I grew up as a first generation Haitian American woman, and I understand how things like race and gender can affect your experience in the world. When products that you use every day are built for people who don’t have a background similar to yours, it can be a frustrating experience. For example, I think of social media filtering that automatically lightens my skin tone.
As lead of our product inclusion team, it’s my job to help Google create products that reflect all of our users—no matter who they are or where they live.
We’re talking about some of those products at CES this week, so it’s a good time to check in our progress. Here’s a look at the steps we’re taking to make sure our products work for everyone.
We build our products with equity in mind from the start.
Inclusion shouldn’t be an afterthought. We want to make sure that underrepresented voices are being heard throughout the product development process—this means providing input in the early stages of product ideation, prototyping, user research, UX design and marketing—all the way to launch. By doing this, we can create products that reach more people globally. For instance, when the Google Assistant was built, we wanted to make sure that the product didn’t use insensitive language, so we worked closely with Googlers to stress-test the product before it launched, and came up with a list of words to proactively exclude. As a result, today, less than .0002 percent of the daily queries are marked as offensive.
We address the diverse needs of our current and future users.
Race, gender, age, ability, education level, and geographic location are some of the dimensions of diversity that we consider when developing a product. We ask ourselves questions like: Are all races represented in this product? Does it make sense for people living in different places around the world? Is it useful for people of all ages? To make sure we have the broadest perspective when developing products, we’ve set up an inclusion champion group of more than 2,000 Googlers who span those dimensions. They regularly provide feedback and lend their perspectives as the product is built over time. When we built the camera sensors on the Google Pixel, we consulted employees to make sure the product was more inclusive and captured a wider variety of skin tones accurately.
We constantly test our products.
To ensure our products are inclusive, we’re always researching and testing. Take for example Low Light mode for Google Duo. When it was discovered that people around the world were struggling with poor lighting on video calls, the Duo teams conducted testing with employee volunteers of various skin tones in different environments and helped improve the feature. This is just one example—every year, thousands of Googlers volunteer to help test products. We also regularly conduct external volunteer research studies in the field as part of product development. This research is an essential piece of how we ensure that when we design products, they reflect our users universally.
A commitment to product inclusion can’t just live within one team. It needs to be embedded and prioritized across the company. In 2019, we trained leaders across product areas at Google on our approach to product inclusion, to ensure they’re considering a diverse population during each step of product development, from ideation to launch. We also launched a new training for incoming technical Googlers on inclusive product design. So far, 12,000 Googlers have taken the class and we’ll be expanding the training this year to even more.
Google is investing heavily in building products that work for all users with diverse backgrounds across the globe—and we’ll continue to work hard to get this right.