What is Responsible Design?
Responsible design has become part of the design conversation more and more lately, but what does it really mean? Isn’t all design “responsible” if you are thinking about your customers?
Responsible design is not just taking the customer into account, it’s about taking the next step. It’s not just creating great experiences that provide positive feelings or successful task completion, but also about making sure that no harm is done while doing so. Responsible Design encompasses more than just accessibility, it also includes diversity, ethics, and brand purpose. It’s focusing more on needs and themes and less on demographics.
What Does Responsible Design Mean in Practice?
When we say design, often people focus on the act of creating an experience visually, but design isn’t an island. Design is impacted by research, information, priorities, and requirements. If these things aren’t gathered responsibly or the audiences who provide input are not diverse and inclusive, then the design itself can’t be responsible.
How do we do this?
To design responsibly means to research responsibly. When creating research plans, making sure to include participants who meet accessibility requirements as participants boosts responsible requirements gathering. Instead of assuming accessibility needs, including participants with these needs guarantees insights that drive more responsible design. The same goes for diversity and inclusion. But gathering these insights takes a careful hand so that we do no harm. Considering safety is key. Are we asking questions in a safe and inclusive way that considers their privacy and security? I’m thinking for example of the way we phrase questions related to gender, orientation, and accessibility and how we use that information to drive subsequent conversations and insights. Are we being kind? Are we being thoughtful? Are we using our own assumptions and are we careful with the information our participants have trusted us with?
Personas are another place we can drive more responsible design. Are demographics necessary for personas to drive the design and requirements conversations we need? Or is it more ‘wants and needs’ and pain points that helps us design more inclusive and diverse experiences? Using a click up from the typical gender/demographic-driven persona still gives us a face to design to without exclusion and can accommodate marginalized groups without caricature or stereotyping.
Requirements gathering tools and conversations can be more responsible too. Including questions or considerations around how these experiences affect individuals, society, and the environment enables teams to consider all aspects of an experience including ethical impact, not just the technical requirements. Asking questions about how a design or requirement might affect a person’s mental health & well-being, or how it might affect dignity or agency helps teams make more thoughtful decisions alongside prioritizing and considering business impacts.
Why Does Responsible Design Matter?
Responsible design should be synonymous with human-centered design. Design can’t be human centered if it doesn’t consider care, diversity, respect, and inclusivity. As designers and strategists, our focus is on the human in “human-centered” and we can’t truly build those types of experiences without considering humanity as a whole.
One of the things that always comes up when speaking with clients about usability and customer experience is trust. I often laugh when talking to them about the importance of value propositions, “About Us” content, and presenting the face of their company in a real way (even as simple as showing a real location and office). People need the security of knowing who you are, and when we show our customers we consider them, all of them, we can build that trust, one small step at a time. We can show them safe, secure, and ethical experiences that meet their needs.
For us at Smith, responsible design is critical to building the types of experiences we want to create, ones that include everyone and their needs safely and in a delightful way.