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Equity-focused design is a design approach that aims to create products and experiences that meet the needs of specific people in groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented. It goes beyond inclusive design, which focuses on finding solutions that meet diverse needs, by specifically prioritizing the needs of underrepresented groups when developing products. The goal of equity-focused design is to promote groups that have been excluded in the past and to design for a more equitable future.
To develop design with equity in mind, designers must first understand the difference between equity and justice. While equality means providing the same opportunities and support to all segments of society, equity means providing a different level of opportunity and support for each person to achieve fair outcomes. In equity-focused design, designers need to think through all aspects of a designed product and make sure the product is both accessible and fair to all genders, races, cultures, and abilities, specifically considering underrepresented and excluded groups.
Equity-focused design is a part of a larger set of design approaches that aim to solve problems of underrepresentation and design for a more equitable future, including inclusive design and universal design. It is a collaborative and iterative process that requires ongoing self-awareness, reflection, and adaptation. By actively involving minoritized groups in the design process, equity-focused design can bring a unique website structure and experience to life, support equity and equality, and send a powerful message to the world.
Equity-focused design is a part of a larger set of design approaches that includes universal design and inclusive design. Universal design is the process of designing a product for users with a wide range of abilities and in a wide range of situations, while inclusive design considers individual differences and aims to create equal experiences for all inclusive groups. Equity-focused design takes the idea of inclusive design one step further by designing specifically for historically underrepresented or ignored groups to uplift them.
Here are the steps to follow in equity-focused design:
- Notice: Develop self and social-emotional awareness before entering any context or practice of empathy. Focus on building a practice of self-awareness of your own identity, values, emotions, biases, assumptions, and situatedness.
- Reflect: Ongoing and transparent reflection throughout the design thinking process. Notice, focus, and reflect on your actions, emotions, insights, and impact as a designer and human within your user’s context. Use an Equity Pause, a time to share your learning and see what you can do better next time in the service of equity and inclusion.
- Identify the problem: Start by identifying a product you want to build and think about the groups that have not been served by this type of product in the past.
- Prioritize underrepresented groups: Draft your design, prioritizing the groups that have been identified as underrepresented or ignored in the past.
- Involve the community: Actively involve minoritized groups in the design process, seeking their input and feedback to ensure the end result is influenced by their lived experiences.
- Consider systems of oppression: Increase representation across the design process and consider systems of oppression that have caused many populations to be historically overlooked.
- Be adaptable: Construct your equity-focused design process around your unique team, the historical and social systems operating around the problem you seek to solve, and the communities you aim to work with. Evolve your process in response to what you uncover along the way.
- Promotes fairness and equal opportunities: Aims to create products and experiences that meet the needs of specific people in groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented. By prioritizing the needs of underrepresented groups, designers can create products that promote fairness and equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background.
- Uplifts underrepresented groups: Goes beyond inclusive design by considering the unique challenges and barriers faced by underrepresented groups and working to uplift them through design. By designing specifically for historically underrepresented or ignored groups, designers can create products that promote equity and justice for all users.
- Increases representation: Seeks to limit assumptions by increasing representation across the design process and considering systems of oppression that have caused many populations to be historically overlooked. By involving minoritized groups in the design process, designers can create products that are more representative of the diverse needs and experiences of all users.
- Improves the user experience: Can bring a unique website structure and experience to life, supporting equity and equality, and sending a powerful message to the world. By designing products that meet the needs of specific groups, designers can create products that are more accessible and fair to all genders, races, cultures, and abilities.
- Supports brand identity: Is a great tool for minority-run and minority-focused brands, especially NGOs and non-profit organizations. By incorporating equity-focused design into their web design process, brands can support their brand identity, promote equity and equality, and send a powerful message to the world.
- May be time-consuming: Equity-focused design requires designers to actively involve minoritized groups in the design process, seeking their input and feedback to ensure the end result is influenced by their lived experiences. This process can be time-consuming and may require additional resources to ensure that all voices are heard.
- May be challenging to balance: Designers must balance the needs of underrepresented groups with the needs of the broader user base. This can be challenging, as the needs of underrepresented groups may not always align with the needs of the broader user base.
- May not solve all problems: Is just one approach to solving problems of underrepresentation and designing for a more equitable future. While it can be effective in promoting fairness and equal opportunities, it may not solve all problems related to equity and justice.
- May require additional expertise: Designers may need to develop additional expertise in areas such as cultural awareness and systems of oppression to effectively implement equity-focused design. This may require additional training or hiring of experts in these areas.
- May not be suitable for all products: As some products may not have a specific group that has been historically excluded or underrepresented. In these cases, other design approaches may be more appropriate.
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