Designing websites to be accessible and to reflect diversity is essential. In 2022, however, it may no longer be enough.
In a recent blog, Google’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion for EMEA, Latin American and Canada, Karina Govindji predicted that, this year, the world will increasingly expect brands to take a ‘more nuanced approach to diversity, equity and inclusion’.
“This means acknowledging that people’s identities are intersectional. Each person has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression, and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people. And this can overlap: people are not defined by a single characteristic.”
So how can designers and developers ensure that the websites they build reflect this intersectionality?
Scroll down for a few tips.
What is intersectional identity?
American academic Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality way back in the late 1980s.
The word describes how gender, class, age, skin tone and other personal characteristics intersect and overlap with one another.
It acknowledges that human beings can have more than one characteristic that is subject to discrimination and hostility.
In an interview with Colombia Law School Crenshaw said: ‘It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there.
‘Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things’.
8 tips for reflecting intersectionality in your web design
1. Carry out a diversity audit
The word audit makes this sound like a big project, but really, this can be a simple task. Scan several pages of the website you’re working on to see if the content is skewed.
Use the below tips to search for unbalanced images, language and other design elements.
2. Choose images that reflect intersectional identities
When choosing images, pick options that challenge stereotypes. For example, when choosing an image of a stay-at-home parent, consider picking an image of a person who identifies as a man rather than a woman and consider how that image depicts other characteristics like skin tone, age and class, too.
3. Refresh creatives to reflect new realities
Building a website that reflects intersectional identities is all about developing sites that reflect people’s real lives and day to day experiences.
This means ensuring creatives are representative of people’s lifestyles as well as their personal characteristics.
For example, when face mask wearing became mandatory in the UK, Google updated its creatives to showcase people wearing masks.
The search engine found this was good for business, as well as being the right thing to do.
Google revealed: ‘After the launch [of the facemask creatives], we saw a significant uplift in brand favourability and awareness compared to our prior, less diverse, pre-pandemic creative. In the U.K. in particular, our key metric — cost per qualified lead — declined by 45% after the campaign roll-out, indicating our audience was much more willing to engage with our offerings’.
4. Take Jane Austen’s approach to gender-neutral pronouns
Ensure that the copy on your site does not feature a word like he, him, his, she or her if it doesn’t specifically relate to a person who identifies as that gender.
Instead, use ‘they’, ‘their’, ‘them’ and ‘themselves’.
Jane Austen commonly used these terms in her writing – you can see examples here.
5. Avoid ableist language
Dozens of ableist words are used in everyday speech today. If you’re designing a website with an informal tone of voice, it’s easy for them to creep onto your pages.
Look out for terms like crazy, insane, blind, nuts, OCD and dumb.
Words like these stigmatise and cause the internalisation of harmful biases.
6. Avoid socially charged terms
Examples of socially charged terms include ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’, and ‘native’.
If you see these terms on the site you’re developing, replace them with alternatives like ‘blocklist’ and ‘allowlist’, ‘top-level’ and ‘built-in’.
7. Analyse colour schemes
Every colour has a connotation. For example, in the UK, the historical saying goes ‘pink is for girls and blue is for boys’.
Next time you choose a colour scheme for a website, consider neutral colours like greys, yellows, oranges and greens.
Or, if you client is keen on pink or blue, diffuse the connotations by pairing the colours with another neutral shade.
8. Work inclusively
The web design industry has a way to go before it can claim to be inclusive. One recent study found that 79% of people working in the field identify as male, for example.
However, the best way to guarantee the sites you design reflect intersectional identities is to ensure underrepresented and historically excluded groups are involved in any collaborative creative process that you undertake.
This applies to everything from the copywriting to the photoshoots.
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