Design for Belonging


Design for Belonging

UXDX Community: Barcelona 2020

You've probably heard this before, but with great power comes great responsibility. And we have never been more powerful than now; the things we design have changed humanity in almost every way possible. We get to decide who you're designing for, and who gets left out. So how can we build products and practices that empower people and help them belong?

In her talk, Lara will share her life story as a designer, and will give you a path to affect change.
- Lessons learned from a career working in tech
- Resisting biases and going beyond empathy
- Unlocking innovation by designing to help others belong

Hi guys. I'm so happy to be here today. I want to thank the folks UXDX for inviting me and you for listening to this talk. This is a super personal talk to me, and it's not a collection of tips or just case studies but rather have stories that will hopefully relate. You will hopefully relate to and learn something from. To start, I want to tell you about my family and why belonging means so much to me. This is me at age six and it looked very grumpy in this photo, but it was actually quite smiley when I was a kid. I grew up in Brazil and we moved from place to place when my family to find jobs and kind of more opportunities. So, I spent a lot of my childhood without friends I didn't really belong anywhere. I was constantly kind of going to new places and it's really shaped me as the person. I am to this day, very attached to my family and very distant from everyone else. I don't have a lot of objects from childhood. And about six years ago, we kind of took that to the extreme and sold all our things and moved from Brazil to London together. We'd only a few suitcases and our dog. So, it's been something that I've been very used to my life and it kind of all cumulated in us moving to a completely different country together. These are my parents (inaudible) and Antonio. Before we moved here, my mom was a school teacher and my dad was a cab driver. They abandoned everything they need to come here. They abandoned their jobs, their friends, all their possessions and things that they had in kind of their house. They moved to a completely different culture to a place they didn't speak the language or knew anyone. And in the end, it was all worth it for me, for my sister, for them. We found new opportunities. We had a chance to enjoy things we never had access to before, but their experiences in London had been kind of almost opposite of mine. We started in the same place as immigrants and this already kind of makes our experience in the UK different from British people, but we kind of started in the same level in terms of how much we could embrace the experience in the UK but then because I'm fluent in English, I was able to engage with people everywhere. I went and they had asked for my help or my sisters even to go to the doctor and that kind of put a blocker on any relationships, any friendships that they could create with people who are from the UK. I'm also young and so it's easier for me to embrace new habits, try new foods and just in general, assimilate to a new culture. But my parents are older and they have a kind of harder time assimilating. They already have their personalities pretty set in stone, the music that they like, the movies that they like and in general, just the things that they like to do and what they enjoy as people. I was also able to build a career here and grow to be where I am now. And meanwhile, my parents couldn't really find steady jobs. Their qualifications are not valid here. So, they mostly did odd jobs. So, while I was feeling this kind of great sense of belonging to British culture, its people, its way of life. They just felt othered even though London was outright rejecting them. They didn't feel like they belonged here they have recently moved to Portugal and because of that and they're much happier there because it's much closer to present in culture. They speak the language, they know the people and now, I think I kind of understand much better why they made that decision and what I understood and what their journey showed me is that belonging is not really as straightforward as I thought when I was a child. It's not about how long you live in a place or how many friends you have it made me really also think about my job and the choices I was making for other people. So, because if people from the same family can have such different experiences while living in the same house, moving to the same country together. What happens when you're affecting entire communities? So, hi, my name is Lara. I'm the Head of Product Design at Bumble. And today I want to tell you about designing through the lens of belonging, and I will hopefully leave you with ways to affect change, whatever you are or career. So, why should we care about belonging? Especially as designers, why should we care about it? Well, if you close your eyes and think about a moment in your life when you truly felt like a part of something, family group of friends, a team, a community, or even society in general, when you felt listened and appreciated valued, what does that feel like? What did it feel like bask in that feeling for a second? This is what belonging feels like and this is what we should be designing for. In tech, we get to decide who gets this amazing feeling while using our products. We define where users are and everyone else who's left out would decide if belonging is a right or a privilege and how much we should care about the needs of those at the margins and this is a lot of power. Well, with great power comes great responsibility. When we design a product, we take into consideration a lot of ways in which we're different. So, we can define who our target audience is. These are some of the categories you might think of when you are kind of trying to build that target audience that you should aim for with your product. But in society, there's a default setting for each of these that we conditioned to imagine. If you think about a person in the US, for example, you might imagine this white, CIS male, straight, young, middle-class, able-bodied you were typical Christian, Western American English speaker thing. And of course, this will vary from place to place from audience to audience but we are connected condition to imagine at least some of every time and most of the time people will fall outside of this default. They get neglected or sometimes completely excluded. We imagine this kind of average human being and that's we designed for that's our target audience, but what happens when we designed for that average and no else. Well, let me tell you another story. When I moved to the UK, I had to open a bank