Recently, while digging a bit deeper into my own connection to human-centered design and inclusivity, I came across a simple yet powerful mantra:
Nothing about us, without us.
This phrase, with origins in Central European politics, came into use through disability activism during the 1990s. The idea is simple: Never create something for a group of people, without that same group of people being involved in the creation.
It sounds simple, yet it’s often overlooked or replaced with customer personas and unchecked assumptions about a specific community. This mantra (sometimes shortened to “nothing without us”) is a simple way for designers, product managers, leaders, innovators, educators, lawmakers, and many others to practice more inclusive design.
This past week, I had the opportunity to join 40 folks, similar to those I listed above, in Boston for two days of brainstorming and prototyping as part of Headstream: Springboard. Over these two days, we worked directly with teens as we thought about ways to positively impact that group’s mental health and well-being.
The outputs ranged from a music app plugin to help listeners transition moods, to a system for helping break the act of mindless scrolling — all of which were created with input and feedback from teens (and not just former teens like myself). The results, although not perfect, were significantly more interesting than if they had been brainstormed in a vacuum.