I might regret posting this article on Medium as my future employers may find this content contradicting modern-day design philosophies. But then again, that is exactly what they will hire me for. Questioning the status quo and conventions.
Have we been caught up with a notion of satisfying every demographic that we think could eventually become our customers?
Inclusive design is one of the best practices modern-day designers follow. If we ask someone to write all the positive implications of inclusive design, he or she would come up with a wiki-sized answer. But what if we ask to write the opposite? Is there any side of it that needs further improvement? Have we been caught up with a notion of satisfying every demographic that we think could eventually become our customers? What if for an instance we keep our existing knowledge aside and think about a design process that is not inclusive? Would it work? Surely, I already sound like an authoritarian regime or a racist white male from the ’60s, but what if there is another side to explore?
Before, going into that discussion, let me share a thought that has been bugging me for the last couple of nights. Imagine you are planning to paint a wall and you are taking feedback from all the family members. There is only one wall, and you must satisfy everyone. One family member wants it blue, and the other two want it green and red respectively. So, you take votes from everyone to find a way out. Through voting, everyone decides to mix an equitable share of their preferred colors to make a compound that partially represents everyone’s choice. Did democratic dialogue give everyone a fair chance? Yes! Did it solve the problem? Yes, apparently. Did any of the users get EXACTLY what they wanted in the first place? Ummm….not really. Because, when red, green, and blue are mixed — it produces white. What if, instead of trying to be creative with colors, we could be creative with the wall instead? In another sense, could we frame this challenge from the angle of ‘constrained applicability of colors’ to ‘not having enough walls?
But wait! what’s wrong with an outcome that has most people’s vote on it and looks great on that wall? Nothing. Wise men and women have already answered this question many times in different forms and times. That is why I will not look into that path in this writing. Instead, let me explain why it naturally occurs as the ‘right choice’. It happens for the same reason; we believe in democracy. It gives us the comfort of being a ‘winner’ if the party we vote for wins. One challenge though with democracy is it endorses equality, not equity. A vote is counted as a vote no matter who casts it. A criminal or a lawmaker, an uneducated thug or a Stanford graduate, a nationalist or capitalist. That is why elections are rigged more often in poorer countries as corrupt politicians find it easier to ‘buy votes.
In a democracy, you can win an election with 50% votes from a major community whereas your opponent can lose even after getting 100% votes from a minor community. Inclusive design may possess the same risk if we simply add up a diverse portfolio of target demographics without tailoring our design in an equitable ratio. Simply democratizing products may serve some purposes of everyone but not all purposes of someone.
Also, just like the colors, when ideas, insights, voices are mixed together, one strong idea or a unique perspective often gets lost in the dilution. I think this is where designers and artists are fundamentally different. Artists don’t create to satisfy the mass. Primarily, their expressions are limited to their own satisfaction. Imagine if Michelangelo had gone to ask every stakeholder — who would use Sistine Chapel — about their feelings on how the ceiling should look like, what he would have come up with?
The same difference can be seen between designers and independent inventors of the twentieth century. Be it Tesla, Darwin, or Einstein. They were all exceptionally gifted individuals who — if collaborated with others- would have risked diluting their grand visions. Long debates can go on for hours to prove why their individualistic methods, processes, approaches, and worldviews were wrong and why wouldn’t they fit in today’s collaborative world. But it is undeniable that these gifted individuals single-headedly shaped the world without collecting much feedback from different user groups although their target group was almost everyone living on the planet. In fact, they made headlines for opposing each other more often than doing the opposite. The famous rivalry between Tesla and Edison, Lamborghini and Ferrari, Einstein and Hubble are just a few examples of how individualistic their visions were. If they had anything common, that would be their stubborn, patient, and persuasive nature of getting things done.
Before I am misunderstood, let me assure, I am not exploring the brighter side of the coin here. So, if you find countless benefits of collaborative work processes missing in my writing, that’s because I am avoiding it intentionally.
In the second part of this writing, I would share (my opinion) why best designs are not inclusive and how common it is to find them in our surroundings.
Lastly, if you have come this far, why not share it with others? I would love to hear feedback on this.