Creating Welcoming Spaces and Apps
I recently started my own Meetup group to help people make progress on their projects and to get unstuck if their project requires a skill that they don’t have. In the past, I have felt pretty intimidated by a lot of the developer or design-centric meetups because of where I fit in the scheme of things. I am a Product Manager with UX chops. I don’t have sample code to bring to a developer workshop because I’m not a developer and I’m on the wireframe end of the spectrum when it comes to design, but I still have side projects and need help.
I figured other people may have also been intimidated by these “show us what you got” meetups so I focused a lot of energy on making the group as inclusive as possible. Actively working towards inclusive spaces and products isn’t just so that we can all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’– it makes good business sense. If you’re building a company, you’ll find that having a diverse group gives you a greater idea pool to work with and it will also help you internally validate decisions so that your product can reach a broader audience. However, by not actively focusing on inclusive language and imagery, you could be preventing yourself from getting there.
It should be obvious, but I think it’s worth stating: the first step to inclusiveness is believing that people of different backgrounds (age, sex, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etc.) and personality types, have value to add.
What I’ve found when focusing efforts on inclusive language or visual design, is that it’s not just about being careful with what pronouns to use to make it clear that people of different genders are welcome. Being inclusive is about setting expectations and taking an active role in adjusting for inclusiveness.
In the example of the meetup, I wanted to give my potential participants something to anticipate. I made sure to clearly describe:
- Who the event was for
- What preparation was required
- What the course of events would be
- And also what the overall timeframe was.
This worked out pretty well. We started by sitting in a circle and sharing what our project was, what help we were looking for, and what help we wanted to give. Most of the people who attended had projects to talk about and were also willing to help others, which was my chief goal.
One change I do want to explore making in a future meetup is adjusting the environment to be more comfortable for people who are shy. I made sure to moderate the people who had no problem sharing, but could have done even more to help shy people participate and feel safe. One idea I think I’ll try in a future meetup is having more of a “speed dating” set up where people rotate amongst each other in smaller groups.
Mistakes That Impact Your App’s Appeal
Moving away from the meetup example, the “low hanging fruit” I most commonly see is in the photography used on websites. When someone is evaluating whether they want to join your team, it’s likely that they’ll look at your About Page. What expectations are you setting? Is it that to achieve a high position at the company, you need to be of a certain gender, ethnicity, age, educational background? Does this align with who you want to appear inclusive to? Now consider your product pages. Who do you show using your product? Are there more people you want to be able to identify as a customer? Getting another level deeper, take a look at the positions and postures of the people in the photos. Who has the high ground? Are you consistently having similar people in positions of power?
Whether I’m working on an app like Kid-Capsule with Zen Labs, or working on a SaaS product, I like to make sure I’m not making too many assumptions about my end user. Focusing on inclusiveness here is key for product adoption– crucial to a web app’s success. What I mean is that I try not to assume prior knowledge about what the feature functionality is. Of course the goal is to always be as intuitive as possible so that your help tips don’t get used, but they should be there just the same. I want any product that I build to feel as much like an extension of the user as possible– to give the user the power. Users don’t feel powerful when you make them feel dumb, frustrated, or like they could easily break things or get lost. One other point to consider while you’re examining your interface is whether it’s inclusive to people who are colorblind. Fortunately, there are lots of handy tricks to circumvent this. You can use in-app help tips, or visual queues for what’s next such as briefly highlighting or josseling the UI the user needs to see to make progress.
The best tip I have to help you evaluate the inclusiveness of your meetup, or website, or app is to get feedback. You can get quantifiable data with the help of services like Crazyegg, Mouseflow, or looking at demographic data with an analytics tool. In terms of qualitative data, every dollar I’ve ever spent on UserTesting has offered a huge return. However, finding people who you want your product to speak to and just asking them is a great place to start and will set you on the right path to inclusiveness.
What steps have you tried to make sure your website or product is reaching a broad audience? We’d love to hear where you’ve found success and even things that you tried that didn’t pan out.