Equity-Centered Community Design in Product and Marketing Design

Introduction

I’ve been reflecting on myself and my work as a designer. I’ve worked on numerous design projects, all with a social aspect to varying degrees. What makes them social projects? After searching for new resources and sitting down with webinars and readings from Creative Recreation Lab (CRL), here are some of my thoughts on why we need equity-centered design, why we need thoughtful community design, and how equity-centered community design shows up in your product and marketing work even when you don’t expect it.

My work has most recently have been with startups, first-of-its kind, or products new to a group. We put a lot of emphasis on user research to understand who we’re designing for, what they need, and how we can serve them, which informs our scope of work. A big part of this is to ensure that the product is successful in the market, from how we market it, to how it actually functions, and the platforms that supports the product. With marketing and product design, we have the power to create or disrupt systems. With that in mind, as CRL puts it, “how can we make sure that you’re designing inclusive and equitable outcomes for all — no matter how big or small the decision?”

Why should we care about inclusive and equitable outcomes?

Inclusive and equitable outcomes make business sense. As a socially responsible company, if we really want to serve our users, we need to look beyond the surface. To be a successful product that users will love, spend their money/time, will come back to, and share with their friends, we need to understand what their immediate and core needs are, how to fulfill that need, and how to market and appeal to them with our value proposition as fulfilled by our product. What I’ve learned and experienced first-hand is that when companies don’t understand why they’re designing and how they should be marketing a product, features and content miss the mark. When we miss the mark, users leave, and what’s worse, media picks up the miss and the company is put at risk.

To read more about identifying users core needs from the micro-system to the eco-system level, read my post on Social and Racial Justice in Eco-Trauma-Informed Design.

What does community design have to do with product and marketing design?

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If you are reading this, you probably acknowledge that inequities exist, but what do we do about it? How we’ve designed in the past has not met the needs of our current times. How we’ve traditionally designed does not consider the people, power, systems, action, history, and healing together. These components of equity design illuminate the community that we’re designing for. As creatives, particularly brand and marketing design, we have a big part in creating the the brand character and voice of the product. People gather around a product forming a community. That audience determines whether your product is a success or not. As creatives; designers or process, craft, and community, we need to be intentional about every step of the way and thinks about the unintentional impact to the community behind a design. Through thoughtful community design, we can create safe spaces for everyone to flourish no matter who they are; we can create human equity.

How do I practice equity-centered community design and know when to use this framework?

With a little practice and the willingness to learn and experiment, anyone can use design-based problem solving and community development to create more equitable outcomes. The main thing to remember is that like design-thinking, equity-centered community design is not a linear step-by-step process, but is meant to be mutable for different user groups and environments. In this mutable process, the key is the integration of history and healing by acknowledging and actively committing to dismantling harmful power constructs every step of the way. How this manifests may look like intensive user research, user workshops, and rapid iteration whenever you’re entering a new community. Whatever you’re ready for, test and iterate on the process. From my experience, over-budget the amount of time you need, and start small — don’t try to solve everything at once.

Questions to ask when planning and considerations to follow

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When planning for this research or workshop, invite a diverse group of co-creators, come from a place of humility and empathy, aim to define and assess community needs, ideate on approaches to solving the needs, rapid prototype, test, analyze learnings, and re-test with learnings. When identifying our users, who are our primary and secondary users? Have we considered the users on the peripherals or outliers? How do their needs differ from my own, and what are my own biases? When I worked with designers, researchers, and community organizers for developing designs for an indigenous population in rural Mexico, we held day-long workshops with the local users, accompanied by weeks of pre-planning and days of synthesis, and additional weeks of redesigning. The more that you admit you don’t know and are willing to learn from the community, the more likely it is that you’ll actually be able to serve them which increases your designs success.

This is just one reflection and example of how equity-centered community design can benefit your organization. When designing new features and content, ask yourself what you don’t know, and work with others to get the right answers. To hear more of my experience as a program manager, operations, process, and systems designer and researcher, please reach out! To read more about Creative Recreation Labs’s approach and their field guide, visit their website here.

Design & Research for Social Innovation

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