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Participatory design and gender inclusive technologies

In this article, learn about the importance of participatory design in the creation of gender inclusive technologies.
an illustration which depicts a technology surrounded by an array of nodes which are all connected to the technology in the centre, a metaphor for participatory design.
© Creative Computing Institute

As we begin to think about designing gender-inclusive technologies, it’s important to think not only about designing for a group of people, designing with them. Even if you are not here to learn how to build a specific technology product, these principles can be applied across a variety of areas.

Understanding needs and experiences

Often, technologies are designed for specific groups of people without including them in the process. This can be detrimental to the end product and lead to grave omissions or problematic outcomes.

An example is cisgender men designing menstruation tracking apps that don’t work well for the people that actually need to use them.

These apps have been shown to fail on many levels, including making assumptions about why people want to track their periods (assuming it ‘must’ be because they are trying to get pregnant), and failing to account for people who do not have regular periods (1).

If the design teams included their stakeholders and had a deep understanding of their experiences and needs, would these problems have occurred?

What is participatory design?

Participatory design is an approach that helps avoid these problems. It’s “a method of including people in a design and development process of a product or service; specifically, people whose lives will be affected by the product or service being designed.” (2)

Participatory design asks us to level hierarchies by bringing a range of non-designers into the design process and letting their lived experiences shape design outcomes. It goes beyond ‘consulting’ people at the very beginning and end of a design process, and actively involves them throughout.

Pragmatic and democratic values

According to Joe Langley, participatory design has both pragmatic and democratic values: “pragmatic in that engagement is likely to lead to more ideas and eventually more appropriate, usable and empathetic design solutions. Democratic in the sense that end-users have a fundamental right to have a say in the project.”(2)

It’s facilitated through workshops or co-design sessions

Participatory design is often facilitated through workshops or co-design sessions that are active and give participants the opportunity to physically prototype products or services, you can find some examples in this article from UX magazine (3).

One of the leading thinkers on participatory design is Sasha-Constanza-Chock, whose book ‘Design Justice’ encourages people to look beyond universalist design principles, and ‘connects design to larger struggles for collective liberation and ecological survival.’ We recommend reading this if you want to take your learning on participatory design further. (4)

References:

  1. Kaitlyn Tiffany, 2018. Period-tracking apps are not for women, Vox.
  2. Joe Langley, 2016. Participatory design: co-creation, co-production, codesign combining imaging and knowledge.
  3. Olga Elizarova, Jen Briselli, Kimberly Dowd, 2017. Participatory Design in Practice, UX Mag.
  4. Sasha Constanza-Chock, 2020. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need.
© Creative Computing Institute
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Gender-Inclusive Approaches in Technology

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