July 7th, 2020

Reflections from Innovators on Designing for Racial Inclusion

The nature of what we do is help organisations to drive brave new ways to do good - this must extend to imagining a world that’s free of racial discrimination

The nature of what we do is help organisations to drive brave new ways to do good - this must extend to imagining a world that’s free of racial discrimination and anti-blackness in all that we do. We are exploring what it truly means to be anti-racist in our work, as an organisation and within our sector, and what changes need to be made within each realm:

  • As innovators and designers, we will rethink each step of our approach, taking into consideration how we incorporate and elevate Black and other ethnic minority voices to create products and services that meet their needs

  • As an organisation, we will take steps to become an equitable organisation by looking at how we hire, and educate ourselves to understand and dismantle our biases

  • Within the sector, we will hold our clients accountable and support them in their own journeys in becoming equitable organisations and delivering service to all communities equally

And lastly, we promise to keep this conversation going, we will not let this fall by the wayside. This is only the beginning of the dialogue we will have and actions we will take to do better. We don’t have all the answers, but we urge you to join the conversation as well because we all have a collective responsibility to change things. 

To start us off, here is a Slack chat amongst a few of the GI bunch with some personal reflections, some pledges, and a lot of questions for design, for our organisation and for the sector.


daisy  3:52 PM

Hey Peeps. I know we've been talking in the team meetings and one to ones, but I was wondering how you're both feeling at the moment and if you've had any personal reflections on the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means for us as humans and as innovators? 


Mary Wong  3:53 PM

Honestly, it’s been a lot, but it’s really given me time to think…especially given lock down


Nish  3:54 PM

The last few weeks have been hard and emotional because it’s really highlighted the prejudiced systems that we live in but it feels like people are engaging with racial injustice and inequality in a way they haven't before and it makes me hopeful


Mary Wong  3:55 PM

The message is not necessarily new, but it’s really hit home and made us open our eyes to really see the systemic racism that exists against Black people as well as many inequalities we see in the world today. Upon personal reflection, I think there are definitely ways in which I and we can do better


daisy  3:56 PM

I completely agree Mary! I've definitely reflected on my previous actions and responses and know that I could and should have done better. Can do better.


Nish  3:56 PM

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can take ownership of the change I want to see, especially with our role as innovators and designers...and it’s made me question whether we’re doing enough to address these inequalities


Mary Wong  3:57 PM

We talk about the importance of diversity in our work, bringing different perspectives and experiences to help us make sure we’re creating products and services that reflect the needs of the people we are trying to deliver to...but I wonder if we’re actually getting it right. 

We need to look at who we are designing for, but also look at who we are designing with - including diverse voices throughout our process.


Nish  3:58 PM

And we talk about designing for our users and keeping them at the heart of everything we do, but it makes me question if we're really pushing ourselves to consider ethnic-minority voices and experiences enough? 


Mary Wong  3:58 PM

We have to ask ourselves whether we are being inclusive of who our users could be 

 ...and how do we get a diverse perspective in a meaningful way?


daisy  3:59 PM

I think the first step is listening, and learning. Listening to the voices who have experienced injustice and inequality. Learning from them. Amplifying them. And creating a platform to support them.

And building these voices and perspectives into every step of our innovation and design process. 


Nish  4:00 PM

We have to acknowledge the ways we may have excluded or ignored ethnic-minority voices in the past and then proactively design a new system that listens going forwards… 

But we need to make sure we do this properly, we can't just simplify the problem and homogenise groups by giving ourselves a ‘BAME quota’...the term itself lumps together hugely diverse ethnicities that might have little in common other than their discrimination and it does little to fight systems that perpetuate anti-blackness 


Mary Wong  4:00 PM

It’s so easy to jump into demographic-led targeting when it should really be about motivation and needs and seeing who shares those 

We need to challenge ourselves and our clients’ views on how we perceive our audiences


Nish  4:01 PM

It can’t just be representation as a basic requirement! It’s looking for the value they add with their perspectives to help improve what we design so we can better serve them. Any solution created by biased people (which we all are) will preserve inequity if our approach doesn’t proactively fight bias


Mary Wong  4:03 PM

I’ve thought about so many products and services we use today and how it excludes groups of people or benefits some more than others

I have a distinct memory from a video I watched in uni talking about how webcams are racist. The ‘new’ model of webcams were supposed to follow the individual’s face, but it could not recognise people with darker skin and this still has not been fixed. We still see this flaw in many ways from facial recognition technology used by the police and by automatic vehicle cameras that are supposed to detect pedestrians. The flawed technology can be dangerous and create further inequalities for Black and brown people. 

Could this have been avoided if the people in the room creating these products or those testing the product have included a more diverse group?


Nish  4:04 PM

That’s a perfect example of lacking multiple perspectives which make for better creativity, better decisions and ultimately help us design better solutions.


daisy  4:05 PM

To your earlier point about holding people accountable, I think it has to start at home.


Mary Wong  4:05 PM

I mean….I’ll throw it out there, what should we be doing at GI?  


Nish  4:06 PM

GI is nothing without its people and we need multiple perspectives if we want to design for racial equity, otherwise we risk ideas/solutions being bounced around in an echo chamber of the same voices. 


daisy  4:09 PM

We have the privilege of being based in an affluent area of London. We work with amazing colleagues and clients. But are we a beacon of diversity at the moment? Hell no.


