What does equity mean to you?

Date 2023-03-09

When the pandemic hit, equity was set back. But technology can be one of the most powerful tools for progress, opening a new world of possibilities. But when it comes to designing the future of tech, and who we design it with, we must ensure that we represent, include, and consider everyone.

Design plays a crucial role in creating a world that is equitable. Design is about creating solutions that meet the needs of users, and this requires a deep understanding of the diversity of human experience, considering factors such as the diversity of user demographics, cultural norms and values, and historical inequalities and power dynamics. By solving problems with equity in mind, we can develop solutions that work better for everyone.

We asked people from across our network ‘What does equity mean to you? And how can we use design to champion more equitable experiences?’ And the responses came from far and wide. From Madrid to Shanghai, discover below how we can all work to embrace equity for all.

“Equity to me means looking at solutions through the lens of ‘people, planet and prosperity’. ‘Prosperity’ rather than ‘profit’ because it decreases the tension between people and planet by providing alternative indicators of success in communities other than the singular one of financial wealth: e.g. access to social services, medical care, education, etc.

The more sustainable lifestyle option is still often seen as a privilege of the few who can afford it. We need equity in order to strive for true sustainability.

Data-led personal carbon footprint tool, Giki Zero, uses design to demystify the world of carbon and the impacts from our lifestyles. It uses a warm, encouraging tone, infographics, gamification and friendly illustration to break through the inertia and helps everyone make a positive impact by tailoring changes that you make – small steps or big leaps - to what suits your own personal lifestyle; proving that everyone can make a difference, and feel good about it in the process.” — Helen, London

​​”Creating equitable experiences, products and services means making sure their future users are represented in their design. 44% of global AI systems are already demonstrating gender bias, which isn’t surprising given women make up only 22% of AI workers (UN Women).

Our team helped launch Kiteka, a social enterprise based in Uganda, to help tackle this issue. Kiteka loaned smartphones to female entrepreneurs, helping them to become financially independent while also forming the world’s first all-female, all-mobile digital outsourcing network. Kiteka members could do small mobile tasks to earn extra cash, and in doing so contribute to ‘teaching’ AI systems – to avoid Web 3.0 being created entirely by and for guys in Silicon Valley. A win-win all round!” — Cecylia, Hong Kong

"Equity means being able to look at each other through agnostic lenses and free from the prejudices agreed upon in our societies that discriminate and are intolerant of differences, often with the aim of preserving their racist, misogynistic, homophobic, classist structures. This is what allows us to look at and relate to each other based on equity, not because of a lack of difference, but because of the genuine constitution of each human being, which starts from the premise of being whole, equally worthy of the same opportunities, care and respect.

Design intrinsically carries the potential and ethical role of addressing equity as a conceptual, development and implementation principle to be put into practice in the world.

It will be through its systemic approach, processes and methodologies, that design will be able to make impact possible. Drive by its systemic approach, it is capable of valuing equity in its spheres of communication, branding, product, service, technology, or transforming, articulating discriminatory and meritocratic routes. Design creates and imprints a point of view on the world and, being a starting point, it is capable of creating the engine for the regeneration of our society and planet." — Lígia, Brazil

“Equity is understanding that the needs of each individual to meet the same objective can be different to the needs of others.

When creating equitable experiences, first we need to observe and then ask. Like with other processes, to understand the needs of women, we need to be listened to with an open mind and asked the right questions. Too often it feels like questions are misplaced and oriented to stereotypical and cliche answers of “what women want and think” leading to biased answers. As Alanis Morissette says, "it's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife”. Maybe women need less spoons and more knives…" — Maria, Madrid

“Equity means considering people’s experiences beyond just equality of numbers. It’s about providing considered help to those that need it most, rather than providing the same thing to everyone. For example, Spain just announced menstrual pain leave to combat the stereotypes and myths that still surround periods, and hinder women’s lives. Inclusive design is essential to champion more equitable experiences, by considering those on the fringes, instead of the majority. And by designing better experiences for the most marginalised, we can design better experiences for all.” — Sid, London

“Diversity is essential when thinking about equity. I believe that one of the biggest challenges we face as women is to find our own way of being a woman, without the social connotations and stereotypes that go with it. Each person must be free to build their own image of femininity and masculinity, and this is where we, as strategists and designers, have the power and responsibility to transform consumption dynamics, realities and mindsets through brands.

There is immense opportunity to develop designs that do not stigmatise and experiences that do not limit. We must avoid continuing to use the same filters that establish what a woman is or wants. We can and must create narratives that embrace the infinite ways of being women (and men) that exist to finally leave aside the constrained social constructions that keep us separate when, actually, we are united by the same reality: simply being humans.” — Andrea, Madrid

“Asia is a bit of a late starter when it comes to championing equity. Gender bias, gender privilege and gender equality have started to attract attention and provoke discussion in the last decade, but other topics like gender diversity and fluidity remain niche or even underground. Design and branding are a wind vane in the discussion, and brands have made great contributions to push some of these topics into the media spotlight.

For example, skincare brand SK II launched a series of campaigns in 2016 about “leftover women” (the name for single women over 30) in China, Japan and Korea that successfully challenged social norms. Chinese lingerie brand Nei Wai's campaign “No body is nobody” featured diverse examples of beauty, effectively introducing body positivity to the Asia market and shaking up Asia’s rigid beauty standards. Today we can see a shift with “leftover women” being completely replaced by buzz around “happy solo women”, and gender-neutral beauty and fashion becoming not just acceptable, but popular.

