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Editor’s note:
Editor’s note: This is part two of our series on ability diverse commerce and inclusive design. It excerpts an interview between Barry Fiske, LiveArea’s Senior Vice President of Global Experience and Innovation, and Misty Bell Stiers, Creative Director of Inclusion for Citibank.

Inclusive Design and Leading with Empathy

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In her role, Misty Bell Stiers, Creative Director of Inclusion for Citibank, describes her job as ensuring “that whatever we put out into the world as a digital experience for our clients is as inclusive as possible. It’s about inspiring, advocating, educating, and finding all the ways we can welcome more people and help them feel more seen and valued.”

Barry: What was your first exposure to the need for inclusive design?

Misty: I was a couple of years into my career and I got a project from Edward Jones — to design a C-level dashboard. Apparently, only a few people were using it, and the main customer… it was for him. I put my heart and soul into this dashboard. And then I found out he was colorblind, and he couldn’t see red and green. So, my beautiful dashboard meant nothing to him. And it was shocking because it was the first time I realized that my target audience was not me.

Barry: What are the differences between designing for accessibility, diversity, and inclusion?

Misty: Accessibility is a tool. It will open the door and get you into the room. It’s the things you need to enable for use. Inclusion takes that further. Not only do you open the door, but you pull out a chair and you offer someone a space. It’s less about being a tool and more about making people feel like they belong somewhere.

I think that often when people talk about inclusive design, they fall back on this idea of diversity, which is also a part of inclusive design but this is just the visual aspect of it. It’s a layer of making sure you’re representing people properly. And while that can feel like you’re being inclusive, it’s really just that super top thin layer. Inclusive design goes way past that. It goes deeper and wider than just a series of images.

“The minute you stop recognizing people, the minute you start dismissing people…because they aren’t who you think you should be talking to… you’re leaving money on the table.”

Barry: How important is inclusive design?

Misty: One out of every five, sometimes one out of every four people – depending on the stats you read – are differently abled in this world. But there’s also the idea of the halo effects of designing for inclusion. If you’re designing for someone unable to use two hands for their phone, for instance, you’re not only designing for that person, but also for the mother who’s handling the phone with a baby in the other hand.

Barry: What is the 80/20 rule and why is it backward?

Misty: As designers, we’re trained to design for the 80%, you worry about those people… and then the 20% … they’ll be able to experience it, maybe not fully, but they’ll be there. I think honestly, it’s the other way around. Design for the 20%, welcome them in the door, and provide an experience where they feel included, and seen, and empowered, and enabled. The 80% is already there. They’re getting what they need. They’re just getting more options.

Barry: What is the financial incentive for inclusion?

Misty: The minute that you stop recognizing people, the minute you start dismissing people because they aren’t who you think you should be talking to based on whatever assumptions that you’re making, you’re leaving money on the table. You’re automatically cutting out a huge audience because you’re not willing to open up the aperture.

Barry: Why don’t more brands and more designers focus on inclusive design?

Misty: For one thing, because it’s hard, but there’s a couple of other reasons, too. The people around the table often aren’t as diverse as they should be so the issue doesn’t get raised. We all look the same. But more than that is because it can be difficult to be empathetic in design. It requires you to have conversations that make you feel a little unsafe, and maybe a lot uncomfortable. But those conversations have to happen for design to break through into true empathy.

The complete interview with Misty Bell Stiers is available in Barry’s What Bubbles Up podcast. To listen, click here or visit WhatBubblesUp.com and look for Season 2, Episode 8 — Inclusive Design.

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