account. So, I went to the bank and they told me they needed proof of address. So, I gave them a bill with my name on it and this is how it was written on the bill. The bank said no, because my surname didn't match the name of my ID. I was, of course, very confused. This is how my name was on my ID. Couldn't they just work out that it's the same name abbreviated but I went home and called the company to sort it out. They said that my name was too long to be written on the bill. There was nothing they could do because that's how the system worked. It wouldn't allow them to put this many characters. I even remember one woman on the phone suggesting I changed my name. So, things would be easier for me. I just honestly felt awful. At the end, I managed to get a bank account, but I had to do a lot more than other people and I felt like I was being punished for being different. But then I started talking to other people about it and I discovered the many immigrants had similar issues with their names. Names were too long like mine or they were too short or they meant a curse word in English. They maybe had a special character like hyphen or an accent. They may be had multiple small words that were just one surname or they made a comment to a computer. It was countless stories of moving from a country where your name was just a name to a country where it was an error and we all felt excluded like something was wrong with us like we didn't really belong here. Because when we're dealing with a product or a system, we think it's perfect. We think is not human is a machine. So, it takes all of us into account. Well, most of the time it's designed for an imagined average person and it's designed by people. So, they make mistakes. And that means it might leave a lot of us out in the end. So, remember that to design to give others this feeling of belonging, you need to realize that there is no average, we're all unique and socially the products that we use, there's no one fits all solution. So, imagine that now you're designing for the non-average user. Great. But what happens if you tried to solve their problems based on assumptions about them? Well, this is Theresa Leport doing the 2000 us selections. She was a government worker in the Palm beach County in Florida, and she had a job to do. She needed to create the ballots where people would vote, including choosing between George Bush and Al Gore for president. You probably know a lot about the election now following the latest election like we all be following. So, you kind of understand that each County has their own way of doing things and Palm beach County had more candidates there than other counties and Florida's a very important state. So, everyone was paying attention to this County and everything that they were doing. So, the biggest problem that she had is because they had too many candidates, the usual ballot that other places in Florida were following didn't fit with her requirements. So, she needed to kind of change the design. The easiest solution would be to make the name smaller. So, they would take less space on the page, but Theresa wanted to make sure elderly voters who are most of the electorate in Palm beach could read the names easily. She wanted to make sure that they felt included and empowered to fulfill their civic duty was a very noble goal. Well, so she chose this design which seems fine on a first glance but he had some issues. Basically, each candidate would occupy either one side or the other side of the page and they would alternate names. But what she didn't know at the time is that this would have a huge impact in the election basically because there were two ways, if you read the spell it the intended way was from top to bottom. So, you would read Bush as number one and then this guy named Pat Buchanan on the right as number two, and then Al Gore is number three and so forth. So, if you wanted to vote for Al Gore, you would punch hole number three. Pretty straightforward. Right? Well, no, because it could also read it left to right. So, all the cans on the left side and then all the candidates on the right side. So, if you want it to vote for Al Gore, you would count one for Bush, two for Al Gore. So, we'd vote on the second hole. Well, over 2000 Democrats in that County, so that they meant to vote for outboard, but voted for Pat Buchanan due to the design. And Bush ended up winning the electorate by 537 votes which means that those 2000 votes might as well have changed the outcome of that County and because the election was so close in Florida, he could actually have changed the entire state which as you might know is a very important state, if you want to win the election and it was a deciding factor for Bush to win. Would it have been different? We don't know but we're never going to find out. At the time Louis Franco who's the house democratic leader in Florida said, "No many people can say they changed the history of the world." But Theresa LePort can say that. Her design has possibly changed who would become president of the United States. Tell me about impact. Right? Well, the lesson here is that to solve your user's problems, you can just assume you know what they need. You need to involve them in the process and test the solutions to make sure you're not affecting their experience and everyone else's in an unintended way. It may be changing the world by accident. Now, we know all these lessons, how do we design for belonging? If you know that belonging is really important, it has really consequences in people's lives you need to know how then you take that and transform that into actual solutions and use that in your everyday job. So, a year ago, I joined a mission-driven company called Bumble. If you don't know Bumble, Bumble is the parent company of two of the largest dating apps and connection apps in the world with millions of users in many, many countries. Our mission is to provide the most inclusive and empowering way to connect. The company operates two apps, Badoo and Bumble. And I lead the product team for the Bumble app. That's me there. So, the mobile app is a social networking app that connects people across dating, friendship and professional networking. No matter the type of relationship at Bumble, our staple, our unique selling point is that women make the first move. Connecting with other people makes us very vulnerable and even more. So, if you're part of a group that is not seen as the target audience most of the time, so we can easily leave you feeling rejected in different because of our mission of inclusivity and empowerment. And because we're women first by design, we could never really settle for designing for that average as part of our everyday ethos to help people belong in their