Incorporating inclusivity into product thinking: Things I’ve learned about making a product/technology more inclusive

This Part 1 in a series where I will be documenting all the things I’m learning/discovering about building inclusive products. While I am extremely passionate about this and keep learning and growing in this field, I’ve realized that this knowledge could be useful to many people out there.

Most product managers follow some variation of the following process for product design:

  1. If it’s a new feature on top of an existing product: Get context on what the product is, who it is for and how it works
  2. Narrow down on a customer segment and understand (and list down all) their pain points
  3. Prioritize: What is the most important problem that needs to be solved for that segment right now?
  4. Think of all potential solutions, evaluate and recommend the best one
  5. Optionally, for a test-case driven development, identify all potential test cases and edge cases for the product and define product behaviour for these scenarios
  6. Identify the most optimal user experience for the product/feature and come with a workflow/low fidelity wireframe

As you realize, most of the decisions regarding the product behaviour happen through the process mentioned above. Now, here is where inclusivity or the lack thereof can come up: When understanding what customer segments the product caters to, do we think about how it is currently working for various marginalized communities? Think of women, queer communities, the elderly, different races and ethnicities, people with different kinds of disabilities?

A crucial part of making a product inclusive is just consciously identifying the various segments that you want to cater to. Or even when building an MVP which is a prototype for a very narrow audience, the product should be built to scale to the identified groups while building the prototype. A classic example would be building a Tinder/OkCupid without considering gender and realizing later that many women have a hard time on these sites. In came Bumble with a ‘women make the first move’ approach and a highly scalable workflow that easily extended to LGBTQ+ communities and even, for making friends or networking.

How important is inclusion for you, your product and your company? While many people, PMs and companies understand that an inclusive product is an ideal goal, with limited resources, how will you prioritize bridging product gaps for a customer segment vs building a completely new product feature? Here, alignment with the leadership and defining clear goals on what would constitute an MVP and how the phasing of the inclusivity initiatives will pan out will help immensely in making product decisions. This will be completely dependent on the culture and vision of the company but at the end of the day, each company should realise, if not the humanitarian angle, the business strategy that catering to more people in the world is only going to increase the bottom line and learn to prioritize inclusivity.

To identify the pain points for each segment that you want to be inclusive of, the best results can be obtained by having a UT session with a consciously selected group within the customer segment. Or for teams that lack these resources, the PM/UX designer should do their best to place themselves in the shoes of the users to arrive at good insights. An example would be to test if your product is friendly for the visually challenged by closing your eyes completely and trying to operate your product. You should be able to assess if it is reasonable to assume that they have additional aids like a text to speech technology, in which case just testing if your product is compatible with that technology should suffice.

While it is going to be your final say in declaring the most pressing need of the moment, taking the input on what’s the most important problem from the people in the segment you’re currently designing/improving the feature for, is always going to yield better results. Another plus side of having a diverse team is, you will have an internal expert right within the team so you will not need to look for this opinion outside :)

And finally, really believe in the cause for diversity and inclusion, not just in building great products but also in every sphere of life. This will truly help come up with great solutions to real problems instead of thinking of them as hindering your design process and delaying the product journey.

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