Sabrina Fonseca has a comprehensive article at uxdesign on how to design forms for gender inclusivity. Almost everything she has to say transfers brilliantly from the specifics of user interface form design into general advice for thinking, talking, and asking about gender in an age where our concepts of gender are changing at lightspeed.
It’s easy for us designers to just slap a gender question that says Male/Female in there — and make it mandatory — because our marketing department needs that data to sell stuff. There are indications that this not only risks losing engagement but also leads to false conclusions based on bad data. The J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group discovered that:
- 80% of 13–20-year-olds, or “Gen Z”, believe that gender did not define a person as much as it used to;
- 56% of Gen Z said they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns such as “they,” or “ze,” compared to 43% of millennials;
- 54% of millennials always bought clothes designed for their own gender, while that’s true for only 44% of teens;
- 70% of Gen Zs felt strongly that public spaces should provide access to gender neutral bathrooms, compared to 57 percent of 21–34-year-olds. …
Here are the basic best practices Fonseca identifies.
1. Give people a really good reason for asking
“Be transparent, explain what exactly you are asking about, and how it will benefit them.”
2. Make it private, safe, and anonymous
“Anonymise the data as much as you can, to make sure you don’t out them by accident. For example, if the results of a small survey show there’s a trans woman in the tech department, and there’s only one woman there, she has been outed.”
3. Always make it optional
“ the user may know better than you if it’s safe or appropriate to disclose the information based on the context”
4. Ask for pronouns instead, if that’s all you need to know
5. Be ready for a complicated answer
“Depending on the context, there are several solutions with more or fewer labels. You want to make it as simple as you can, so you don’t overwhelm users with options.”
6. Consider Internationalization
This one especially resonated with me, as I’ve just come back from an extremely international conference where only one person (my partner and traveling companion) thought to put pronouns on his nametag. This section also includes a fascinating link to a comment she got from Yonatan Zunger about his experiences with internationalizing gender, and especially gender-neutral pronouns, at Google.
7. Just don’t ask
“If you don’t know why you’re asking, then you probably don’t need to know the answer. ”
I only wish she had put the last one first. Even though her first point does address why the question can be excluded, this one is so much stronger.
Everything Fonseca says is valuable, whether you’re a form designer or not. Even though I appreciated the whole article, I keep coming back to that first statistic from “Generation Z”: “gender does not define a person as much as it used to.” We have a very long way to go in that regard, but it would seem that our teenagers are on a revolutionary, encouraging track.