Early last week, Starbucks shut its stores to conduct an inclusion class for employees. The following day, the ABC network canceled its hit sitcom “Roseanne” due to racist twitter remarks by its star. It’s 2018—why are we as a society still struggling with diversity, inclusion, and race? And what can we do about it?
I recently attended the Design Management Institute’s first Design Leadership Conference on Innovative Thinking on Diversity & Inclusion, a two-day event in Cincinnati, Ohio. Industry leaders from Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Carnegie Melon, McKinsey, Google, and others converged on the LPK Mansion in the heart of downtown Cincinnati to brainstorm, collaborate, and share ideas that will help the design community lead the charge in shaping conversations around diversity and inclusion.
Sessions covered topics like inclusive design, gender dynamics in the workforce, designing for sustainability, and other discourse intended to help participants and presenters chart a path forward for our field. As Proctor & Gamble’s William Gipson put it, “diversity and inclusion should be led by design.”
Gipson was referring to the practice of design thinking, an iterative process focused on developing an understanding of and empathy for users of our products or services. This process-heavy, people-oriented approach includes researching existing products, interviewing and observing customers, quick and iterative prototyping, and resonance testing–all with the goal of achieving a deeper understanding of the user and designing better solutions. It is practiced by some of the world’s leading brands and is taught at top universities around the world. (Watch this video by MIT and Altitude | Accenture to see a demonstration of design thinking in action.)
The outcome of design thinking typically includes solutions that were not previously considered because our perspective is challenged. And, it is this shift that gives us the ability to understand real needs and help us connect with those around us.
“If we ask questions, seek differences, and gain an understanding of others’ needs, this engagement will drive inclusion,” said Patricia Pope from Pope Consulting during her presentation, The Illusion of Inclusion. She is not referring here to simply making better products, but creating more diverse workplaces. “If you aren’t creating an inclusive work environment,” she added, “you’re putting your company’s future in jeopardy.”
In recent years, there has emerged a core business case that can be made for diversity. Research by McKinsey, for example, shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. Recent studies by Cloverpop show a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance:
- Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time
- Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions 2X faster with 1/2 the meetings
- Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results
In other words, if you want to create an uptick in your bottom-line, you need to create a diverse and inclusive environment.
And yet, here we are, struggling as a nation to embrace diversity and to reap the true benefits—morally, socially, and fiscally—of inclusivity. It’s time to think about the problem in a new way.
“Solving any problem is more important than being right.” — Milton Glaser
In my work, and as a company, it is our practice to prioritize the customer’s needs when creating digital experiences and analyzing the data we gather about their behaviors. Doing this allows us to better connect the products and services of the companies we serve to the emotional responses that drive user intent. Likewise, being fearless in our testing approach is also a product of design thinking. We aren’t afraid to test and retest until we deliver the right kind of experience at the right time.
Of course, we tend toward diverse and inclusive thinking somewhat naturally; Smart Panda Labs is founded by minorities, and our team comprises a majority of women, many of whom are working moms with flexible schedules. We highly value this inclusivity and try to serve the needs of the individuals that make up our team. In return, our team provides our clients with a range of expertise, a unique set of perspectives, and a passion for pushing the boundaries.
Thank you to everyone who participated and shared during the dmi: Design Leadership Conference. Each roundtable, breakout session, keynote, and panel were deep exchanges of knowledge, from which I know we all walked away challenged and changed. Here are just a few of my favorite takeaways from the two days:
- Practice Empathy: The key to understanding and better serving your market is to be empathetic to their needs.
- Diversity ≠ Inclusion: It’s not just about checking a box. We need to seek, lead, and engage across differences. Be curious and ask questions.
- Follow the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. Not only will this make our workplace relationships more effective, but we’ll also create more valuable products and services for our customers as a result.
This conference was a great reminder to myself—and let it be an inspiration to you, too—that taking a design thinking and human-centered approach not only helps us create better services and products but can connect us more meaningfully to the people around us.
- Design thinking is an iterative process focused on developing an understanding of and empathy for users.
- This process-heavy, people-oriented approach includes researching existing products, interviewing and observing customers, quick and iterative prototyping, and resonance testing.
- The outcome of design thinking typically includes solutions that were not previously considered because our perspective is challenged.
- In our work at Smart Panda Labs, it is our practice to prioritize the customer’s needs when creating digital experiences and analyzing the data we gather about their behaviors. Doing this allows us to better connect the products and services of the companies we serve to the emotional responses that drive user intent.
- Taking a design thinking and human-centered approach not only helps us create better services and products but can connect us more meaningfully to the people around us.