journey to build relationships. When I joined the company, my main focus was to grow a team and a diverse and collaborative team and to mature practices so we could bring that mission to life. We had one designer dedicated to the Bumble app at the time and although he was great, a solo designer brings only one perspective. So, we had to grow the right way. This meant evolving our hiring processes and seeking diverse perspectives. There’re also men giving them the psychological safety to question themselves and their peers, and to bring their full identities to work to ultimately foster an environment that focuses on helping the most vulnerable users belong. This is our team right now we have five designers and one UX writer and we're hiring a lot more people, we have some people starting at the end of this month and then we hiring even more people by the end of 2020. We now want to be in terms of diverse voices yet, but the progress we made shows that it's possible to grow fast and bring the right people with you. This team impresses me daily with their empathy, their stories, and that's because we didn't hire for the average. We focus on people with experiences and potential to help us truly affect change people who bring unique voices. So, my advice is this find a team that shares a passion for belonging. Then use your own voice and learn from your peers. This will enable crucial discussions that will ultimately lead you to innovate as a team and hopefully different from my bank. You also cover some non-average users in the process. But having the team in place, although really important is not everything. Everyone has blind spots and even a diverse team won't understand the experiences people have when using your product. So, we make an effort to recognize exclusion and change the way we work constantly to solve for those users. We introduced a lot more discussions around risk and misused during our discovery process we also work with the research team constantly to fundamentally reframe how we plan a roadmap and to focus more on user outcomes. Without it and to find those gaps and evolve your process as a team, as a consequence, you will end up designing on assumptions and like Theresa Leport with the US elections, you could end up having a huge unintended impact on your users even with the best of intentions. We'll start by asking yourself this, what points of view have I not yet considered. What are the layers of exclusion that I find my product or my feature? How can I change that? And then we focused on figuring out what we can't see, our blind spots. That means working with research to evaluate possible solutions. And it also means doing the foundational research to get to know our most underserved users better so we can identify their fears, hopes, and dreams. This helps us design with data and knowledge. So, we know the impact before we come into a solution and it also helps make a business case on my does an opportunity to innovate and tap into audiences we have been neglecting. So, here's what you do. You can start by challenging your very own assumptions and make a case for changing a process or feature based on real insights from the very groups of people you want to help along. Forget the word edge case, framed discussions around belonging and the business and humanitarian risks in not solving them. At the moment, we're working in a lot of features and projects that we can share yet about that. But here's an example of something we have where we recently released originally when either side of a match opted to unmatched to each other, the conversation would disappear forever. So, you would say, "I don't want to talk to this person anymore. I want to unmatched and then their name, their chat would just disappear from your chat screens. So, we did this to protect our most vulnerable users’ women, especially women of color making sure that their personal information was not visible once they decided we're not interested in a person anymore that guaranteed that no one could take that personal information tried to find them in other places like Instagram. When we spoke to these users, however, these women especially women of color who felt who we wanted to make sure they felt safe in the platform. We also learned that although, this was a great feature. It could also be used by a bad actor to leave a conversation before they had a chance to report them. So, if they harassed you for any reason, they would just match you when you wouldn't be able to find them again to report them to Bumble. That made victims of harassment feel less safe in the platform and that was the last thing we wanted to happen. So, we made a change to eliminate that possibility altogether. Now, when user matches the other, the match and the chat will disappear for the person who were matched but they will stay for the person who got a matched and the conversation just becomes greyed out as you can see on the screen but they stayed there. But you cannot see any of their personal details. So, the photo disappears all the information. The only thing you have is the first name that guarantees that we keep the protection around personal information but we make sure that they can still take action. So, in that chat screen, you see a message that informs them, that they have been a matched. If everything's fine, they can just delete the chat, remove that from their inbox and move on. But if they want to get support from Bumble and report the other user, they can do so easily and anonymously. And that was only possible because we spoke to vulnerable users regularly. And because we, as a company decided to prioritize their safety. So, all the things that I spoke before about changing the process, hiring the right people, only all of those actions culminated in us be able to see this problem fast and work really quickly to solve it. So, after you do all of that in the long-term, what you need to do is make belonging your goal as a designer. We're still discovering what that looks like but one thing we did recently was redefined a design principle in a very collaborative way, kind of reframing it around how it aligns with our values and around belonging versus just experienced principals. Our team, any team is a work in progress. We never done trying to help other people belong. There's no magic recipe or checklist you need to start where you are as long as you're learning from different perspectives, changing the way you work together and making belonging your goal, you will affect change. I leave you with these inspiring words from Audre Lorde, "Sometimes we're blessed with being able to choose the time and the arena and the manner of our revolution but more usually we must do better where we are standing." Thank you.