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Embracing Inclusive Design: Creating Interfaces for Every Gender

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“A different language is a different vision of life.”

A quote attributed to Federico Fellini, famous Italian filmmaker, who 60 years ago started producing and directing black-and-white films in a world so different from today’s, a world that was in many aspects so binary as the color of the then available film technology.

We now have a more colorful world and a different vision; one with environments in which any individual or group can feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate.

In this world, Meta (formerly branded as Facebook) in 2014 launched its custom gender option expanding its gender selection list from a binary option of ‘male’ and ‘female’ to a list of 56 custom gender options, and at the same time allowing its users to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly — male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their). They also went one step further with inclusive design allowing users to share this selection with a custom audience. A year later, Meta followed Google+’s lead and replaced the list of custom gender options with a freeform text field. Users could now type the text they wanted and were asked to also indicate a preferred pronoun (he, she, they).

inclusivity in localization

And while custom genders were trending and different inclusive design approaches were being adopted among different platforms – from making gender an obligatory field in signup and profile pages to completely omitting it, and from offering a limited binary selection to expanding the list of provided gender options to more than just male and female or to freeform text fields – Uber launched in 2022 its Women Rider Preference. This feature catered to women and non-binary drivers giving them the flexibility to receive trip requests from riders who identify as women or non-binary in the app. The feature was introduced primarily as a means to increase the feeling of safety after cases of assault and harassment had been reported.

The social impact of inclusive design and the linguistic relativity hypothesis

According to Alex Schultz, director of growth at the time at Meta (formerly Facebook), “It was simple: not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world.

And after launching its Women Rider Preference feature, Uber claims that in certain countries, like Latin America, they witnessed an amazing increase in its female driver partners and in the number of trips. But this in turn, as with Schultz’s quote, did translate almost immediately in social impact, as ultimately Uber was giving women access to a traditionally male-dominated profession and unlocking new revenue streams that could empower them to pursue their ambitions.

inclusive translations

In the realm of a multitude of digital experiences, different perceptions and social norms materialize in user interfaces through language and design. And in turn, as per the linguistic relativity hypothesis, language shapes our thoughts and perceptions. In the case of Meta and other platforms allowing their users the flexibility to select a gender other than the binary option led many existing users to more accurately self-identify and this created a whole new group of people who now gained digital representation. The case of Uber was one of financial empowerment as it provided women and non-binary people with an option for safe working conditions, thus giving them equal access to the same earning opportunities as their male counterparts.

Following the linguistic relativity hypothesis, we are all bound by our personal experiences and knowledge. Thus, as builders of digital products, we have to acknowledge that we can only contribute with a perception that identifies with our world, our culture, our language, our experiences and our knowledge, and at the same time admitting that we have gaps in the challenges and exclusions that other people in different countries or different situations or of different backgrounds face.

Building inclusive design products for a diverse user community

So, how do we overcome these gaps to build more inclusive products for a diverse user community? There are many elements in software that pertain to inclusive design, from accessibility features which improve the digital experience for people with impaired vision or hearing, to tackling bias in AI to gender treatment.

Let’s focus on the latter and explore some ideas on how product and dev teams can work together with language specialists and UX writers to create gender inclusive methodologies for their products.


Fostering Inclusivity through Adaptability and Empowerment


Do you really need to know the gender of your users? This is a question dev teams should ask themselves when defaulting into baking gender in profile or registration pages. It’s been the norm to include some kind of gender representation in form fields asking users to select ‘title’ or ‘gender’, so much so that developers don’t even question this when designing those pages for their products. But, if you take one step back and think about it, you may not really need this information for your users.

Canva, the famous graphic design platform, have decided that they don’t have any use for this information and thus users are not asked to share this piece of information.

Besides your own use or not of this kind of information, you should also consider if you are sharing your users’ data with third parties and whether this piece of information would be needed in their case.

An example of this are advertisers. If you are allowing advertising capabilities through your platform, then gender targeting is a major way to segment audiences. However, there can be different levels of inclusive design as Meta has showed us. Reminding again the freeform text field that Meta has now implemented for their users moving them away from the binary option of male and female, we should also mention that when this data is shared with and used by advertisers on the platform, all these 56 gender options are ultimately assigned back to one of the two binary gender options.

Though not visible by users at that level, it displays again through gendered digital expressions and stereotyping in retail for example.

gender inclusivity

If you determine that understanding gender is a meaningful aspect of your user base insights, conduct thorough research. Offer a comprehensive list of choices for selection or empower users by providing an open text field, allowing everyone the freedom to self-identify.

Titles & honorifics

Once upon a time, we used to associate gender and age with status, hence the different courtesy forms for women – Ms., Mrs., Miss – while only one for men. Does this reflect today’s world and more particularly your customer base? It’s again a matter of conscious choice in design and there are alternatives to break free from legacy approaches: omit, provide options, allow for freeform entry.

Naming options

Another default request in account or profile creation pages is for users to provide their legal name or their middle name. This is usually the case in formal contexts or official organizations and public services, eg. banks, social security platforms etc. Although we can very well understand the need for this if we think about the functions performed by these products and the platforms they interact with, we can agree that there are ways to improve the user experience even in such strict and structured environments while retaining the integrity of the official data. Some examples would be that product teams add a ‘selected name’ field, where users can add their selected name versus their legal name, and then user interface and user-addressed communications can display the input in this field while the legal name can be used in the background for any cross-referencing or validation purposes.

Customizable fields

To accommodate the diverse experiences and identities of your users, you can let them choose which fields to display and add information that aligns with their individual experiences. By providing flexibility in profile customization, you can foster a sense of identity and allow users to showcase their authentic selves.

