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How DEI Can Strengthen User Experience

Illustration of 4 diverse individuals pointing to different parts of a website on a computer monitor
March 11, 2022

Today, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) rank among the top of many organizations’ priorities.

In fact, the number of DEI-related job postings rose more than 120 percent from May to September 2020, according to a study by Sociologists attribute the recent rise to the widespread attention paid to George Floyd’s tragic death in May 2020, which sparked protests and calls to reform injustices and inequalities not only across the nation but also around the world.

At Astriata, we fully embrace and support the increased focus on DEI—and believe it can strengthen your overall website and user experience, not to mention, as McKinsey and Company found in a 2015 analysis, your overall financial returns.

While some may think the bottom line matters most, at Astriata, we encourage our clients to prioritize DEI for other reasons. Namely, if you’re invested in usability, it’s important to carry through on your commitment to user experience by making your site truly inclusive. How can you use DEI to improve your overall user experience?

When you approach website design through a DEI lens, you step out of your own unconscious biases and viewpoints to figure out how to attract broader, more diverse users to your site—and meet their needs in ways that make a difference. Here, we share tips on how we use user research to create an improved, more inclusive website and user experience.

Broaden your approach to user research.

Many people think of user research as a one-and-done task to check off their to-do list. In reality, user research needs to be comprehensive and ongoing. It needs to involve both quantitative and qualitative research methods, which means relying not only on demographics data and tactics like surveys and polls but also conversations and interviews with a wide range of users.

Talking one-on-one or as a group with users, a form of qualitative research, gives you a chance to ask questions and probe in ways that aren’t possible with only surveys and polls. “Often employed to answer the whys and hows of human behavior, opinion, and experience, [qualitative research gets at] information that is difficult to obtain through more quantitatively-oriented methods of data collection,” writes University of Georgia professor Greg Guest in Collecting Qualitative Data: A Field Manual for Applied Research.

With the right questions and approaches, you can hear firsthand—in the words of your users—what they like, dislike, relate to, question, and find useful, exclusionary, inclusive, clear, or confusing. Combining insight like that with quantifiable research and data can be a powerful tool, ultimately painting a fuller, more realistic picture of your user experience.

Go beyond race.

Race matters—don’t get us wrong. But it’s not the only component of DEI. Today, diversity encompasses everything from gender and gender identity to socio-economics, culture, age, education, religion, ability, disability, and neurotype. A first step in quality user research is identifying your user groups. For instance, you might have users from impoverished rural areas who spend less time online and tend to use older, less optimized equipment. How can you meet that group’s needs, at the same time you meet the needs of your highly educated users in urban centers who are skilled and savvy navigators of the digital world?

As you determine your user groups, think about diversity in its many forms and ask yourself: who are the people visiting my site? What similarities and differences do they share? What do they hope to find on my site, and how do their needs differ? What challenges do they face? How can I make them feel welcome? What can I do to make the experience as smooth as possible?

Think carefully about user personas.

User personas can all too easily cross over into stereotypes, as we’ve seen happen time and again. After all, a user persona represents a summary of user experiences. You can think of it as an archetype of your typical user, and this is where the challenge lies: not all users think and behave similarly.

The quality of your user personas depends on the quality of your user research—and your ability to tease apart the various needs, interests, abilities, and backgrounds of your users. While you don’t want to create an endless number of user personas (that would defeat the purpose), you do want to create enough personas to accurately represent your full range of users. In our experience, most organizations create around five or six. But remember: you’re unique, and just because organization X landed on five, doesn’t mean your organization will do the same.

Strive for authenticity.

These days, nearly every organization has or is in the process of creating a DEI statement and plan. And when DEI becomes something else you must do, it can feel stilted and stale. How can you make DEI genuine and real?

Doing so involves tapping into and embracing diversity, equality, and inclusion within your organization and among the clients and customers you serve. It involves broadening your approach to diversity as something more than race, as discussed previously, to something that makes life and work more interesting, nuanced, fulfilling, and even fun. For instance, instead of using stock photos of employees in sterile, corporate backgrounds on your website, use photos of your real employees in their natural habitats—lost in thought at a cluttered desk, cowered with colleagues around a complex data set, or laughing with a client over a walk-and-talk meeting.

Whatever you and your colleagues spend your day doing, attempt to document and weave it into your visual, audio, and written content. Keep in mind, too, that if your organization does have a strong and active DEI plan, you can turn to it as a wellspring of potential content. For example, if your organization provides tuition assistance to minority staff members earning advanced training, or, say, you offer mentor programs or affinity groups, tap into these for content and story ideas. Interview the employee seeking advanced training; write a story about the affinity group; produce a podcast or video on the importance of mentorship in your field; or design an infographic that breaks down the demographics of professionals in your field.

All of these make great fodder for your content and web design, and can help you create a site that demonstrates openness and acceptance—and an authentic embrace of DEI principles.

Looking for other tips to improve your website’s user experience? Read “Five Lessons from Cognitive Science to Boost Website Usability,” and stay tuned for our next post about overcoming unconscious biases in your web development, design, and content.

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