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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: 01 How it applies to design

At the DBA, we believe embedding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) into design teams and businesses is the right thing to do. We also believe that a more diverse, inclusive design team will produce broader, better ideas.

We’re not alone in recognising the remarkable success diverse teams achieve, with research bodies such as the World Economic Forum finding a correlation between the diversity of teams, innovation and business performance.

Progressive clients have embraced DE&I and Inclusive Design and are expecting their partners to align with these values. Not only should our businesses be striving to meet these expectations, as an industry our collective ambition must be to become a diverse community whose instinct is to design for all.

Action is needed to enable under-represented groups to participate in our industry. We want to see a design industry that is representative of society as a whole. Diversity alone is not enough; creating a culture of inclusion will ensure people will stay in design and that their talents are fully harnessed.

“Without a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, lived experiences, and ways of working we immediately limit our creative capacity.” BBC Diversity & Inclusion plan 2021-2023

DE&I and design  

Society’s progress thrives in diversity and integration rather than sameness.

This principle is intertwined with the responsibility of designers, who hold the duty to be accountable to their diverse audiences and users. Inclusive design is a strong proponent of this responsibility, acknowledging the broad spectrum of human diversity spanning ability, languages, cultures, genders, ages and other differences. These differences, rather than hindering creativity, provide opportunities for creating better designs that cater to a wider range of people. This in turn, is better enabled through diverse teams, and by working directly with diverse audiences and users to which those teams are accountable.

The significance of an inclusive perspective holds true across all design disciplines and is further enriched by collaboration within diverse teams. Tapping into all employees’ knowledge and perspectives helps businesses make better decisions and understand their audiences and users – both of which are vital if the business is to continue to thrive and innovate in the future.

Inclusive design can enhance the overall design experience. It serves as a pivotal element within a broader inclusive business strategy, aligning with the concept that equal opportunities should be granted to all individuals, based on their unique needs and circumstances.

This approach transcends mere compliance; it’s about your business willingly adopting an inclusive stance rather than waiting for obligatory measures. It’s about recognising that design wields the power to shape and elevate lives, substantiating the established business case for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Through a commitment to DE&I, inclusive design principles and a culture of inclusion, your business will contribute to a more welcoming, responsive and accommodating world.

DE&I and business performance

Embracing DE&I can improve business performance, staff morale and the ability of a business to innovate.

The business case for investing in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is strong.

There have been many studies demonstrating the benefits, including how:

Diversity improves business performance.

Diverse teams are smarter.

Inclusion produces better work.

 “In a nutshell, enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential.” Harvard Business Review report by David Rock and Heidi Grant

Client expectations

Clients are increasingly expecting their partners to align with the DE&I and Inclusive design values they have embraced.

Progressive clients are placing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the heart of their business philosophy, seeing it as the right thing to do and something that leads to accelerated business growth.

They are setting targets for diversity and are asking their partners to do the same. They are also seeking comprehensive solutions which not only address their immediate needs, but align with broader societal, environmental and technological trends. Clients value designs that celebrate diversity and inclusivity and they expect designers to create responses that cater to relevant demographics and cultures, fostering a sense of belonging and representation.

“74% of clients stated that ‘Diversity’ is an important issue when selecting and working with agencies.” 2023 ‘What Clients Think’ Report by Up to the Light in association with the DBA.

Client initiatives

Having recruited diverse talent, progressive companies are seeking to build a culture and introduce policies to bring about Inclusion and retain that talent, recognising that it is pointless recruiting diverse talent if those people do not thrive, or quickly leave.

The concept of Progressive Marketing has emerged, where clients seek to change narratives in culture through the marketing programs they create. As part of this progressive approach many have launched Inclusive Design initiatives, training their people and expecting inclusive design teams and outputs from partners. As these changes and initiatives are developed, clients are asking their partners to show active support, and many have set targets for increased sourcing from minority owned businesses. 

Progressive brands are launching and promoting their own approaches to Inclusive Design. 

Microsoft describe how Inclusive Design is a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives. Diageo has introduced an inclusive design training programme for its marketers to drive further inclusivity across its products, advertising campaigns, physical brand experiences, and the wider design and creative industry. Developed in partnership with leading design, brand, and semiotics experts, Diageo’s training “builds marketers understanding of inclusive design principles and empowers them with the knowledge of how to remove unconscious bias from the design process and celebrate the individual and cultural differences of the consumers they are designing for.”

Progressive brands are asking their suppliers to partner in their initiatives. Microsoftare using our balance sheet and relationships with suppliers and partners to foster societal change and create new opportunity.”

Progressive brands are setting targets to increase purchasing from diverse owned businesses. Unilever set a target to increase their spend from €818 million in 2022 to €2 billion annually with diverse businesses worldwide by 2025. Diageo have committed to continuously measure and increase the percentage of diverse suppliers across their value chain year on year.

This guide was produced by the DBA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council – a group of experienced individuals drawn from across the DBA membership, working to strengthen DE&I in the design industry to create a diverse community whose instinct is to design for all. Through a commitment to DE&I and inclusive design, we can all contribute to a more welcoming, responsive and accommodating world.

Every business is different. These pages are a guide to key principles and best practice. They are designed to signpost you towards the types of resources that could help your business on its DE&I journey, but they are no substitute for working with an experienced, expert specialist who can fully understand your business and offer tailored advice.

These guides do not constitute legal advice and the DBA signposts to sources of other advice and information as a guide only.


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