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Diverse UX Design

I was filling out an online legal form for a real estate transaction the other day and was requested to specify my gender. The only two choices offered were “male” and “female.” Since I’m a cis-gendered woman, I could check the “female” box without a qualm. But I’m still irritated. Why? I have a non-binary child. Through their eyes and experiences, I see that the thoughtless binary gendering of every person is pervasive and demoralizing. Since June is Pride Month, it seems a good time to think about how to make a stronger commitment to inclusivity.

We in the software industry have a larger impact on people’s lives than we realize, and a concomitant responsibility to incorporate the principles of quality, inclusion, and diversity in our products. Let’s start with understanding what social and biological science agree upon – that gender is a many-splendored, complex thing that does not fit neatly into two boxes. Approximately 0.3% of people in the world self-identify as transgendered, and I’m not going to question their identity or lived experience. Although that percentage may seem small or insignificant from a global perspective, it is my job, as a software designer, to ensure that the products I influence or design work for them too.

Some guidelines for creating a gender-inclusive User Experience:

  1. Leave gender out of it – Don’t collect gender data about your users or customers unless you are legally required to do so or it’s going to make for a better result if you have the data. Use other characteristics to identify, group, analyze, and market to your audience. Take the challenge of creatively redefining user personas without gender.
  2. Expand the choices – If you do collect gendered data, ensure that appropriate choices are available for selection. Include “Mx” as an honorific choice. Add “non-binary” to the “male/female” selection or “X” to the “M/F” selection. If appropriate, check with the legal guidelines for your state or country.
  3. Avoid categorization – Are you assuming that manicures are for women and cargo pants are for men? What about power tools, home décor, and sewing machines? Avoid making assumptions about your audience; chances are it’s a lot more diverse than you realize.
  4. Analyze imagery – Almost all stock photos of people used by web site designers and marketers are of manly, square-jawed men and feminine women with flowing locks. We all know people who don’t look like that. Look for a broader range of images, such as the one I’ve used to illustrate this blog post. And where you use images of traditionally male and female people, avoid gender clichés. I once wrote an aggravated letter to a clothing company that always showed girls picking flowers or petting bunnies and boys playing sports or otherwise being physically active. These anachronistic visuals reinforce stereotypes and alienate a lot of people.
  5. Analyze language – Avoid unnecessary pronoun use. Mix up him/her/they pronouns in your content. Eliminate the use of lazy verbal clichés: “She swept into the room” versus “He strode into the room.” “A practical gift for the man in your life” versus “A touch of luxury for her.”

Next time you visit a website, analyze how inclusive it is using the above guidelines, and you’ll start realizing how to improve your own software designs. It may not seem like a big thing, but for non-binary people, these small changes can make a big impact. Isn’t that what great UX design is all about?

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