Technology inclusive product design


When you wake up in the morning, how much time do you have before you turn around to check your phone for the news? Or do you call your smart speaker first for a weather update?

Everyone’s routine is different, but apps and gadgets that once seemed new and exciting are now commonplace, and many of us don’t think twice about how they make our days more productive and enjoyable.

Unless, of course, when you post a photo on social media or search for an emoji that best reflects your identity, it reminds you that some of the products that a lot of people couldn’t live without were actually not made for you.

As a Haitian-American, left-handed woman, I’ve experienced that a social media filter automatically brightens my skin tone, and I’ve held on to products designed only for right-handed people. I’ve also experimented with products that don’t understand my friends’ accents. These types of scenarios got me wondering, “Who else is affected?”

At Google, where I’m responsible for product inclusion and equity, we understand that as a leading technology innovator, it’s our responsibility to create all of our products with equity in mind. from the start. It’s a responsibility that extends to all organizations that design and manufacture the products and technologies that are increasingly essential to our daily lives.

So what does this mean in practice? And how can all technology companies and platforms make the user experience fairer and more enjoyable for all consumers?

Ask questions, lots of them

On the one hand, it is essential to center historically marginalized voices throughout the product development process. Our product inclusion and equity guidelines are a helpful roadmap for putting this into practice, from product design to delivery, and encourage developers to ask themselves tough questions at the four key points in the development process where product inclusion is most crucial: ideation, user experience, user testing and marketing.

At the very beginning of the ideation phase, it is important to start by looking around the room:

  • Is your team representative of historically marginalized users across multiple dimensions of diversity?
  • If not, which point of view could be overlooked?

At the user experience stage:

  • Have you considered cultural factors in different parts of the world that may affect usage?
  • For example, if your product uses a calendar, does it take into account different religious holidays?

During product testing:

  • Have you tried with slow internet speeds?

Once the product is launched:

  • Does the geographic location of the product audience match your intentions? If not, consider how languages, currencies, and internet access might limit regional usage.

These and other key questions form the basis of a consistent protocol and practice that enables our teams to prioritize inclusion with each product.

Engage everyone in the process

Proactively planning and aligning different stakeholders allows each part of the process to build on previous steps, resulting in a more inclusive and equitable product.

Every quarter, our team meets with stakeholders to align and measure against our internal goals and ensure our metrics put the user at the center of everything we do. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that product inclusion isn’t a one-person or one-team thing. It’s everyone’s responsibility and opportunity, and having common goals allows us to treat product inclusion and equity like any other organizational priority.

It is also important to be humble. We all navigate the world with our own biases and lived experiences. For this reason, we need to ensure that we incorporate outside perspectives and feedback from ideation through launch, and that this feedback helps shape product design and development. This means creating safe spaces where people from historically marginalized backgrounds (both inside and outside your organization) are celebrated and recognized for the unique perspectives they bring to the table.

Be inclusive in your testing

For example, consider racial bias in imaging technology. Motivated by flaws in some of our older products, we set out to create camera technology that could accurately capture darker skin tones.

As part of this process, we created our Inclusion Champions Group, which currently has thousands of Googlers from historically marginalized backgrounds who regularly test products and provide feedback.

They can take equipment home for several months and test it. They can take pictures in different lighting conditions so that we can achieve the correct balance. They can test lighting in offices and while working from home to ensure everyone is portrayed beautifully and accurately. We’ve also worked with renowned external image makers to provide additional insight into our process and design.

Feedback from this process explains how we built our most inclusive camera yet with your real Software.

We also recently announced the Monk Skin Tone Scale– a new, more inclusive skin tone scale developed in partnership with Harvard sociologist Dr. Ellis Monk. We’re starting to incorporate the Monk’s Skin Tone Scale into our products, but more importantly, we’ve made this scale and the insights from our research available to the public.

We hope that by giving others the opportunity to use Monk’s skin tone scale in their own technologies, we can gather feedback on how to further improve the scale and encourage more industry-wide conversations and collaborations on inclusivity. Innovation happens when we bring multiple perspectives to the table, resulting in better outcomes for everyone.

Skin tone is deeply important to identity, but it is only one of the many dimensions that make a person unique. Ensuring that all the characteristics, traits, experiences and qualities that make up a person’s identity are reflected in our technology is an ongoing and evolving commitment.

Historically marginalized communities want and deserve to feel seen, heard and connected, and in today’s interconnected world, improving technology by creating more inclusive products has more benefits than ever – let’s realize them .

Annie Jean-Baptiste is Head of Product Inclusion and Equity at Google.


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