Inclusive Design

Promoting gender equality through language

As products expand their global reach, it is crucial for teams to ensure inclusivity and respect for all users, regardless of their gender identity. Language plays a significant role in shaping social norms and perceptions, making it essential for product managers to address the potential biases and exclusions that can arise from gendered language. By providing gender inclusive options in all the languages products are localized in, dev teams can enhance user experience, foster a sense of belonging, and demonstrate their company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

By prioritizing gender inclusive language options, we are not only improving product accessibility but also contributing to a more equitable and inclusive digital landscape.

The importance of a gender inclusive source text in localization

A gender inclusive source text significantly contributes to producing a gender inclusive localized version. The source text serves as the foundation upon which the localized version is built. If the source text already incorporates gender inclusive language, it establishes a robust foundation for the subsequent localized versions to do the same.

By using inclusive language in the source text, which avoids unnecessary gender-specific references and promotes gender neutrality, we ensure that the translated or localized versions maintain the same inclusive approach. This helps avoid perpetuating gender biases and stereotypes that may be present in certain languages.

However, it is important to note that the localization process involves more than just translating the source text. Translators and localization teams play a crucial role in adapting the content to specific cultural and linguistic contexts while ensuring the localized version remains inclusive and respectful.

English does not have grammatical genders, which make it by default a very inclusive language. However, the use of the masculine in compound words, eg. businessman, mankind, chairman, cameraman etc. and the use of gendered words as generic forms, eg. guys, girls, ladies etc. need to be replaced by more neutral equivalents. However not all languages are like English, more like the opposite. So, while a gender inclusive source text lays the foundation, it is a collaborative effort between the source text creators, in-country translators and UX writers, and localization teams to ensure that the final localized version is truly gender inclusive and respectful across all languages.

To achieve this outcome, there are both linguistic and technical aspects to be considered. Be mindful though that some approaches might be language-dependent and different amongst languages.

inclusive translations

Linguistic choices for inclusive design

  • Choose neutral words, like people, team members etc. and avoid gender-specific nouns, eg. policeman, businessman etc.
  • Avoid jargon or metaphors from heavily gendered environments, eg. football or salons.
  • In gendered languages, choose words that are the same for all genders (language-dependent capability)
  • Use second person singular to refer to readers/users; this is a neutral person approach (language dependent capability, concern for formal or informal register)
  • Use impersonal constructions, eg. imperative, gerunds, infinitives (language dependent capability)
  • Use plural form which will be followed by pronouns in plural, eg. their; this is considered more neutral
  • Rephrase into a more gender-neutral construction (applicable for localization)
  • Use first names only instead of titles and/or other determinants and adjectives
  • Use passive voice where possible
  • You can always use both masculine and feminine forms, either in whole words, eg. chairman/chairwoman, or just the suffix (in gendered languages), eg. direttore/trice (example in Italian) (concerns for non-binary exclusion)
  • Use a character to denote the gender neutrality, eg. @, X, *, ə (concerns for accessibility, eg. voice functions and screen readers)

Coding gender; the technological aspect

Grammatical genders and cases can be embedded in code by using language specific libraries or modules that provide the necessary information and functionality to support the specific language. The implementation will depend on the programming language and platform being used, as well as the level of support for the language in question.

There are libraries that provide a variety of tools for processing natural language text, including support for morphological analysis, which can be used to identify the gender and case of words in a sentence.

In general, the process for implementing grammatical genders and cases in code would involve the following steps:

  1. Identifying the languages and specific language features that need to be supported
  2. Choosing the appropriate library or module for the language and platform being used
  3. Integrating the library or module into the code
  4. Using the library or module to analyze text and identify the gender and case of words
  5. Implementing the appropriate logic and data structures to store and process the gender and case information
  6. Test the output to validate proper gender use and lack of bias

It is important to note that the level of support for different languages can vary widely, and it may not be possible to fully support all features of a language using existing libraries or modules. In these cases, custom code may need to be written to handle specific language features.

Beyond spoken and written language; inclusive design in imagery

Visual representation is another crucial aspect of user interface design. Marketing teams have a head start in incorporating diverse imagery and representation in their material, but product teams should work on providing more diverse interfaces. Modern apps include much more images and graphics than they used to in the past. There are again different approaches when it comes to how they can promote inclusivity, combat stereotypes, and celebrate the diversity of their user base, like using unisex or gender-neutral Avatar vectors or using animated abstract imagery.

gender inclusive designs
Source: Adobe Stock

When using real-people imagery, we should be aware and consciously aim to display people of different genders, colors, ethnicities, include different haircut or dressing styles and avoid the stereotypical representations of binary genders, like a male and a female as parents when depicting a family, or a woman with a stroller and a man in a working environment.

This is what comes up when one searches for ‘family’ on Adobe Stock:

Family on Adobe Stock

Though culture, color and ethnicity diverse, same sex parents or single-parent families are nowhere to be seen in this collection.

Inclusive design involves including

No matter how many checklists you create and follow, the more stakeholders you involve in the process and the more diverse they are, the more useful input your team can get as to how welcome your different users feel when they use your product.

Remember; it’s not all on your shoulders. Drafting a methodology and an approach for inclusive design is a team activity. So, besides your team, involve the actual stakeholders – your product’s potential customers – and create focus groups or launch a beta version to different targeted groups and put in place a feedback loop – a direct comment function or heat maps for example to gather data. If you are marketing your product in different countries with localized versions, you should validate the data for those markets too as there are restrictions that each different language poses.

Though not saying it is not possible, make sure you implement this from the beginning; it’s better to design with gender inclusion in mind right from the start; fixing things afterwards can be messy.

Need a reliable partner for gender inclusive translations? Contact our friendly team today!

Read also:

Inclusive Language as a D&I Tool & the Role of Translation

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