In the rapidly evolving digital era, the paradigm of product development is undergoing a profound transformation, with the emergence of a pivotal concept—product equity. Traditionally, the trajectory of product innovation has been charted to cater to the needs of the majority, inadvertently sidelining substantial segments of the population. This cyclical oversight has perpetuated exclusionary practices, leaving individuals on the fringes due to financial, geographic, mental, physical, or emotional barriers.
However, a discernible shift is underway, underscored by the preferences of 73% of Gen Zers, who prioritize brands aligning with their values and beliefs. This seismic change signifies a growing demand for companies to adopt a new standard—creating products that resonate with diverse audiences. Building products for the margins has become the linchpin of accelerated and inclusive product innovation, ushering in an era where product equity is not just a moral imperative but a strategic necessity.
The Landscape of Product Equity:
Historically, product development has been guided by a cycle that identifies market gaps, develops products based on perceived majority needs, and iteratively adds features to appeal to a predicted customer base. While this approach may have been perceived as successful, it inherently left behind individuals facing barriers to accessing digital products. Recent data illuminates the changing dynamics, revealing that a significant percentage of the population, particularly the younger generation, now makes purchasing decisions based on a brand’s alignment with their beliefs and values.
To succeed in today’s market, companies must pivot from exclusive product development models to ones that intentionally consider and cater to the full spectrum of human differences. This is the essence of product equity—a commitment to building products that are accessible and inclusive, addressing historical gaps and challenges faced by diverse communities.
Building a Pathway to Product Equity:
The journey towards product equity involves intentional efforts to include those historically excluded from the product development process. This is where product equity teams play a pivotal role. These teams actively partner, support, and educate stakeholders throughout the product development cycle, ensuring decisions consider gender, race, age, ethnicity, ability, culture, and all other human variabilities.
While many companies have embraced inclusive design practices, product equity goes a step further. It encompasses inclusive design but also incorporates measurement of accountability, understanding of nuances, and the interrogation of existing systems. This holistic approach defines a practice that considers all forms of human diversity and difference throughout the product design and development process.
Read more about Building a Pathway to Product Equity
Foundational Strategies for Building Product Equity:
1. Implementing Product Equity from Inception:
When equity-focused processes are integrated from the outset of product development, teams can launch products faster, reaching broader audiences with greater success and lower risk. Quick fixes in later stages often lead to increased bugs and user accessibility challenges. Leveraging the expertise of product equity teams ensures historically underinvested communities are included from the beginning, holding organizations accountable for equitable outcomes.
2. Prioritizing Equity Across the Organization:
To infuse equity into the development process, organizations must prioritize it across every aspect of their products, services, and company culture. This requires a fundamental reassessment of goals and principles to guide teams in building equitable products and experiences. At Adobe, for instance, a recent reevaluation of accessibility principles aligned with core values has been instrumental in driving inclusive technology initiatives.
3. Building Co-Creative Community Relationships:
Qualitative insights are often inadequately interpreted, with researchers creating themes based on their understanding of participant feedback. To address this, product teams need to shift towards a co-creative process, partnering with communities and experts to leverage their lived experiences. This ensures a more representative and comprehensive understanding of user needs and challenges.
4. Reassessing Success Metrics:
The reassessment of success metrics is a critical conversation about power, risk, and long-term impact. Leaders must be willing to challenge short-term gain-focused cultures and consider the potential benefits of increased brand trust, market penetration, new market segments, efficiency, and cost reduction that stem from focusing on overlooked communities.
5. Building for One, Expanding to Many:
Instead of solely focusing on the majority, digital product teams should consider targeted universalism. This approach, developed by john a. powell, centers on universal goals but tailors the approach based on specific social identities. By understanding the needs and limitations of the most marginalized customers, product teams can co-create strategies to achieve universal goals, fostering true innovation.
Explore the advantages of Building for the Margins
In conclusion, the pursuit of product equity is not merely a trend but a fundamental shift in the way the tech industry approaches product development. Embracing inclusivity across all aspects of research, design, and development fosters innovation, expands market reach, and builds brand trust. While persistent efforts are required across the entire organization, the potential for impact and innovation is boundless with the establishment of a framework that ensures historically underinvested communities are not just considered but respected in the product development process. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the integration of product equity practices will be paramount in shaping a future where digital products are truly inclusive and accessible to all.
Join us in paving the way for a future where digital products are inclusive, accessible, and transformative. Let’s champion product equity together! Share this journey towards inclusive innovation with your network and be part of a movement that values diversity, embraces inclusivity, and drives positive change. Together, we can shape a digital landscape that leaves no one behind. Like, share, and spread the word to empower the next generation of equitable digital experiences! #ProductEquity #InclusiveInnovation #DigitalTransformation