Give Your Product Design & Design Teams an Inclusivity Injection

Written by Nathalie Crosbie

A lot has been written lately about the value of diversity in tech. Often these conversations centre around definitions of diversity that focus on gender diversity and racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity. There’s good reasons for this: as one oft-quoted study found, for example, women “impact up to 85 percent of purchasing decisions” and are “leading adopters of tech, so an underrepresentation of women in positions of influence on product means less women involved in defining future directions for tech/tech companies”. Focusing on these bigger categories of diversity gives us a chance for bigger impact.

But even though, as a woman, that study and its potential impacts interests me, as a product designer and design team leader, another study interests me equally, if not more: It found that diversity leads to better problem solving and group performance, saying “diverse groups solve problems more effectively than homogenous ones, raising overall performance and giving diverse teams a distinct competitive edge”. The results of this study have led me to explore ways be even more inclusive of diversity in our work and teams.

Today I’m going to share:

  • Some broad ways I’ve defined diversity and inclusivity to enrich product design, processes, and team perspectives
  • Some examples of contexts in which we’ve integrated diversity in our design and process approaches here at Myplanet
  • A diversity checklist for including more diverse perspectives in teams and product design

My aim is that product design leaders and practitioners will:

  • Be inspired by the benefits I’ve witnessed to be more intentionally inclusive in product design approaches
  • Have a few examples to help understand potential ways to apply
  • Have a checklist to refer to when aiming to increase the breadth of diversity in your design teams (for recruiting, for composing project teams, for design collaboration, user research or testing participation, etc.)

Example 1: Including External Peer Design Groups in Collaboration

To learn and get ourselves out of our familiar, comfortable way of doing things, I recently experimented with having our team at Myplanet partner with a design leader and team from an outside company, Wattpad, by bringing both teams together for an afternoon of product design collaboration. This gave Andrew Chak, the Head of Design at Wattpad, and me a chance to collaborate on a design leadership initiative together, and validate a hypothesis that bringing in outside company design perspectives would empower our team members with new methods and perspectives to add to their toolbelts of design processes, and do a richer, better product design as a result.

In addition to our collaboration day being a way to include other perspectives, I intentionally planned for diverse participation within the Myplanet team. To do this, I ensured our participants included varied:

  • Ages
  • Genders
  • Educational backgrounds
  • Areas of specialization
  • Years of industry and company experience
  • Ethnicities and cultural backgrounds

(NB: I had also planned to include a remote participant for added diversity, but project work required that team member to pull out last minute.)

In creating the format for the collaboration, I also included methods that took into account needs specific to some of those diverse participants. For example, we/I gave an advance head’s up for introverts, letting them know what an upcoming ice-breaker would consist of knowing that introverts, typically, prefer to prepare in advance.

Outcome: The collaboration day was a great success and validated our hypothesis. Our teams were engaged and found, as product designers, leaders, and companies, that both our product designs and processes were enhanced by each other’s perspectives and ways of doing things. You can read about the approach and successes we experienced that day, and find a checklist for running a similar session yourself, here.

How we can improve further: Include an even broader mix of participants next time filling gaps from the checklist below. Change the location of the next design studio for diversity of location.

Example 2: Broadening the Definition of ‘Diversity’

Source: Jumpmag

One of our telecommunications clients asked us this past year to craft a Design Thinking workshop for their technical team. The client had a more traditional session with another company before, and though they had found it interesting, one of the reasons they were coming to us for this session was because they found their employees had not applied the learnings to their day-to-day work following the training.

In approaching the discovery and design of the training, my perspective was that, a product (whether a website, an app, a new process, an employee development plan or — in this case — a training program) should take into account diverse needs and perspectives. So an important step in creating the workshop was to design a questionnaire to uncover the diverse types and needs of participants to meet the goals of the client and the needs of the participants.

By doing this I was able to uncover things, like the fact that the majority of participants were introverts as opposed to extroverts, and were ‘thinkers’ instead of ‘feelers’ (you can find out more about thinkers vs feelers through methodology like Myers-Briggs tests, etc.). Without applying a diversity lens to the identification of the participants of the workshop and the requirements of the client, we might have planned for a more stereotypical design studio workshop, full of activities like spontaneous sketching that would be more comfortable for extroverts than introverts, for example.

