An Interview with Fabricio Teixeira
We got the chance to speak with Fabricio Teixeira, author of “The (frustrating) User Experience of defining your own ethnicity“, about infusing diversity and inclusion in design. Devoting the month of April to publishing a series of stories about diversity in design on uxdesign.cc, Teixeira has used his platform to provide actionable insights for creating a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse design industry. He is the leader of the Experience Design department at R/GA San Francisco and co-founder of the largest Medium publication on UX – uxdesign.cc.
You have written extensively on the importance of inclusion and diversity in design. How have inclusion and diversity come into play In your own life and work?
As an immigrant working in the US, I have always had mixed feelings about sharing my opinions on this topic. “Do I even have the right to advocate for more inclusion in Design, or is that just too self-serving and convenient to me?” I have only truly realized the importance and the value of having diverse teams once I started to manage teams myself.
When you are working with homogeneous teams, whose members come from the same country, have the same age, have graduated in the same school or course, attend the same events, share the same world views, etc., the solutions they bring to the table tend to be homogeneous as well. Lack of diversity makes it more challenging for a creative lead to ensure the team is exploring multiple, varied solutions and angles on how to tackle the same problem. That is what creativity is all about: seeing things in different ways. Diverse teams have serious competitive advantage over homogeneous ones – especially in the design industry. If you want creative quality, you need creative diversity.
Recently on UXdesign.cc, you devoted an entire month to publishing content on the topic of diversity. What are the key insights about diversity and inclusion that you would like people to take away and incorporate into their own lives?
Since this realization I had a few years ago (that diverse teams often produce better, more interesting work than homogeneous groups), the matter of inclusion in Design has become very close to my heart. UXDESIGN.CC is the biggest Medium publication about User Experience – which means we not only have a quite broad global audience reading our content every week, but also great responsibility over shaping the discussions that happen around our discipline.
As designers, we spend most of our day imagining and building experiences that, when added up, take a big portion of people’s days and affect a lot the relationships they have with other people and with the world around them. We design sign up forms for government websites that ask people to define their ethnicity. We design profile pages in social networking apps where people define how they want to be seen in the world. We also design online forums, medical forms, services for citizens, social interactions, dating apps, learning platforms — the list is huge. Aren’t we somehow responsible for more inclusive, diverse experiences?
The challenge is: diversity can’t be a seasonal topic. We read articles on Inclusion and Diversity whenever we approach dates like Black Consciousness day or Women’s day. But that is not enough. The intentionality and the thoughtfulness of inclusion have to permeate every one of the hundreds of decisions we make everyday – decisions about our designs, about our teams, about our relationships with our clients, about our design process.
The goal of our Diversity Month initiative was to remind people about that. For 30 days, Caio Braga (my partner at UXDESIGN.CC) and I held off on stories about VR, chatbots, interaction design, usability, and other topics you would hope to see on a UX publication, to focus on a series of articles about the many flavors of Diversity in Design.
We are not specialists in the topic, by any chance. The idea was to embark in a journey with our readers to learn more about Diversity and its impact in Design – and share what we learned along the way. In the months of research leading up to the start of the series, we realized there was quite a lot to be learned, and that there were incredibly talented people out there who could share their knowledge and point of view with us. We couldn’t have made it without them.
In your article ‘The difference between Equality and Equity in Design’ you wrote “diversity is enabled by inclusion. Inclusion is enabled by equity.” Can you explain what equity is and why it’s so crucial to promoting diversity?
While equality is the state of being equal, equity is the quality of being fair and impartial – which in my head is even more important that equality itself. Fairness and impartiality are the way, the principles and the fundamental mindsets that enable equality to happen. To be fair when making a decision that affects other people and their ability to live in a fair, equal world, you have to dig deeper into understanding their needs, their motivations and their current social, cultural and economic conditions. Or if you want people from minority groups represented in a certain population (in our case, in the design industry), you have to make sure people are given equal opportunities and are treated with equal rights across the board.
This is surprisingly similar to the work we do as User Experience Designers everyday, as we are projecting experiences to our users and creating interfaces that enable those experiences to happen. It all has to start with legit human needs. We, as UX Designers, have to constantly advocate for our users’ needs, and empathy is a key component of that. Why don’t we go ahead and extend that very same ability to the way we build our teams, structure our processes and build relationships with the design community?
What do you think are the biggest barriers to achieving equity in the design industry?
There are a few barriers that are more explicitly known and talked about, while others are considered a taboo for some people. The one barrier that is frequently discussed is the pipeline issue: you can’t simply start hiring more diverse candidates, because the pipeline of qualified candidates that graduates every year is not as diverse as it should be. In the US, Hispanics make up 7 percent of the student population of the 193 most selective colleges, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, while blacks make up just 2 percent. Engineering graduates also tend to skew largely white and male.
The pipeline is a problem, but it is not the main one. As Rachel Thomas states in her article for our series, “everyone wants to see these problems fixed, but they need more than just a coat of PR-friendly paint”. Any successful effort towards diversity and inclusion will need to involve comprehensive changes, ongoing self-reflection, and tackling hard problems, not just superficial, high-publicity, quick fixes.
Other less known problems include unconscious bias in our design process, the ease of reinforcing stereotypes in the work we create versus redefining what is normal, the confirmation bias embedded in our hiring process, the lack of conscientization and investment in creating accessible products, and even the damage that diversity branding can cause to diversity itself. There are a lot of problems to tackle and the journey ahead is arduous, but hopefully with our series we have helped our audience break these barriers down into smaller pieces and get some actionable advice on how to influence the work (and the work environment) around them.
What are some steps individuals can take to make sure we are doing our part to promote diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces?
If I was asked this very same question before going through the journey of researching, writing and editing articles for our Diversity Month, I wouldn’t be able to answer it with as much clarity as I am able to do now. Writing is learning. In all honesty, that was the same question I asked myself before writing the final article of the series: what can I do as a designer, today?
The good news is: there’s a lot we can do.
One simple change of behavior that I have incorporated in my routine after this series was just paying more attention to the diversity of each and every group I see around me. When I am attending a design conference, for example, I now pay much more attention to how balanced and diverse the audience is. Same thing in meetings, presentations, training sessions, workshops. If I feel the group is too homogeneous, I wait for the right opportunity to talk to the organizers about shifting a few participants or inviting others; the more opinions, the more variety, and the more diversity we bring to the table, the more we can unchain our creativity.
Diversity is not only about having representatives from [what the world tends to think as] “social minorities” in the room; it is about making sure every voice is heard. If you are starting a meeting to review someone’s designs and the participants of the meeting are all designers, something is wrong. Diversity is about mixing multiple perspectives that will make the work stronger, and giving them the power to speak up as much as anyone else.
But there’s way more than that. From challenging the companies we work for on having more specific diversity goals, to stopping hiring our friends to work with us, to promoting and hiring people based on potential, not on proof. Every single action matters. And we’ll only start seeing a difference when those actions become second nature; when they become so embedded in culture that they turn invisible.
Look for Fabricio at R/GA’s studio tour on Thursday June 22nd.