Why diversity matters in product design

An important conversation is happening in government at the moment about diversity and inclusion. There are events happening that are helping it gather momentum. It’s a subject we tweet about, blog about and discuss most days in the Product Design practice in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

So I was taken aback when I recently heard someone ask why we should build diverse teams. They questioned what the advantage was. What’s wrong with the way things are?

This made me realise we need to be clearer about our commitment to building a strong, happy, diverse team. One made up of people of different genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, ages, experiences, levels of introversion and extroversion and every other characteristic that makes us unique.

This isn’t something we’re doing because of recruitment policies or satisfaction surveys. Those are things that might help us along the way.

This is something we feel strongly about because we have a responsibility to look after each other and to create an environment where we all feel comfortable and confident doing the best work we can.

In our roles, that means feeling comfortable to challenge and be challenged, to share ideas and ask for help. All with the knowledge that the people we work with respect us and want us to thrive.

It feels good when our colleagues agree with us, but we’d never learn if no-one suggested alternative approaches. Different outlooks help us avoid ‘groupthink’ and, importantly, help us build better services to help some of the most vulnerable people in society. Which is why we all work at DWP.

A lack of diverse thinking can result in products that don’t meet the needs of everyone who uses them. This example shows what happened when an all-male group of manufacturers and designers created car airbags: “it didn’t occur to them they should be designing for people unlike themselves”.

Building a diverse team that represents the normal makeup of society isn’t easy. We don’t have all the answers. If you have ideas and want to help, we’d love to talk.

We think the first step is to get a snapshot of how the practice is made up now. We’ll then be able to see if things we try have an impact.

This isn’t something we can change overnight. We need to work together as a practice. We won’t always get it right.

But we want to make something really clear: we’re doing this because we believe that our practice will be happier, stronger and more successful if we make a conscious effort to make it a place where everyone’s welcome.

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