As much as we might like to design products in a completely unbiased way that works for everybody , we’re just not excellent at that as humans. As designers, we frequently struggle to go away from our prejudices and assumptions at the door, and merchandise strategy is not any exception.
One useful framework for understanding these complexities is the idea of intersectionality.
In this post, we’re going to cover what intersectionality means, the matter that it’s trying to deal with, and the way you’ll use it to tell and influence your product strategy.
…Or, in other words, people are complex and fluid.
Intersectionality was a term coined 30 years ago. It’s the thought that discrimination and / or privilege is the result of multiple factors, instead of only one. These factors include race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, etc…
An easy example of privilege could be a man getting special treatment on a flight. It’s not because he’s white (since white women don’t get an equivalent perks) nor because it’s a person (black men also don’t get special treatment). It’s the intersection of his specific race and gender that results in privilege.
The idea comes about after earlier waves of feminist thinking overwhelmingly examined the planet through the lens of upper-middle class white women, ignoring those that didn’t fit that narrow mold.
Intersectionality delves further, positing that identity is usually multi-faceted, and more importantly a mixture of both more static variables, like race, class, upbringing, experiences, etc…, and dynamic ones, like geography, context, mood, and space.
The outcome of intersectionality is that you simply can more accurately understand how social catagoriziaons impacts discrimination, and is vital to unravelling the discrimination that exists in our world since you’re watching the issues holistically instead of piecemeal.
Intersectionality + Product Strategy
Your product strategy will always start with the people you’re helping — without that, you’re never getting to build a product that works for your audience .
The problem, of course, is that folks are fluid and difficult to know.
The standard approach is to scale back them to one lens, and conceptualize their problems and pains through that single prism.
This is, however, fraught with problems and misunderstandings.
First, people are quite anybody. We’re ultimately complex and unique creatures, with unique challenges, problems, and perspectives.
Of course, we can’t make bespoke products for everybody. So as designers and merchandise managers, our role is to know groups of individuals as best as possible, which can naturally require some simplification.
But once we reduce users to one base value, we frequently build products that are designed to be inclusive but fail to incorporate vulnerable populations.
Second, once we design and build products watching users through one lens, we frequently fail to deal with the basis descrimination or maybe the basis explanation for the behaviour we see. What’s more, albeit we layer multiple lenses on top of every other,we’re still fundamentally reducing down complexities into manageable bites. However, by considering the planet from the attitude of intersections, we will begin to bring back a minimum of a number of the intricacies of our world into our product strategy.
Product Strategy from an Intersectional Perspective
Folding in intersectionality into your product strategy will force you to refocus your efforts (in an honest way). Here’s the way to roll in the hay.
First, you’ll need to revisit your personal work — are you assuming and pigeonholing potential users into buckets you define? Is there bias baked into that process, e.g. your assumptions around what buckets people fit into?
When it involves handling intersectionality and personas, there are two approaches.
- Layer intersections into your personas
First, you’ll layer in additional complexities to your existing personas, to capture a far better picture of who your customers are, where they’re spatially, and what’s happening at the time. This is often a process driven by more qualitative research, like interviews and use case discovery.
- Abandon traditional personas
Second, you’ll abandon personas in favour of a needs-based segmentation approach. instead of saying “our product is for X, Y, Z persona”, you say “our product sits at this intersection of this space, need, and emotion — no matter who finds themselves there.”
The needs-based approach, particularly once you delve into the market side of product strategy, is undeniably more inclusive and more accurate.
However, it is often difficult to make comprehensive attendance market plans around a requirement . Likewise, it is often difficult to scale your product up, as your goal is to seek out (and, eventually, create) need, instead of finding more customers — a relatively easy task.
Frameworks like Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) can help guide product strategy down this path.
Over To You
But let’s face it — humans are complex. Identity is complex. There are often tough answers to those sorts of questions, and intersectionality is at its core how to (in part) address that complexity.
The challenge, of course, is turning the complexities of human identity into thoughtful product design and strategy. It’s almost contradictory. That is, you’ve got to form decisions around who you’re building for, and people’s decisions are virtually impossible to get rid of from personal and institutional bias.
But the primary step towards solving a drag is admitting you’ve got one.
Intersectionality gives us a framework to know the fundamentally transient and kaleidoscoped nature of identity. And by first acknowledging that complexity, we will be more inclusive with the merchandise we design, build, and attend the market with.