Equity by Design: designing inclusively for all users

We want to start tackling inclusion and equity in the work that we do and the services and products that we build

Multidisciplinary teams play a pivotal role in shaping the experiences and outcomes of the people we build for, through research, design, and code. In light of the structural barriers and disproportionate inequalities Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities typically face, it’s important that we consider our roles, mindsets, and toolkits for radical inclusion and racial equity.

One of the ways we’re doing this is through Equity by Design training.

Making change happen through design

We began conversations with a social agency called Rooted by Design about how dxw can begin to improve and better understand some of these barriers communities face using and benefitting from public services.

Rooted by Design are a community of Black designers and problem solvers. They’re committed to creating an equitable and inclusive society by making change happen through design. We were impressed by their coaching and training offer so we used some of our diversity and inclusion budget to arrange 2 half-day workshops.

The principles, concepts, and mindsets of equitable design

The workshop was split over 2 days and we started by looking at the equity by design principles. This was where we were introduced to the principles, concepts, and mindsets that underpin the work of anyone who wants to play a more intentional role in advancing racial equity through their design practice.

It was followed by a session to help us critically explore how we can put these principles into practice. The sessions were really practical, used real case studies and live projects, with a strong focus on supporting us to apply the principles, opportunities, and challenges to designing for racial inclusion and equity.

Learning outcomes

This is what we covered over the 2 days:

Why are we doing this?

Well, we design, build, and operate digital services for the public and charity sectors, working with central and local government, other public bodies, and charities. We want to do more to tackle inclusion and equity in the work that we do and the services and products that we build.

We hope that everyone came away with awareness, understanding, and practical insights so that Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities are properly represented in our work.

What we learned

Agz, Designer

Design is political and we need to examine and understand power structures within the systems that exclude people. Design is an act of power. As designers or people involved in shaping services, we have the power to create change and influence the design direction and we should give that power to people affected by unequal structures. To “think about who is not in the room and who is not designing with us”.

That “utilitarianism is great…if you’re in the majority.”

Designing for inclusion needs us to use introspection and understanding of our biases, that could dictate what we value and can lead to exclusion.

We need more space to think and reflect to design better for equity that gives people what they need, and what they deserve. And to use the 6 principles of equity and related questions in our design approach, re-imagine how we can disrupt and change unequal systems, and counter equity being an afterthought, especially racial equality. We have to do better.

Cat, Account Manager

I learned how equity differs from equality and I continue to be reminded by a useful infographic that was shared during the workshops.

We each have a responsibility to make sure our teams and clients are asking the right questions of themselves. I learned how humility and a willingness to be open and to learn from our biases goes a long way. Practically, it’s going to be a struggle to make sure all briefs we work on have enough space and budget to give this full consideration, but the more we raise this issue and include it on our agendas, the more widespread and mainstream the awareness becomes. Hopefully.

Coca, Director of Design

I learned how most systems are designed for those in power and not for equality. How as designers, it’s important to share power with those we are designing for and why all of our design work should be contributing to make the world better and more equal.

Hilary, Senior User Researcher

It was very interesting to think about utilitarianism as a design myth to be busted. While we create things for the majority (however you want to define that), as an approach to design, utilitarianism can continue to perpetuate inequality and inequity. While it “makes sense” to design for the biggest part of the bell curve, it can also mean we’re not thinking about the people who fall into the margins and that our design activities and designs continue to exclude them.

Leanne, Service Design Lead

Design isn’t neutral. We discussed this in the myth busting part of the workshop and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. The things we create drive change and there’s a responsibility that comes with that. The challenge is, at dxw, we normally aren’t the ones setting the direction for change. The policy intent and service goals are likely fixed by the client before we come along to design and deliver a thing. Carefully examining the brief and context before deciding which projects to go for is absolutely key.

Louise, Content Designer

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about since completing the training is the responsibility you have when you’re designing and building services. The teams that we work in have a collective and shared responsibility to think about and respond to the inequalities in society. It’s easy for us to say that it’s not in our control as the client has asked us to work on something. But if we don’t think about the potential harm that our decisions can have then we won’t be doing what we’re here to do: to create public services that improve lives.

Sam, Senior User Researcher

Designer introspections. Self-reflection is important to surfacing and challenging our biases when approaching a new project. We need to ask questions, learn, and unlearn. Thinking about our assumptions, power dynamics in the room, unravelling lived experiences and how it may be unhelpful, and looking at ways of holding oneself accountable for them. Exclusion happens when bias is in play including lack of connections, networks, and relationships to diverse people. We need to think about how we begin to build these relationships and what contributes to exclusion, to make sure that we are designing inclusively. We can start by having humility, creating an enabling culture, asking questions not making statements, and building on what is already strong.