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Human-centered design doesn’t start with the product. It starts with the workplace

Human-centered design has generally been understood to mean putting yourself in the shoes of users and building a product that recognizes their needs.

But as panelists Vivianne Castillo founder of the UX community HmntyCntrd, Thang Vo-Ta, cofounder and CEO of Callaly, and Ivy Ross, vice president and head of hardware design at Google, explained during a panel at Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Summit today, human-centered design really starts in the workplace. “If you aren’t human-centric in the workplace, that’s 100% going to impact [employees’] ability to understand what it means to be human-centered in design and the experiences that we’re creating,” Castillo says.

Castillo knows this from personal experience. She recently left her previous company, Salesforce, citing microaggressions and gaslighting. During the panel discussion, Castillo recalled how those microaggressions were built on what she called a “culture of performative allyship,” in which colleagues who claimed to be allies with marginalized communities didn’t do the personal work required to actually be allies—and failed to recognize when they displayed biases. “I was having a lot of these conversations within Salesforce, with folks even at the executive level,” Castillo recalls. “But at the end of the day I just got tired of having to make a case for how our focus about this is not only just the right thing to do, it’s just good business.” In the summer of 2020 she started HmntyCntrd, which educates professional designers on how to create inclusive, equitable user experiences. She wanted to “build a community of folks who were willing to do the human work in order to do the professional work,” she says.

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