Over the last fortnight, we’ve been dipping into the virtual Magnify conference. We found it such a valuable and insightful event.

It’s a community-organised conference, exploring inclusive research and design. It started in 2021 and has grown with the help of a team of volunteers from the research and design community, led by Claudia Hopkins and Marissa Cummings. Here are the things we learned, reflections and things we’d like to dig into further.

Practical tips for trauma-informed research: Putting the person (and their safety) before the research (goals)

Taking a trauma-informed approach is something we do at William Joseph and are also looking to strengthen. We’ve learned a lot from Jenny Winfield’s work with CHAYN and we’re working with her to improve our practice.

Connie van Zanten generously shared her experience of running trauma-informed user research one-to-one sessions to elevate the voices and experiences of people with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease disproportionately affects Black people and a recent report by the Sickle Cell Society found the NHS has repeatedly failed those affected by the disease.

Connie shared that the research team worked with doctors and a small group of trusted advisors.

Connie’s practical tips included:

  • Make sure your research participants know exactly what to expect from your time together. This could include the logistics of the session, what topics will be covered.
  • Pay your participants before the session. This seemed to be a lightbulb moment for those attending. It makes it easier for the participant (or researcher) to end the session at any time and completing the session isn’t linked to the incentive.
  • Start with the high-level stages rather than the detail. Inviting a participant to break down an answer gives them agency over how much they share. It also helps researchers to build understanding of the overall picture before digging into the details.

What Connie said she’d iterate next time:

  • Find opportunities to bring in a trusted partner with specific experience in the subject matter. Tight timelines can pose a challenge to this but more opportunities for co-design add value.
  • Make sure the research team is representative of your participants. When researching a topic that impacts a minoritised community like this, explore hiring Black freelance UX professionals to ensure representation in every session, for example Black UX Labs or Rooted by Design.
  • Do a practice run with an advocate with lived experience. The risk of the research material triggering or re-traumatising still exists, but may be reduced if the participant has chosen to speak publicly about the issue.

Connie shared the project’s weeknotes and said that this transparency helped for working in the open and for attracting attention of the sickle cell community.

We’re also planning to catch up with a talk by Kate Every: ‘Trauma-informed design: lessons learned from researching with citizens through the COVID-19 pandemic’.

Being neurodivergent in design and research panel

This panel with Chad Gowler, Claire Barrett and Shannon Lu was illuminating. My personal takeaway was that it’s a privilege to work in a psychologically-safe and inclusive environment, but it should also be the norm.

The panel gave some helpful notes on language:

  • Neurodiversity covers everyone (neurodivergent and neurotypical) and the different ways we think.
  • Neurodivergence applies to people who have a protected disability like ADHD or autism. They may not be diagnosed; respect self-identification.
  • Diverse refers to a population, you wouldn’t say ‘they are a diverse person’.

Myths about neurodivergent people doing people-oriented research

The panel discussed some misconceptions they’ve heard and why these are myths.

A ‘lack of empathy or struggle with empathy’:

  • ‘Empathy’ is often misunderstood or too heavily relied on in our field. It has become UX jargon – do we mean listening, understanding, care, compassion?
  • Neutrality in research is also valuable.
  • Active listening is a skill that can be learned.
  • Justice sensitivity can be stronger in neurodivergent people.

Being ‘unorganised and scatty’:

  • Someone who is neurodivergent may not think in the same way as a neurotypical person, but will often find a different route to the same goal.
  • In research operations, a neurodivergent person may be more attune to when change needs to be made to make people more comfortable.

How support for neurodivergent employees is important for businesses as a whole

  • Neurodivergent employees have so much to contribute.
  • Diverse teams perform better, but diversity without inclusion is dangerous.
  • The panel discussed the benefits of supporting neurodivergent employees for organisations. But that inclusion shouldn’t just be about the benefits to organisations, but also they deserve support as humans.

How intersectionality might add additional challenges for neurodivergent employees

The panel shared that:

  • every individual is different in terms of neurodivergence and the other ways they may have been marginalised
  • examples of employers taking a ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to inclusion and considering demographic categories separately
  • experiences such as grief or the menopause also impact the way we think
  • research suggests that there is a strong connection between neurodivergence and gender identity

How we can we do better at improving workplace inclusion

The panel shared that neurotypical people can help by:

  • having open conversations and educating yourself (not burdening marginalised people) to be able to understand others
  • ensuring that action follows listening – ongoing listening to individuals one-to-one is useful, but for inclusion exercises, listening needs to be followed up with action that leads to change
  • being aware that there’s a huge under-diagnosis of neurodivergence, particularly in women
  • accepting self-diagnosis – NHS waiting lists are very long

Advice for all

  • Have self-compassion.
  • Have and hold boundaries around your energy.
  • Don’t be scared to ask for help or say you’re struggling.

How to make presentations and workshops more inclusive

Always give a clear outline of what people can expect and what is going to happen during the session. Be inclusive, not accommodating.

Agency-life (and in-house life!) involves a lot presentations and workshops. At William Joseph, whether they are internal, to clients or co-designing with users, we intend for them to be inclusive sessions.

Lizzie Cass-Maran gave tips on how to take this further. Lizzie has shared a blog on 5 ways to make your online talks inclusive and accessible and what stood out.

Aim to include content warnings that actually help people

Research is emerging that trigger warnings can do more harm than good - example in this New Yorker article. Ensure that people then have the option to opt out following a content warning. It needs to be actionable: give notice and time, give a solution, give space.

Minimise content on slides

This is universally good practice. But also describe everything included on the slide and reassure people that you will do that. There are lots of reasons why people might not be able to see your slides.

When including participatory elements, there must always be an option to self-exclude

The option to self-exclude is not an accommodation. Lizzie gave the example of interactive polling: user universal polling options (like Slido) and the importance to keep describing what’s happening e.g. ‘the results are coming in’. Further tips were to avoid colour-coding, acknowledge the limitations in polls if not everyone can participate.

Make safety meaningful

A ‘safe space’ means everyone knows the boundaries: set the rules, communicate the rules, enforce the rules e.g. community of practice charter. Who can someone speak to if they have concerns? If someone chooses to leave, can they still participate?

How to do our best with online whiteboards

Tools like Mural and Miro can cause accessibility challenges such as:

  • the lack of logical structure of the order/structure of content (for assistive technologies)
  • coordination/mobility difficulties
  • understanding of using a new tool
  • the potential overwhelm of limitless information

Ways to improve inclusion are to never rely on colour for coding, and don’t over-complicate things – it’s a tool not an output.

Other sessions we really enjoyed

And we still have loads to catch up on! Thank you to the Magnify team for organising such a valuable conference.