Annie Jean-Baptiste is the Head of Product Inclusion at Google. She currently serves as an intrapreneur in residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and she also founded the Equity Army, a community of innovators passionate about making the world more inclusive through design.
Below, Annie shares 5 key insights from her new book, Building for Everyone: Expand Your Market with Design Practices from Google’s Product Inclusion Team. Download the Next Big Idea App to enjoy more audio “Book Bites,” plus Ideas of the Day, ad-free podcast episodes, and more.
1. New voices are the core of innovation.
If you identify a challenge or an opportunity that has to do with an underrepresented group, addressing it often makes your product or service better for everyone. This idea is called the curb-cut effect, a term that refers to the cut in our sidewalks that, initially, were made in the 70s for wheelchair users. But when you think about all the people who use those cuts—people with skateboards, grocery carts, suitcases, strollers, and more—it’s clear that by building for an underrepresented group, the outcome was beneficial to all.
2. Intersectionality is key.
Using myself as an example, I’m a Black woman who’s also left-handed. But I’m not Black on Monday, left-handed on Tuesday, and a woman on Wednesday; all of those things are always happening within me at the same time. Such underrepresented dimensions therefore tend to interact with one another, and it’s crucial to understand those dynamics. In fact, we at Google look at 12 dimensions of diversity—race, gender, language, sexual orientation, et cetera—and how those dimensions intersect. This holistic approach allows us to get a much fuller picture of who our users truly are.
“The stronger and earlier you start, the more likely it is that you’ll build a truly inclusive and equitable product.”
3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are an end-to-end process.
It’s important to not think of this as a simple checklist; inclusion is an entire process that requires attention and intention from start to finish. At Google, we’ve found that most teams practicing product inclusion bring an inclusive lens to at least two of these four project stages: ideation, user research and design, user testing, and marketing.
4. Start early.
I used to be a track and field athlete, so I think of this as a relay race. There are four people in a relay, and if the first person starts off strong, it’s much easier for the rest of the team to continue that momentum. But if that first person starts off slow, the others will struggle to pick up the slack. Product inclusion is very similar; the stronger and earlier you start, the more likely it is that you’ll build a truly inclusive and equitable product. If you wait until the end, however, it’s much harder to retroactively change a product to make it inclusive—and consumers can always tell the difference.
5. If you’re creating a product for someone, always ask, “Who else?”
Having a target user doesn’t mean that you can’t always expand. So this idea is about saying, “How do I continue to broaden the circles of who my user could and should be?” If I were creating a product for mothers, for example, why wouldn’t I expand it to fathers? What about grandparents, nannies, or babysitters? So make sure that you get those perspectives, check your assumptions, and collect feedback, then hold yourselves accountable for changing the design trajectory accordingly.
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