Because we took the group’s varied needs and preferences into account ahead of time, we were able to craft a more comfortable, stimulating and productive day for the team.

Outcome: The client company accepted the training proposal we’d submitted, generating added revenue for our company, and we delivered the training to positive reviews from the participants. And, more importantly, a post-training survey with the session participants found that all said that they ‘would implement what they learned in their day-to-day’ moving forward, which successfully met our client’s original goals for the training.

How we can improve further: Consider even more diversity-focussed questions for the training discovery in future, drawing from the checklist below for a future round. Incorporate the perspectives provided by our training participants in the post-training feedback into future rounds of training.

Example 3: ‘Intentional’ Recommending For Internal Teams

This year Myplanet pioneered a new Concepts team. whose mandate is to explore emerging technologies, eg Artificial Intelligence, and their application in business software. As a team that would be entrusted with pushing the boundaries of innovation, it was particularly important to recruit a team that would bring diverse perspectives and approaches. With that in mind, I shared with the Head of Concepts at the time some statistics underlying the importance of diversity for quality teams and products and recommended that diversity be an important consideration to the formation of the team. We worked together to ensure we made the team selection process open and inclusive from the start, ensuring both the selection committee and the team being selected had diversity as a start-point for building from.

Outcome: A diverse panel of recruiters was formed to select and screen the concept team candidates and a diverse team was chosen as Concept team members.

How we can improve further: As the team grows, one example would be to have more diversity of age in the team over time.

Example 4: Recruiting For A More Diverse Advisory Board Panel

Myplanet’s earliest iteration of our advisory board, while rich in experience and industry knowledge, was not a diverse group. It reflected diversity in the market but was not reflective of what we wanted to see in terms of diversity of people, or reflective of what companies are aspiring to in this day and age to access a more diverse set of viewpoints, networks, and connections outside of our own circles. Though our CEO was very excited about the expertise of those initially assembled on the panel, he was aware of the desirability of focussing on recruiting a broader range of individuals.

“Because diversity doesn’t happen by chance in business contexts, we resolve to think about it up front.” — Jason Cottrell, Founder & CEO Myplanet

I supported our company’s goals by supporting our team, as a diverse person myself, in identifying and approaching more diverse sets of prospective advisors.

Outcome: As someone who can offer perspective from a couple of diversity lenses beyond what the previous panel had available, I was able to support our company’s goals by assisting with the outreach for new advisory prospects, helping to identify and approach potential candidates drawn from a more diverse cross-section of people. By including myself and another team member, Arjun, who was also able to offer different perspectives on diversity, rather than our CEO Jason Cottrell reaching out alone, we were able to access a more diverse, broader network, and form more initial connections with diverse individuals. We found great candidates through that effort, including several women, at least one identifying as LGBT and transgendered, and people from an even broader range of fields.

How we can improve further: Continue to include additional diverse people in the sourcing of, and conversations with, prospective advisors.

Inclusivity and diversity checklist for enriched product design & teams

Want to be more diverse in your own recruiting, forming of project teams, product design, testing, and research? Consider including a mix of:

  • Internal & external participants
  • Introverts & extroverts
  • Thinkers & feelers
  • A-types and B-types
  • Synthesizers & generators
  • Ethnicities
  • Cultures
  • Varied skills sets (e.g. developers alongside designers)
  • People who’ve worked in-house and in professional services
  • Varied sexual orientations
  • Varied ages
  • Varied genders
  • Varied able-bodiedness
  • Local and remote participants
  • Varied educational backgrounds
  • Varied areas of specialization
  • Varied years of industry and company experience

Can you think of more that should be considered? We’d love to hear your suggestions! Please share them in the comments below.

And if you’re interested in learning more about this topic, here are some great resources to get you started:

Want to experience Myplanet’s inclusivity first-hand? Apply to work with us here or reach out to our team to learn how we can bring our approach to your business.

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