Designing for Equity Starter Guide

Inequity in all its manifestations is what human-centered designers would call a “wicked problem”, issues of inequity exist in complex systems, where the relationship between the cause and effect is not always apparent, and/or (intentionally) obscured. A misdirected notion is that solutions to problems of inequity are one size fits all and/or, there is a tendency to favor jumping to solutions over deep understanding of the problem (and who is impacted and how). Too often, these premature solutions only reinforce hegemony and orthodoxies rooted in “powerful unexamined ideas” (bias and stereotypes) that create and perpetuate yet more inequity.

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What is it?

An introduction to designing for equity for those who are starting the journey of working to ensure systems are more equitable and accessible. Cookie-cutter solutions to complex problems such as inequity do not exist. Because of factors such as culture, history, geography and how some groups experience systemic oppression, what may work in one situation/location may not be the most impactful approach for another. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools and frameworks we can use to design equitable processes and outcomes that consider historicity and the unique needs of individuals and communities. Designing for equity requires us to understand and address the systemic problems that create disparities. We present several approaches to designing for equity in this guide, such as:

  • design thinking with an equity lens
  • participatory design and research
  • strategic foresight
  • speculative design
  • social innovation design

Also included are critical considerations around technology, asset framing and language.

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Who is it for?

This guide is for everyone, but we might engage in different ways. All issues are issues of equity, some more prominently than others. We hope that once you read this guide, you’ll be better able to identify, question, call out, and mitigate issues of inequity.

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Using the guide

It is recommended that you read the guide in its entirety as some concepts are related and build off each other. It is also recommended that you view the appendix and related resources as they provide additional information on topics covered.

Though this guide is not intended to be a “how to”, reflect on how the topics presented in this guide can be incorporated into your work, research, and daily activities. Set actionable, tangible goal(s) to put equity in action. Perhaps you commit to using an asset-based approach in your project work. Or perhaps, you will leverage Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in your research. Or, maybe you will lean into learning more about design thinking with an equity lens and employ it in your work.

Whatever your position, where you work, or what you do, ideate/imagine what you can do to bring about transformative change within your sphere of influence and make an action plan to do so.

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Impact matters

Remember, impact matters more than intention. It is important to be consistently self-reflective and examine power, privilege, and positionality, and understand how these factors impact you and others. Seek community with equity and social justice (design) practitioners for support and to continue your learning and application.

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Make a difference

Learn more about this issue through these external resources.