Mary Wong  4:10 PM

I mean looking at the consulting industry...it is a predominantly white and male sector. It’s not an excuse, it’s just another proof point that we need to do better. 

I know it can be an uncomfortable topic, especially since we are acknowledging that we don’t have it right. We can’t avoid it though, we need to face it. We show clients the crazy squiggle that is innovation and tell them to be comfortable with ambiguity, so we need to do the same - be okay with being uncomfortable in this situation. Being open to talking about it, helping each other learn and explore solutions so we can do better…


daisy  4:12 PM

The innovation squiggle feels scary because you don't know what the end point will look like. I don't feel I know what the solutions are or could be. But I definitely want to help create them


Nish  4:14 PM

None of us is perfect, but we need to commit to taking the time to educate ourselves, have these discussions and consider how we can do better. Since people are our asset, there are several things we can do to identify and dismantle our biases whether it’s how we hire or train our people to become better designers and a more inclusive organisation. 

Becoming a totally equitable organisation overnight is impossible, we will make mistakes along the way, but we’ll also make progress.


daisy  4:15 PM

On top of that, it’s also how we retain talent, making sure we help POC have a sense of belonging and helping them thrive in the organisation.


Mary Wong  4:16 PM

And back to the conversation around design and innovation, when we do have diverse experiences and voices in the organisation, we need to facilitate ways to open up and bring attention to those different perspectives to better our own work and understanding

But it’s not just us…we have a role and responsibility to hold the people we work with accountable including our clients


Nish  4:17 PM

It’s true, we work with some amazing organisations who are committed to equality and helping people but we shouldn’t shy away from having conversations about where there’s room for improvement


daisy  4:20 PM

It’s not a hidden fact that the charity sector is predominantly a middle-class, white establishment. However, charities also serve such a diverse range of people. Are we missing out on opportunities to better support different communities if we don’t have an understanding of them within the organisation? 


Nish  4:22 PM

I read that last year Queen Mary launched an undergrad degree specifically designed to facilitate careers in the social sector and 80% of their first year’s intake were ethnic-minority students. It’s commitments like this from institutions in the sector that will begin to promote diversity. 


daisy  4:24 PM

There were lots of brands across lots of sectors, who shared the black square to show solidarity and made public pledges, but confronting your own internal bias and privilege and taking action is the hard part. Words can have power, but change only comes through action.


Mary Wong  4:26 PM

This should be a time for the charity sector to reflect, acknowledge and confront where they’ve gone wrong, so they can take action to change it.

And saying that...it’s a learning process. I don’t think anyone’s expecting you to get it right immediately. We need to take action, learn through the process and try to do better. If we make a mistake, we acknowledge it and figure out how we can do better the next time.


daisy  4:30 PM

Okay, so if this was an innovation brief, what challenges would you pose for us to co-create and solve together as a sector?


Nish  4:32 PM

How do we make sure our service users feel like they're truly represented by the charities they're relying on, or supporting? 

And, how do we ensure their voices are front and centre when designing solutions?


Mary Wong  4:33 PM

How might we create more diversity in the workforce at GI and the charity sector as a whole?


daisy  4:35 PM

How do we keep diversity front of mind and on the agenda?


Mary Wong  4:35 PM

Yes! We can’t just let this fizzle out. That’s a question for ourselves, for the agency, for all designers and innovators too

....and everyone else in the world too


Nish  4:36 PM

This has been one of my biggest concerns during all of this - we have to be sure that we carry on the conversation, it shouldn't just be a diversity and inclusion box checking exercise


daisy  4:40 PM

Totally agree. I was thinking about Marsha P. Johnson and her role in helping to start the conversation around LGBTQ+ rights 

One person's voice and actions can have a huge influence

The changes we need to make - the processes we use, the methodologies we build, the products we design - need to be more than the sum of the voices who directly created them.


Nish  4:41 PM

If it's not, we have failed as innovators and designers


Mary Wong  4:42 PM

We need to think critically every step of the way


daisy  4:42 PM

I don't want to see another 8 minutes and 46 seconds of a man's life being taken


Nish  4:43 PM

It shouldn’t have taken lives being lost for people (us included) to start the conversation


daisy  4:44 PM

And it's not just one man. The roll call of names, not just in the US. I'm angry. I'm angry that we/I've been complicit. To Black and LGBTQ+ lives lost unnecessarily because we have stayed silent and accepted the status quo. I don't want to stand silently anymore.  


Mary Wong  4:44 PM

Confronting our everyday biases is an important start - rethinking how we see others, what we say and do and even how we see ourselves.

But there’s more and we all have a part to play


Nish  4:45 PM

We need to celebrate racial diversity and Black lives by making a choice as designers and as humans, to ask questions about them, learn from them, and question the norms around us. 


daisy  4:50 PM

We don't have the answers, but we can ask the questions. Something we will be doing at GI. We can bring people and organisations together to build something better together. We can amplify their voices and experiences and be a platform for action.

To learn as individuals, and to challenge ourselves as designers and innovators to move past box ticking and design solutions that are embedded in our ways of working. I'd be really keen to learn what actions and approaches other charities and consultancies are taking, and how they're changing their conversations.