I was filling out an online legal form for a real estate transaction the other day and was asked to specify my gender. The only two choices proposed were “male” and “female.” Since I am a cis-gendered woman, I can check the “female” box without hesitation. But I’m still upset. Why? I have a non-binary child. Through their eyes and experience, I can see that the thoughtless binary gendering of every person is pervasive and frustrating. Since June is a proud month, this seems like a good time to think about how to make a stronger commitment to inclusion.
The software industry affects people’s lives more than we realize, and we have an innate responsibility to incorporate the principles of quality, inclusion and diversity into our products. Let’s start with what the social and biological sciences agree on – that sex is a multi-faceted, complex thing that doesn’t fit neatly in two boxes. About 0.3% of people in the world identify themselves as transgender and I’m not going to question their identity or experience of living. While this percentage may seem small or insignificant from a global perspective, it is my job as a software designer to make sure it works for the products I influence or design.
Some guidelines for creating a gender-inclusive user experience:
- Exclude gender from it – Do not collect gender information about your users or customers unless you want to do it legally or if you have the data it is going for a good result. Use other features to identify, group, analyze, and market your audience. Take the challenge of creatively redefining a user’s personality without gender.
- Expand Preferences – If you collect gender data, make sure the appropriate choices are available for selection. Include “Mx” as a respectable choice. Add “non-binary” to “male / female” selection or “X” to “M / F” selection. If appropriate, see the legal guidelines for your state or country.
- Avoid categorization – are you assuming that manicures are for women and cargo pants are for men? What about power tools, home decor and sewing machines? Avoid guessing about your audience; Chances are it’s much more diverse than you realize.
- Analyze Image – Almost all stock photos used by web site designers and marketers are for men, men with square jaws, and women with flowing locks. We all know people who are not like that. Look for a wide range of images, as I used to illustrate this blog post And where you traditionally use pictures of men and women, avoid gender clichs. I once wrote an exciting letter to a clothing company in which girls always pick flowers or pet rabbits and boys play or otherwise become physically active. These anacronistic visuals reinforce stereotypes and isolate many people.
- Analyze language – Avoid unnecessary pronouns. Mix his / her / their pronouns in your content. Avoid the use of lazy verbal clich :s: “He entered the house” vs. “He entered the house.” “A practical gift for the man of your life” versus “a touch of luxury for him.”
The next time you visit a website, analyze how much it includes using the guidelines above and begin to understand how you can improve your own software designs. This may not seem like a big deal, but for non-binary people, these small changes can have a big impact. Isn’t that a great UX design?