How do you reform an industry?
On the face of it, the ramifications of partial representation may seem obvious, but the unconscious impact of a default “one-size-fits-men” model extends to areas many businesses take for granted, including the process of product development itself.
As design and innovation leader at Atlassian, Tarra van Amerongen explains:
“Bias is a natural part of the human condition, born of survival instincts and reinforced by experiences. Left unchecked, that bias could lead to designing for your individual experience at the exclusion of others.
“It can result in products which don’t take the diversity of the audience into consideration or result in a failed product altogether.”
It’s a conversation that begins with the very nature of product design.
Design “creates experiences that directly impact the lives of others,” says Tarra, and at its best “design brings the user’s voice to life”.
But when unconscious bias comes into play, it’s even more critical to address when your products are used on a global scale. This is why we need awareness, vigilance, and the desire to always be improving from wherever your starting point is.
Tarra admits “it’s fair to say the entire IT industry has been suffering from a gender bias.
“First, you have to look at who is making the product, as bias that exists within makers influences the end product. And Atlassian started as a company that made software for developers by developers”.
Acknowledging the impact of bias on product design is one thing. But the question remains: how do you overcome it as part of the design phase?
Well, here’s how Atlassian has risen to the occasion with their design approach by building innovative products for a wide variety of customers.
While Tarra acknowledges that “the industry has been and continues to make significant progress in correcting this bias” at Atlassian “ a couple of important factors have led to a self-correction” which other organisations can learn from…
Number One: Listen!
As Tarra describes, “in the design phase we have to look at our inputs: our personas, screeners, research methods, illustration libraries, inclusive language guidelines.
“The methods and approaches our designers use have been reviewed to address unconscious bias as much as possible.”
Part of Atlassian’s ‘designing inclusive’ strategy is to expose all of their products at all stages from research to optimisation to users. Here is an example of how this comes to life.
“By gathering feedback early and often, we can catch and correct bias and honour the real needs of a diverse customer base.”
Of course, user research and talking to customers is one thing. But these needs must be heard, and Tarra explains that at Atlassian, “everyone has a vested interest in understanding our customers, not just design.
“Distributing this data throughout the organisation has a big impact – customer feedback is integrated into all our decisions, from informing our priorities, validating whether we’re on the right track and evaluating whether customers are happy with experiences we have shipped.”
In fact, in great part, the reason for Atlassian’s success in this area is the fundamental understanding that inclusive design is not virtue signalling. Designing for diversity is designing for longevity.
“When our team redesigns well-loved experiences, we find out people are using our product we didn’t intend or know about.”
Number Two: “Designing for diversity means you need to be diverse yourself”
Tarra bravely admits “we’re far from perfect and know that bias lives in all design, but we can offset this by increasing our own diversity, challenging our assumptions and mixing in a healthy dose of curiosity about others.
“If our mission is to unleash the power of every team, it is essential that we start at home with our own diverse teams.”
And while we’re now aware that diversity is imperative to remove bias in the design of products, to address this calls for organisations to proactively create strong and balanced teams whose diversity of views and ideas reflects the perspectives and needs of their customer base.
Atlassian’s solution? “We strive to remove bias from our hiring and promotion process to promote workforce diversity,” says Tarra.
“This is truly a team effort from our Talent Acquisition team screening applicants to our hiring panels, our promotion process or internal DEII (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Influence) initiatives.”
What comes next?
Tarra explains, “Atlassian listens to its people and is making real efforts to understand, track, and take action to improve diversity within our design practice.
“We understand the not only having diversity within our customer experience teams is absolutely critical, we are also looking at ways to ensure psychological safety for URGs once they are in the building. All voices need to be represented.”
With organisations like Atlassian leading the charge, the course correction of our industry towards a more inclusive space does look hopeful.
Yet, with all the rhetoric shedding light on how much unconscious bias there is still left to undo, the idea of entering the field of product design may be intimidating, to say the least.
But designers are at the helm of this change, and Tarra has a few words of encouragement for our up-and-comers:
You are needed! “The world needs more design. Badly. Who else can so elegantly use empathy to understand our users and speak on behalf of them? Designers are advocates, creatives and change-makers all bundled into one.”
It’s hard, but worth it. “I have a huge amount of respect for designers. You make sense of irrational, unpredictable and emotional human behaviour and match it with solutions that feel effortless to the user.
“Design enables progress by creating the world we want to live in.”
Strong foundations. “Take the time to learn the core principles of design as they will endure, and be prepared to refresh your toolset constantly.
“I still laugh when I see job openings asking for at least 5 years of Figma experience.”
Be brave! “Designers often have to speak truth to power – they share what users are going through, whether that is a safe or controversial message to their stakeholders or client.
“The skill of storytelling is absolutely vital to champion the voice of the customer so you can pivot the conversation from ‘my idea versus your opinion’ to talking together about what the user needs.”
Just get started, momentum will come.“Our industry has to get better at growing junior talent.
“Getting over this initial hurdle is hard, but stick with it and look for companies that have grad and entry-level roles (like Atlassian!) as they are more likely to have experience setting new designers up for success.”
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