Creating inclusive products is at the heart of “Building for everyone”, a great book written by Annie Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste is the Head of Product Inclusion at Google and has been at the forefront of making the web work for underserved communities.
At the beginning of “Building for everyone” Jean-Baptiste summarises what her work (and this book) is all about: “When we don’t fit in or when products or services do not feel as though they were built for us, we feel excluded, frustrated, disappointed, or even upset.” Jean-Baptiste talks about ‘Building for Everyone, with Everyone’ and points out how product inclusion boils down to these core components:
- Being humble
The all important first step here is to develop an understanding of your users / customers / clients – understanding who they are, where they come from, what’s important to them, and how their core needs are represented in your product or company mission. To become more inclusive, we need to build diverse teams and ask users what they need, and why. We need to build a thorough understanding of our users, revealing our biases and uncovering (potential) areas of exclusion.
These are some of my key takeaways from reading “Building for everyone”:
Speaking a common language
Jean-Baptiste stresses how diversity in language can lead to misunderstandings, and how a shared language helps create clarity and alignment around diversity. At the core of product inclusion are four key terms: product inclusion, diversity, equity and intersectionality:
- Product inclusion – The practice of applying an inclusive lens throughout the entire product design and development process to create better products. This means incorporating diverse perspectives in the product development process to create products for a more diverse consumer base and reduce areas of exclusion.
- Diversity – Diversity is the variety within a group of people; this variation includes differences in social identities (gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, class, socioeconomic status, etc.); background or personal attributes (education and training, experience, income, values, worldview, mindset, etc.); and other differenced (location, language, available infrastructure, etc.).
- Equity – This is the quality of being fair and impartial in terms of access, opportunities, and success for all individuals. Equity requires that we remove any predictability of success or failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural identity markers.
- Equality – Don’t confuse equity with equality. Equality implies the same for all, whereas equity provides what each individual needs in order to be successful.
- Intersectionality – The term intersectionality refers to “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”, as defined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.
The importance and role of questioning
In the book, Jean-Baptiste emphasises how questioning – as a way of challenging our assumptions – underpins the process of creating more inclusive products. As a starting point, she lists “the 10 questions every team needs to ask and answer”:
- Has your team been exposed to product inclusion?
- Have you identified a champion for your product inclusion efforts?
- What’s the product (or business) challenge you’re trying to solve?
- What’s the inclusion challenge you’re trying to solve?
- How do the product / business and inclusion challenges align?
- Whom do you need to to influence to unlock resources to solve the problem?
- What’s your action plan for a test / pilot?
- What partners need to be involved to execute, document, measure, and communicate the results of your test / pilot?
- How can you build the resources to continue this work beyond this workshop?
- What’s your public commitment to documenting and sharing the outcomes of your work in product inclusion (both internally and externally)?
Jean-Baptiste explains how this preliminary Q&A process helps us manage our bandwith, prioritise work, and ensure that teams come back to share information and insights about the challenges they encountered and the changes they made. This way, Jean-Baptiste says, we can continue to learn and to gather knowledge and insights to share across the company.
Once you’ve worked through some of the above questions, you can start being much more intentional about how you design your products. The book contains a great contribution about “intentional design” by Emmanuel Matthews. Matthews is a group technical product manager at Course Hero and he stresses that “design should be done with intention”, adding that the reality – particularly with respect to technology companies – is that “your product team is likely to be a relatively homogenous group.”
Matthews argues that what makes product inclusion difficult is that it requires product managers and leaders to be honest and clear about who they’re genuinely aiming to serve. In his words: “When I build products, I intentionally design them not just for users who support our initial use case, but I imagine how users from even the most marginalised communities could benefit from them and ensure that same mindfulness permeates the development process.”
Building a human case for product inclusion
There’s a clear human need for inclusive products. Consumers have a real need for products that are more inclusive and that address their hopes, needs or frustrations. Jean-Baptiste mentions three steps to apply when building the case for product inclusion by your organisation, and shares this great example:
- Identify the market opportunity for key demographics – For example, women comprise 50 percent of the world’s population and have trillions in purchasing power.
- Recognise what real users want – For example, many of the women who play video games feel that the gaming industry is focused mainly on classic PC / console titles that are played in “sessions” in a fixed space and time at home. While many of them enjoy that style of play, many others prefer a more flexible approach to gaming; they prefer to game their way across various genres and devices at their own pace, to suit a variety of “moments” or moods throughout their day.
- Identify the market opportunity by examining the gap between what is currently being offered and what the key demographic needs or desires – For example, nearly 50 percent of women play video games, yet fewer than 10 percent refer to themselves as “gamers”. Even fewer actually pay for games. If the industry could create an inclusive place for female gamers, millions if not billions of dollars could be made.
To successfully execute the case for product inclusion, Jean-Baptiste argues we need to consider a number of related product principles:
- Naming exclusion unlocks the potential of inclusion
- Team diversity is reflected in product diversity
- Everyone is different
- Needs and preferences change with context
- Everyone is biased
- Equal isn’t always equitable
- Designing for a minority also benefits the majority
- Diversity accelerates and amplifies learning and innovation
- Diversity and inclusion are good for business
Similarly, Rei Inamoto, Founding Partner at I&CO, shares the product principles he and his team try to live by, and which are closely related to product inclusion:
- When in doubt, subtract
- Never say “No” without offering “Yes”
- Be tough, not rough
- Risk nothing, change nothing
- Seek the invisible
- Quality is a habit
- Magic > Logic
Measuring product inclusion performance
In the book, Jean-Baptiste very helpfully explains how we can make a business case for product inclusion and how we can measure product inclusion performance. She suggests we start with evaluating our metrics needs, to identify whether any existing metrics need to be amended or augmented by a new ones:
- What metrics do you currently use to assess the performance of your product or service, the impact of changes in the process or practices used to build or improve that product or service, or the progress of your product inclusion initiatives?
- Do your existing metrics provide insight into the needs and sentiments of non-majority users specifically?
- What does “underrepresented user” mean for your organisation, team, process or product?
- Where do you not have insight into the needs and sentiments of underrepresented users?
The next step that Jean-Baptiste recommends here is to classify metrics into different buckets, so that we can better understand these metrics in terms of their application or function. One way to classify metrics is to divide them into two buckets; socialisation metrics and product inclusion metrics.
- Socialisation metrics – These are the metrics we can use to track progress in terms of diversity and inclusion awareness and participation. For example, we can monitor the number of leaders engaged in product inclusion or the number of business departments that have specific diversity objectives.
- Product inclusion metrics – These are the metrics we can use to track progress in terms of integrating product inclusion into what our product teams are doing and the outcomes of those efforts. For example: diversity of representation on a team or the frequency of negative user experience feedback.
Another way to classify metrics is to distinguish between input and output metrics:
- Input metrics – These metrics are meant to track the resources used to produce a desired outcome with respect to product inclusion. For instance, how much budget has been allocated to specific product inclusion measures or the number of volunteers that attended an inclusion event.
- Output metrics – These metrics reflect the outcome resulting from a given input; for example, one month after the event, use of our product inclusion dashboard increased among people in our organisation by 30 percent.
Main learning point: In “Building for everyone” Annie Jean-Baptiste makes the case for product inclusion. She explains the importance of product inclusion and offers key tips on how to approach a more inclusive approach to the products that we design and develop.
Related links for further learning: