Montique Stevens

Combating Racial Bias in UX Design


A look at how UX design can negate racism and promote positive impact

As you're well aware, this year has been unlike anything we could've imagined. In the United States, in particular, the pandemic gave way to protests following the death of George Floyd and radical shift in the national and global conversation about how society treats it's most vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Many companies and studios whose industries include tech and design, which in the past have avoided or downplayed issues with race and diversity, found themselves having to show some form of support

While in some cases it seemed genuine, most displays of solidarity were just that... displays. Many had no comprehensive plan on how to combat the lack of diversity, the lack of opportunities for underrepresented groups, and lack of diverse leadership.

You may wonder why is that important or you may think its not a big deal. Well, I got news for you, IT IS!

When it comes to the creation of products and services for the web and how they are developed and designed, who is chosen to take on the tasks of doing that is intentional and most likely have a skewed view of the world they live in.

Most of the time they are usually White and sometimes Asian, with no further representation of Black, Latinx, or Indigenous People.

The decisions that place people of privilege in these positions can have consequences for users, the ones they have in mind, and the ones they don't have in mind.

Consider how apps such as Nextdoor utilize a method known as anticipatory design. Sure it helps to make hard decisions super easy for the user in a way that gives them less to think about, but in the wrong scenario, it could lead to an error of judgment and place someone traditionally powerless in society in real danger.

With that being said, how can we make changes to move in the right direction so that we use design as a tool for change and not to beef up the status quo or promote oppression?

Here are several ways that this can be done. Take note that this is not a foolproof way to change attitudes and actions overnight but rather they are suggestions that can pave the way to more radical shifts in the process.

User Interviews & Research:

By conducting research and interviews with a wider variation of your targeted group, in terms of ethnicity and cultural groups for example, you will find that not only are there other groups of users who may use your product or service, you'll find out what they like and what should or shouldn't be in the final product based on having a greater understanding of cultural norms, dos and donts, and identifying cultural insensitivity issues before shipping.

Outreach and Signal Boosting:

As someone in tech/design and in a privileged group, what are you doing to encourage more designers from all backgrounds? Are you offering a mentorship? Are you an ally? Do you help to promote inclusion in the industry or even your own workspace, or better yet do you share the work of Black and POC designers to your audience or professional circles?

Doing this like the ones mentioned pushes new creatives with fresher viewpoints into the conversation and gives them the attention they deserve for the work they do.

Inclusive Team Building:

When it comes to product and development teams, most are lacking voices that are diverse, a similar feature of the communities they come from. This is because of the implicit bias and overt racist viewpoints and stereotypes that are ingrained into western societies like the United States. The outcome of that leads to products and features being created and shipped that are tone-deaf and lacking in acknowledgment of racial, social, and economic structures and history.

Perhaps as a way to promote change and avoid bad PR and money being wasted on useless design and research, hiring and placing Black and PoC designers, product managers, and directors on teams would allow for multiple opinions in the decision making processes that go on during the design and iteration of products and services. They should also be involved in the hiring process for junior designers and recent grads getting their feet wet in the industry.

By doing that, you're not just hiring someone to fit a quota or make the company look good, you're actually helping UX/UI design be better as a discipline, an industry, and laying the foundation necessary to push for widespread and hopefully permanent change.

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