Inclusive Design
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Inclusive user research considerations


One approach we’ve always found productive on innovation briefs is to stretch user research group recruitment beyond majority demographics. A wealth of insights can be found outside the hypothetical averages. But how can we ensure the interaction is positive for all parties?

Mariel Brown

7 considerations we keep front-of-mind when undergoing user research with marginalised groups:

01/ Check your motives.

Carrying out research with marginalised groups must be undertaken with the goal of delivering a benefit to that group.

It’s important to ask:

“What is the intention of the project?”
“Why are we reaching out to this group?”
“Will the research insights inspire a design or innovation with a positive social impact?”

If recruiting marginalised groups is part of a tick-box optics exercise, or a self-serving marketing tactic, abort, abort...  

02/ Build community.

Invest time in building long-term relationships with charities and organisations which represent and advocate for the groups you’d like to learn from. It’s worth circling back at the end of the project (when possible) to share the progress that’s been made and discuss other challenges that could be taken on.

03/ Our differences are valuable.

Our life experiences are precious. Marginalised groups have experienced decades of unfair renumeration and a lack of credit for their ideas. Every participant should be paid fairly for their insights and credited for them in the research output.

04/ “Nothing about us, without us.”*

When marginalised groups are offered a place at the table, it often comes without a voice. Make sure you’re listening and give people decision-making influence throughout the research process.

05/ Lived experience is everything, avoid empathy gimmicks.

Wearing a blindfold to test an interaction, donning an age suit to step aboard a train mock-up, sitting in a wheelchair to test a ramp… none of these come close to understanding a true lived experience.

06/ Don’t design different.

Avoid stigmatisation: a great design should work for everyone.

07/ Set new metrics.

Set inclusivity targets for the user groups you interview. Creating accountability is a productive way to ensure you’re making good on your promises.

End note: by sharing/ ‘open sourcing’ the above considerations, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. Rather, we hope to build awareness and open conversation within our industry around inclusivity. Please reach out to us if you find fault with any of the above: we welcome your guidance as we strive for better.

*the Latin phrase “Nihil de nobis, sine nobis" (nothing about us without us) was adopted in the 1990s, by writer and disability rights activist James Charlton. He applied the term to the disability rights movement and wrote a book of the same title, to highlight the need for disabled people to have full and direct participation in all decisions that impact their lives. James Charlton relates that he first heard the term used in talks by South African disability activists Michael Masutha and William Rowland, who had in turn heard the phrase used by an unnamed East European activist at an earlier international disability rights conference.

Mariel Brown is Director of Foresight & Strategy at Seymourpowell.