Building Equitable Products: Strategies for Success in Product Innovation

Building Equitable Products: Strategies for Inclusive Product Innovation

Timothy Bardlavens, Director of Product Equity at Adobe, believes that historically, product innovation has often neglected marginalized communities. Many products have been designed for the majority, leaving behind those who are unable to access digital products due to various reasons. However, with the rise of Gen Z, who prioritize brands that align with their beliefs and values, companies are now being held to a higher standard.

To succeed in today’s market, companies must build for the margins and expand to many. This means intentionally creating products for the full spectrum of human difference and ensuring that historically excluded communities are included in the product development process. By doing so, companies not only create more inclusive and accessible products but also drive greater business impact.

Here are Bardlavens’ top five strategies for building equitable products:

1. Implementing product equity from the start and beyond: Building equity into the product development process from the beginning leads to faster launches, broader audiences, and greater success. Quick fixes after product release can be more costly and come with accessibility challenges. By leveraging the expertise of product equity teams, organizations can ensure that historically underinvested communities are included in the development process and hold themselves accountable for outcomes.

2. Prioritizing equity across the organization: To build equity into the development process, organizations need to make it a priority across all aspects of their products, services, and company culture. This requires assessing goals and principles to ensure that teams are building equitable products and experiences. Accessibility, inclusive design, and other aspects of equity should be modeled across the organization.

3. Build reciprocal, co-creative community relationships: Traditional qualitative insights derived from researcher interpretations are inadequate. Product teams should partner with communities and experts to leverage their lived experiences in the co-creative process. Representation is crucial for identifying previously missed opportunities.

4. Reassess success: Leaders must be willing to interrogate their ability to articulate guardrails and balance potential metric loss for societal gain. A culture focused on short-term gains and market wins often overlooks the long-term impact of equitable approaches. Increased brand trust, market penetration, and efficiency are all benefits of focusing on previously overlooked communities.

5. Build for one, expand to many: Rather than solely focusing on a majority group of people who have no problem accessing and using digital products, product teams should build for those on the margins. True innovation lies in addressing the needs and limitations of skeptics and those who face barriers to access. Targeted universalism, focusing on the most marginalized groups, can help achieve a universal goal.

In conclusion, building equitable products is essential for both inclusivity and business success. Companies must prioritize product equity, involve historically excluded communities, and rethink their approach to success. By doing so, they can create products that work for everyone and drive growth and innovation in the market.

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