I heard this comment from a man at a service design event I attended a few months ago:

“The group is made up of more than 50% women and yet the only people who are speaking are men. Can I request that the men don’t talk for the remainder of the session?”

It’s a comment that has stuck with me.

Before his comment, I hadn’t noticed that it was the men who were speaking up (mostly white men, now I think about it) but it has since made me think long and hard about diversity in service design.

In my opinion, we ignore it at our peril.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the very act of service design - looking to design around the needs of our residents and business owners - is a radical step in the right direction.

But if we don’t watch out for our own bias - whether it’s a gender bias or something else - we might find ourselves no better off taking a service design approach than if we were a group of all white middle-class men making a decision about how a service will be rolled out with no customer insight.

I don’t think that taking a service design approach takes all diversity issues off the table;  service designers come with our own diversity blind spots. A case in point is the room of service designers who didn’t notice how only men were speaking up in a room full of women.

In fact, in considering this issue, I discovered that there are over 200 different types of bias which we can be subject to at any one moment in time. And it’s nigh on impossible to keep these biases in check! These types of bias range from how we tend to notice things that we’ve seen repeated often, to how we complete things we’ve invested time and energy in (even if they’re not the right thing to be focused on now) and how we imagine things and people we’re familiar with or fond of as ‘better’.

So, while realising that I’m never going to keep my biases fully in check, I’m going to keep on falling over them, I’ve been thinking about how I can ensure diversity is represented in the service designs I’m involved in and how I can check my own bias when I’m supporting teams to redesign their services around the communities we serve.

And here are some of the thoughts I’ve had:

  1. Challenge the bias I see:
    It’s easier to spot bias in someone else than to spot it in yourself, so I’m going to try to get familiar with the different types of bias and call them out when I see them in a project.
  2. Make diversity an integral part of what I do:
    When a project kicks off, I’m going to talk about bias and how we can ensure we hear from a wide range of people, not just people who look, talk and act like us. Which leads to idea number three...
  3. Use statistics/measures to inform decisions:
    It can be really hard to get members of our community to engage with us (for interviews and user testing of early prototypes - perhaps I’ll write about this on a future blog) but it’s still valuable to aim to engage with a diverse group of people. We can try to get a 50:50 gender split at least, a range of age and ethnic groups. We won’t be able to get things perfect (as I said, it’s hard enough to engage people, let alone get a balanced proportion of society!) but it can help show us where we may risk leaving different views out.

We recently did this when conducting research for our ‘effortless customer services’ programme - the team tried to get an even split of Adur and Worthing residents as well as a variety of ages, a variety of experience using technology and an even gender split. I think we did pretty well in getting a range of people...but I don’t think we purposely looked for ethnic diversity and I can’t help but wonder what richness of data and viewpoints we missed because of this.

We’ll never be able to ignore the bias we hold but I hope that shining a light on diversity will help us to hear all the voices in our community when conducting user research.