Designing for inclusion text with inclusion scratched out.
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Welcome to my brain.

This article offers a peak into my thoughts where I am currently exploring how to conduct business in a way that changes the system from within the system. As I'm writing this, I feel vulnerable, challenged, and open. I also feel inspired.

Let's start here.

I founded Designing for Inclusion to help organizations re-imagine their customer and employee experiences in a way that honors, respects, and prioritizes the lived experiences and expertise of underrepresented people.

What I'm realizing as I get deeper into this work is that designing for inclusion - in a participatory and collaborative way - is still not the same as designing for equity, justice, and liberation.

Before I explain why, and how - let's get clear on the language.

What is inclusion?

Kat Holmes, author of Mismatch Design, simply yet accurately describes inclusion as "the opposite of exclusion".

Inclusion is a feeling of belonging. It's a feeling of being seen, thought of, listened to, valued, and leveraged.

When we talk about inclusive design we are referring to a method and practice of co-creating. Building with (not for) the people who are impacted by the design (whether intentionally or unintentionally). It is the process of involving folks across diversity dimensions to participate in creating the spaces, programs, processes, products and services that impact their lives.

Design is all around us. When we design for inclusion, we are referring to designing in a manner that creates positive and usable experiences for as many people as possible.

What is equity?

Equity is NOT equality. Where equality gives the same to everyone, equity understands that one size does not fit all - that some need more, and that some don't need as much. Equity is an approach and practice that considers individual circumstances and systems of oppression to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and treatment.

To put it simply: Inclusion is WHAT you do. Equity is HOW you do it.

Shifting from inclusive to equitable design

In 2019, Google sent employees and contractors to the streets to test the Pixel 4's facial recognition software.

Wanting to mitigate bias and ensure accuracy of it's biometric features, Google allegedly made it a priority to seek out folks with darker skin complexions and to approach people who are homeless.

Google knows that in order to design for everyone, you must include them in the design and testing process.

Reports allege that Randstad, a contractor of Google, offered homeless subjects a $5 gift card to play a "selfie game".

Sounds like a simple exchange for services, right?

But Google is a trillion dollar company. Are all testing/research subjects compensated with $5 gift cards? Shouldn't marginalized and vulnerable participants receive more for their contributions? Is a gift card a fair and meaningful exchange of value? Were subjects aware of how their information would be used?

Designing for inclusion is about co-creating - but co-creating isn't always about equity. You have to be intentional about it.

As the world tunes in to the importance of including marginalized folks in creation, we must remember that marginalized folks are so often exploited for the betterment of design. Inclusion is often positioned as a perk - as though it alone is enough compensation.

Equitable design generates participation through non-exploitative means. It is centered around truth and meaningful reciprocity - understanding that an exchange of value might look and be different for different people.

If Google or Randstad were to design equitably, participants would receive meaningful value that both amounts to the level of their contributions, and accounts for systemic disparity.

Shall I push us further?

In equitable design, there is still a deciding power. The designer. The company. People and entities in positions of authority that choose what to focus on, what to build, and what to prioritize.

In spite of building with people - the ultimate deciding party is the company. The revenue generator. In this way, we engage and collaborate with community whilst maintaining power structures.

Designing for justice decentralizes power, and puts decision making authority into the hands of the most impacted and marginalized.

What could people create if they were afforded the resources and power to?

I titled this article, "Why I Need To Change Our Company Name" - but the reality is, it's not about the name. It's about the process which we're still iterating upon.

The common approach to consulting looks something like this:

At Designing for Inclusion, we approach things a little differently. We lean into design principles (that we re-engineer with an inclusion/equity lens) to assess and build a living strategy through co-creation.

But I'm not convinced that this is the end point. In fact, I know it isn't. There is always better. Better in our structure. Better in our process and the way we engage with community. Better in way we build capacity through collaboration.

What I'm pondering right now is: within a system that upholds an inequitable balance of power, how might we decentralize power through our organization's structure and activities? How do we create networks of reciprocity that branch into spaces outside of our bubble? How do we lean into the concept of emergence, whilst still maintaining a form of structure?

So, that's my brain, and that's where I am at today. Like all else, concepts, ideas, and ways of thinking evolve, grow and morph over time. I welcome you to contribute to this conversation. To share your thoughts, perspectives and musings.

Thank you for reading and for being part of the dialogue!

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