Designing for Good: Equitable Design

equitable design

Designing For Good: Equitable Design

The terms Equity and Equitable Design come up with increasing frequency as businesses are asked to be transparent about efforts to support diversity, equity, and inclusion by investors, customers, and employees.

Our designers want to make equitable designs for every client, so we have worked to understand what it means to design equitably.

To quote Jennifer Wright of Designers Build, “The term equity is often used interchangeably with equality, but it is a fundamentally different concept. Equality is giving everyone the same thing. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful.”

This does not mean that we design everything to be equal or the same for everyone regardless of their needs. Equitable design also does not mean that we have a diversity checklist for your stock photo library.

This is not equitable design

“From my perspective, equitable design has three levels of impact: Representational, Experiential, and Cognitive-behavioral,” says Valence UX Designer, Jacob Lowry.  In the context of equitable design, we like to define the three levels of impact like this:

  • Representational design authentically and positively challenges societal defaults and expectations.
  • Experiential design focuses on accessibility, beyond WCAG or ADA accessibility to include social, cultural, and technological access. With experiential design, we design for user needs and emotions.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral design influences how people think and behave. In this case, to use design to help people to think and act in a way that contributes and supports a more equitable society.

Bringing Equity to Your Next Design Problem

Everyone consumes content, and designers are in the unique position of helping create that content. As Christopher Paul discusses in his book Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play, design is a powerful and important societal role – it isn’t isolated.

Most design is built for business needs and for-profit content. However, being driven by profit is not in conflict with equitable design. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence to back up the link between business effectiveness and equitable design. Companies that integrate social responsibility into their operations can expect positive financial returns. These companies also increase sales and prices while reducing employee turnover.

It happens in big and small moments.

Designers can have the ambition for large, systematic change while operating on a niche, local, brand, or worldwide level. 

Designer Rie Nørregaard said in “Designing for Humanity,” that designers should shift away from “designing for” to “designing with” by connecting with different people and contexts. When designers step back from their own experiences to connect with the user and their perspective, we can design more equitably. This is especially true for designers that are members of the default norms (white, male, able-bodied, English speaking, etc.). How do we connect with other user experiences and needs? It can be through interviews, observations, conversations, research, and more. This is informed at Valence by our User Research team, too.

It’s simple to include equitable design in your next project because it doesn’t require a lot of research or professional development (though those can help). Equitable design simply requires a commitment to look outside of a limited world view to find the right way to approach solutions for a more diverse set of users.

In closing

Valence creates digital experiences that are used by companies and people across every industry and experienced by users around the world. In addition to our own sense of social responsibility, by considering equitable design in our work, we also meet our responsibility to produce commercially successful solutions.

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