Sr Operations Manager @Google AR/VR. Passion for organizing groups into inclusive, happy, and effective teams. Previously at Apple & Microsoft.

Google Design

Stories by Googlers on the practice of design. For editorial content and more visit

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