Design and branding are playing a pivotal role. In the bigger picture, it’s about designing a brand with long-term appeal and ensuring it always stays relevant. These require market sensitivity and a thorough understanding of cultural and social nuances.” — Doris, Hong Kong

"Equity to me is closely intertwined with empathy and the absence of bias. It involves the ability to understand and relate to the perspectives of others, regardless of their gender, race, or cultural background. At its core, equity is rooted in the principles of fairness and justice, which demand that everyone be granted equal opportunities and experiences without prejudice.

As professionals, we have a vital role to play in promoting equity and creating a workplace that upholds these principles. We must lead by example, setting the standard for equitable behaviour and inspiring others to do the same. This requires us to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and respect, where every individual feels valued and supported, regardless of their background or personal attributes.

We can help to create a world where everyone has the chance to thrive, free from the limitations of bias and discrimination." — Ana, London

“Equity to me means interrogating what we have today and ensuring the people in the room making decisions/designing are not only representative of the wider world but can also consider different perspectives to tailor experiences and design for all.

A great example is the fact that adult crash dummies have always been based on men; women crash dummies were just a slightly scaled down version. Meaning crash testing and safety design in cars has not considered 50% of the population.” — Owen, London

“I believe equity and design both sprout from an empathetic heart and willingness to care. If you give everyone a pair of shoes you need to take action to understand the right size for each person in need. The same applies to design. You need to empathise and care about issues to innovate and design a solution. Championing more equitable experiences through design means being more observant of needs, courageously taking actions and genuinely creating solutions.” — SungMin, Shanghai

“Brand equity includes tangible equity and intangible equity. Tangible equity: logo, look and feel (colour and other design elements...), name, comms messaging (tagline, story...), etc. Intangible equity: history, awareness, reputation (awards, certificates, word of mouth...), etc. To champion more equitable experiences, we need to unlock a simple brand truth to always deliver the brand essence and apply that Golden Thread to make sure we're always on brand.” — Renee, Shanghai

“Equitable design for me means considering the needs of the less privileged, minority groups, the marginalised, senior people, and those with vision and hearing impairment for example. Take the inclusivity of Apple's emojis, where you can choose from a range of different skin colours.” — Jenny, Shanghai

"Equity is about understanding the specific circumstances of each person and providing the opportunities or resources required by them to achieve an equal, or fair, outcome. It is focused on ‘each according to their needs’.

Equitable approaches, based on fulfilling an individual’s potential have been in many fields for some time. Child psychologist Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea of ‘maximising the zone of proximal development’ in 1978. How active involvement can help each child reach their full potential, starting with an understanding of their individual requirements.

Equity centred design is about taking this approach into the full design process and going a step further. It focuses on the needs, and empowerment, of individuals, especially those who are currently excluded or marginalised. It is about a closer relationship between the designer, the design process, and the individual you are designing for.

It requires understanding of their specific situation and how the design process and its products can be improved by giving them a clear voice and better outcome. And it starts with challenging ourselves to understand our own biases and assumptions. It’s also about appreciating the structures in place that have created existing inequities, and what we can do to overcome them. It is from there that we can look to properly empathise with each individual’s circumstances, challenge the status quo, and design solutions that allow them to achieve their potential." — Tom, London

“Equity is about giving equal access to opportunities. There are many areas of knowledge that appear complex and remote, with high psychological barriers to entry that discourage many people from exploring them, such as world-famous universities, classical culture fields, scientific fields. Many people, especially from lower social classes, stay away from them because they literally don't look and feel accessible. Design can be used to facilitate first contact and exploration. For example making it easier for a working class kid to understand how to get into Havard by re-designing the enquiry and application touch points.

Today, much of the world that surrounds us is (still) designed by men. A lot of the design solutions we take for granted as normal are really based purely on male needs, especially when it comes to ergonomics. This is something that requires a fundamental re-think of many decade old design standards.” — Kevin, Shanghai

“For me, Equity means, firstly, an unconditional basic income, that it doesn't matter how wealthy your family is - you deserve to have decent food, housing, etc., and that you can participate in "normal" everyday life. That you can study at any university you want. So for me, it's mostly about destroying the boundaries in people's minds. Also what comes to my mind is getting rid of rigid national borders and understanding that it is a world with many different cultures, but not with enmities and sometimes completely different human rights between countries. I also see the values of freedom, rule of law, equality, individualism in the context of equity.

I see the power of design above all in the way it works on the boundaries and prejudices in people's minds. Clearly, it's not just a question of believing in it if we can make the world a more equitable place. But dreaming about this world will bring us a bit closer to it. I believe that with design we can create these dreams and show a better version of our world today.” — Tim, Germany

“Equity is for me when things get interesting. When there is no standard or main point of view. When a multitude of rich stories, experiences, ways of seeing and doing come together to make the world a more interesting thing to be in.

What makes something well designed? Or poorly designed? How can design become variable and engage with people as they need to individually? How can design tell a single story to many types of people, or many different stories to one person? How do we ensure design can be practiced equitably? There are challenges in both the practice and engagement of design." — Gavin, Amsterdam