Design thinking

Diversity and Inclusion in Design

Diana Africano Clark

I view my work through the lens of interactions, products and research, a perspective on design that is inextricably linked to my belief in the benefits of diversity. The journey I started with Veryday thirteen years ago has allowed me to tie these passions together– from stegring more intimate projects all the way to leading large, diverse teams of multidisciplinary creatives.

Diversity in practice: a fine balance

Design is about developing products and services with a contextual fit for people in the everyday worlds they inhabit. As designers, we’re trained to identify socio-cultural nuances as the basis for crafting the future. We know how to get up close and personal to distinguish the subtleties of context, behavior, and relationships, and we know how to adapt to local circumstances. But to tap into the value of diversity, knowing “how to” is just not enough.

As people and as designers, we need to see diversity as a proactive daily practice. And we need to see it as actions to be taken – not just concepts to be discussed over coffee. To embody diversity, we must seek out intricate details and put that richness on the table for discussion.

The Veryday approach

Diversity and inclusion are deeply rooted in the origins of Veryday. The visionary approach of our founders was simply to improve quality of life for as many people as possible, and to enable equal opportunity in every aspect of society – regardless of cognitive, physical or sociocultural uniqueness.

As the pace of technology development, connectedness and reach accelerate, behaviors rapidly change and design becomes more complex. As our approach to people-centricity and inclusive design continues to evolve, we – and our clients – rely on the personal depth our design teams bring to each task, even more than we rely on their intellect, talent or individual experience.

Everything we do is guided by our people-centric perspective – it defines our organizational culture. We’re over 90 individuals from 30 different countries, with over 50 percent of us women and a strong female presence in our leadership.

Diana Africano Clark

My personal journey map

For me, diversity is daily practice – at home, at work, in every aspect of life. It’s what I breathe. Diversity is finding my own balance between adapting and pro-acting. It’s the actions I take to fine tune the personal diversity compass I use to navigate the world around me.

It started early for me when I was five years old in Venezuela, where my parents emigrated looking for opportunity. We were ten relatives living in a small apartment and everyone left early in the morning to study or to look for work. My mom struggled to grasp the new cultural environment. That struggle is familiar to most people who have made a life in a new place and tried to adapt and develop a voice in the world.

 

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I entered the diversity discussion from the perspective of marginalization as a child. As a newly arrived family from Colombia, living in Venezuela was a great challenge. I was told that my dreams were “too big”, but I never stopped dreaming. I found myself marginalized again, as a Latina immigrant in the U.S. and later in Europe. Fighting through adversity, I have learned to harness my unique identity. I am now a female leader living in a tri-lingual household with strong roots in six different cultures, and a body of work in design and applied research in Sweden, Denmark, Spain and in my native Colombia.

Being a part of recognized and unrecognized minorities has been the fuel that nurtures my voice. It is a constant balancing act between adapting and pro-acting. Steering away from the mainstream takes effort and requires action.

As professionals, we need to be on a mission to carve out space for marginalized voices. We need to continue to take risks and be explicit. It is a constant challenge and sometimes being confrontational is important. We have to do it through conversations with the people we most care about. But if we bring into play the interactions of our diverse life experiences, we can counterbalance the weight of outdated worldviews.

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Designing for societal challenges

Design is a very powerful force for dealing with complex issues in society, but it can’t create an interesting future if it seeks to serve the mainstream or originates from a position of privilege. As designers, we must intentionally seek out and challenge the standard views of the market, our clients and those in power.

Designing for diversity

In daily practice, diversity can be very concrete. It’s applied, relational and actionable, and something every organization can invest in.

I believe that the key to good design is identifying the finer points of context. Each design team needs to be curated as a miniature world that mirrors the components of the design space and those they’re designing for. Good teams encompass a range of disciplines, points of view, cultural backgrounds and life experience, familiarity with the topic, gender and age….This is the experience of diversity.

Include many voices

Multi-faceted teams are better prepared to address real-world issues. Defining a design team as its own microcosm operationalizes inclusion throughout the entire design process. It encourages us to ask: which configuration of individuals should meet stakeholders for the first time to ensure that the problem definition is inclusive? Which voices will lead the richest problem-solving conversations through research, co-creation, prototyping and testing? Which voices will be the most impactful in delivering the final concept?

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Let’s take a ride on a bus to learn what diversity and inclusion really mean. In Sweden, it is common to use public transportation in everyday life, but studies show that attitudes toward this mode of travel are often not very positive. When public transport provider Skånetrafiken engaged Veryday to transform views on bus travel, our joint goal was to attract current and future passengers to enact the future with us. The key was emotional engagement – to cater to people’s needs, desires and moods, regardless of physical ability or challenges.

We kicked off the project definition with the client by sharing the details of our own journeys, for example, the challenge of getting home from school on a rainy November afternoon. And so we continued, including voice after voice. The microcosm was complete when we had a diverse group of stakeholders, a diverse group of customers and a diverse design team all on the bus together. Only then were we ready to explore and ensure inclusive solutions.

After four sprints and six months, the actual concept bus was ready to meet passengers. This mobile lab is now in transit in Malmö, Sweden, helping our client implement solutions faster– and including real citizens in the process.

We stand alone together

As we go about our lives, we stand alone together. That’s the world we need to design for, a place where we can keep each other company and positively engage with everything that surrounds us. There will be good and bad days for diversity. It can never be complete and challenges can show up at any time, on a personal or professional level.

In our practice, we do the best we can to accurately represent the design space we’re working toward because we’ve learned that the set-up matters. Making diversity operational through practical everyday actions shapes our collective mindset and results in more openness, trust, creativity and reach.

There are three ways we’ve found to integrate diversity:

Use a diversity compass to identify operational opportunities

A culture of diversity and inclusion exists on all levels of organizational operations. At each decision point, ask yourself: what voice does this action support? Look for marginalized views when bringing in new talent and make it part of your recruitment philosophy. Celebrate the different voices of your team on a regular basis. State clear rules of engagement for your organization and your clients that guarantee a strong approach to diversity into the future.

Curate teams to bring marginalized voices to the discussion

Support the growth of unique voices in your organization and constantly nudge teams out of their comfort zone. Speak up when stereotypical views creep in. Don’t relax your language because words shape what we do.

Proactively seek out marginalized voices and force yourself to listen

Create arenas for debate and humanize activities that intentionally break boundaries. Create opportunities for alternative presentation styles that allow out-of-the-ordinary perspectives to surface. Practice intervention and be loud about it. Dare to disrupt the norms of the current conversation.