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19 sessions and 3 days: What I discovered at IA Summit 2016

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Red umbrella mingling with grey umbrellas - Be different concept
Looking back to the “Broader Panorama” event in Atlanta, the wider perspective that I have from IA Summit 2016 came from a set of speakers on inclusive design, and that is to include people with differing backgrounds, experiences, capabilities and perspectives in the information architect of everything from games and ecommerce sites to enterprise applications.
Inclusion and diversity are not new themes. For instance, IBM’s former CEO Lou Gerstner launched a diversity initiative in the early 2000s that embraced differences instead of ignoring them; his initiative also improved IBM’s bottom-line. The reality today is that inclusion is as much of an economic imperative as an ethos for fairness and empathy. Just consider a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, “Multiracial in America,” the population in the U.S. is “young, proud, tolerant,” and becoming “more racially diverse.” Digital product innovators should know they are competing for consumers’ mindshare and their share of wallet. And, because these same consumers are, in some cases, multi-racial, older, with varying levels of literacy, and temporarily or permanently impaired, it’s up to design and tech to include them in their user interviews and usability studies.
The economic gains aside, I heard throughout the Summit that inclusion is “the way” to create ideal user experiences. I heard again and again that the success of design organizations, and the products they create, reside in who is involved in the design process. My favorite quote on this topic came from Peter Merholz (of Jawbone, GroupOn, and Adaptive Path) during his talk on 12 Qualities of Effective Design Organizations. Quality #10, Diversity of Perspective and Background, divergent thinking has the power to transform good design teams into great ones, so “let the freak flag fly.” Merholz spotlighted a similar idea to one that President Obama did earlier this year when he spoke to entrepreneurs at Stanford University, urging them to “look beyond Silicon Valley to embrace diversity.”
Creating products by people that are representative of the racial and cultural diversity of society is gaining head wind in the Whitehouse, but it’s still lagging within the UX design community thinks Lisa Welchman, keynote speaker and author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. “If we can agree that the Web is for everyone, then the maker community needs to be more inclusive. That goal can’t be realized if all of the IA and UX strategists involved look like, think like, and believe like each other.” Merholz agrees on this, that diversity is key to getting teams involved who are in touch with the broader panorama of society.
Michael Hardy is a determined advocate for designing products for inclusion. His talk #nobodyubersinthehood: architecting for inclusion in the digital service economy tackled a related idea, putting digital services (e.g., Uber or AirBnB) into the hands of underserved neighborhoods. The changes in racial makeup in the U.S. means that “making things as designers has to change” to include as many types of people possible, a broad spectrum. And Hardy, like Merholz, broaden inclusion’s definition; they think of it as more than a physical face of diversity or disability. It’s also behavioral, and it includes cultural norms that are okay for some workers and not for others. “As a minority, you almost don’t have the luxury to be weird,” says Hardy.
Midway through the Summit, Senior Accessibility Engineer, and co-chair of the W3C Web Platform Working Group, Leonie Watson, challenged us in her keynote address to think of designing for accessibility as Elementary, my dear Watson. And while there is a growing awareness within the UX design community that persons with disabilities (“PWD”) are a significant consumer base, Watson thinks many organizations are generally not bringing their needs into digital product development. You’ll find a terrific sketch note on her talk on Jason Alderman’s twitter page.
So it’s the designers job to design for inclusion, to elevate the conversation so that the technical and business side of product development are also thinking about it. How do we do that? It starts with a dialogue and a commitment to including “the full range of human diversity” in designing digital products.

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Lisa McMichael

Lisa McMichael is a Senior Manager Digital Accessibility, CPACC with the Detroit Business Unit.

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