Creating an inclusive culture within your product development team is particularly important, as monocultural teams may become biased as a result of not being exposed to different customers’ experiences and viewpoints. In a Harvard Business Review study, 53% of leaders said they place a high priority on product inclusion and 64% said product inclusion has an extremely positive impact.
Bias in product development and AI is a very real and current issue. As Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch, puts it: “The values of technology creators are deeply ingrained in every button, every link, and every glowing icon that we see”.
Here are some key historical examples of how non-inclusive teams have led to algorithmic and AI biases:
YouTube: When the iOS app for uploading videos was launched, 5-10% of videos were uploaded upside down. Why? Because the right-handed developer team hadn’t considered the needs of left-handed people.
Apple: The health app for tracking ‘key health metrics’ was developed by an all-male team. What was the result? It initially left off a tracker that about half the world’s population might use on a monthly basis – the menstrual cycle.
Twitter: In 2020, users found that when an image of a White man and a Black man next to each other in different positions was uploaded, the Black man was cropped out. Why? There was bias in the algorithm that Twitter had to address.
Even developers with the best intentions can be simply unaware of the breadth of perspectives aside from their own, and how their biases may unconsciously affect the products they create. Mina Radhakrishnan, former Uber product leader, talks about how product owners can often miss how they can “reach and serve new kinds of years” if they realise their experience isn’t the same as everyone else’s.
D&I product development checklist
Dan Jenkins of the DCA Design International and Lisa Baker, Chartered Ergonomist, talks about how inclusive design goes beyond designing for people with disabilities. In fact, it encapsulates a wide gamut of areas, including protected characteristics such as ethnicity and gender, as well as other characteristics such as culture, socioeconomic background and education level.
Here are five ways you can minimise the potential for bias when developing your product, in order to remain more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience:
Address monoculture in your development team: If everyone in your product development team is from a similar background, the needs of other groups or communities could be inadvertently overlooked. Inclusive hiring principles are covered in the HR & People section.
Source representative groups of people for focus groups and product testing to ensure you’re designing with, rather than for, people: This way, if your team has designed a product that accidentally ignores the needs of one or more of your target audiences, it will be flagged and corrected ahead of time.
Use data sets that are representative of society to inform your product development: For example, if you are building voice recognition into your product, have you worked with inclusive voice data sets that take into account speech impairments, regional accents, and the voices of children and the elderly?
Establish clear and measurable inclusion goals at the start of the project: This will help foster proactive rather than reactive behaviour. Be specific about what you mean by ‘inclusion’ and who you’re designing your product for. Are you focusing on accessibility, for example, or racial bias? Being more specific with your goals will help you measure your success in reaching them.
Remember that targeted strategies for specific groups of people could benefit a much wider audience: For example, using captions in videos and alt text to provide image descriptions makes content more accessible to deaf and blind users, whilst also helping elderly people.
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