Design for all: Elevate your product design to include all genders and sexualities

May 30, 2024

Imagine you are creating an online profile for a site that provides a service for families. Looking through the site, you notice every image depicts a smiling, happy, stereotypical couple of a man and woman. You begin the process by making an avatar. The site prompts you to choose from two defaults: a “male” avatar or a “female” avatar. Once you finish your profile creation, you notice the site categorizing you as a woman or man based on your selection of a male or female avatar. For some, this scenario does not elicit negative emotions, but for more than 20% of the United States youth, this process threatens their gender and/or sexual identification.  

When products and designs fail to consider the diversity of gender and sexuality, they inadvertently exclude, marginalize, and threaten the identity of many individuals. Products that do not represent the needs of millions of people worldwide based on their identification can lead to this issue. Oppositely, designing with diversity in mind benefits both majority and minority identities when users can see all identities reflected in products. Businesses that embrace inclusivity foster brand loyalty. 

This Pride Month, we’re providing ways to make sure your products are inclusive of all genders and sexualities. By incorporating these tips into early UX research, you can design inclusively for genders and sexualities that aren’t in the majority and create a better user experience for everyone. 

Up-to-date knowledge of gender and sexuality 

Of course, being current on your knowledge of all user groups is always important, and gender and sexuality should be no exception. As a rule, you should brush up on terminology and current events about marginalized gender and sexual identities for the region you are recruiting for. The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) glossary of terms is helpful when recruiting within the United States. 

When recruiting outside of the United States, it is important to have local teams review all study documents before recruitment and study launch. An expert conducting regional research will better capture and alert the research and product teams to nuances vital to a region and culture.  

    Inclusive demographic questions 

    When conducting UX research, it is essential to use inclusive demographic questions for participant affirmation and to maintain data integrity. Imagine a non-binary person completing a gender question where the only options are “Man” or “Woman.” This forces the person to select a gender identity that is mismatched to their own and, therefore, records inaccurate data on their gender.  

    To make your screener questions inclusive, researchers must develop questions with open-ended response options and an option for identifying gender pronouns. Other tips for designing inclusive gender and sexuality questions include: 

    • Provide definitions of selection options. This signals inclusion to recruits and shows that the research team is up to date on their knowledge of gender and sexuality. 
    • Do not utilize the term “Other” or “Other identity” as a selection option. The term “other” ostracizes those with identities not currently listed. Instead, consider wording like “Something else.” 
    • Separate participant sex and gender. Sex assigned at birth (e.g., male, female, intersex, etc.) does not equate to gender identity (man, woman, trans man, etc.), and we should not use the terms interchangeably. Therefore, researchers should ask sex and gender questions separately.   
    • Make questions multi-select. Allow recruits to choose all identities they identify with for gender and sexuality questions.
    • Add an option for “Prefer not to answer.” As researchers, our goal is to ensure that participants are comfortable so we can get the best insights from them. To that end, researchers should never force an answer that participants are uncomfortable providing. 
    • If you can’t add a “Prefer not to answer,” ask what option(s) fit “best:” If you cannot add a “Prefer not to answer” option, consider instead asking participants which of the provided options best reflects their identity. This method involves posing forced response questions with finite answer options, recognizing that participants might not find an exact match for their answers. 
    • Ensure data protection. Unfortunately, given that many marginalized gender and sexual identities are stigmatized in society and are not always protected under U.S. laws, it is essential to have data protections in place to ensure the privacy of recruit responses. For example, instead of providing screener answers by participant (i.e., individual-level data), consider providing an aggregate statistic of your sample on gender and sexual identifications.  

    Include a representative sample of genders and sexualities in your UX research 

    As discussed with accessibility research, when you don’t recruit a diverse range of individuals in your UX research, you may miss crucial design errors that will be more costly to fix later in the product design phase. Historically, cis men have been over-represented in research, even to the point of excluding cis women. Arguably, one of the most famous examples of this is in automotive safety, where cis women face a higher risk of injury because the research was only tested with male dummies. Given research has overlooked cis women, this insufficient representation in research is amplified for people with marginalized gender identities like genderqueer and trans individuals.  Similar to the lack of diverse gender samples in research, marginalized sexual orientations such as bisexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality (to name a few) are also not recruited for product research.   

    When researchers do not recruit a diverse sample of participants representing the spectrum of gender and sexual identities, researchers don’t just ignore the voices of marginalized users, but researchers miss out on key product opportunities or design biases that could make or break the product. Let’s take AI as a current example. AI systems have been shown to produce biased and discriminatory content against marginalized identities because the data it is pulling from is biased toward the majority. For example, asking for a generated image of a gay man often leads to stereotypical depictions of fashionable men, while generated images of nonbinary individuals often lead to inhuman portrayals. Though solving these AI issues may seem like a herculean effort, it simply involves gathering data from people with diverse genders and sexualities, especially during initial designs. By incorporating their data and voices, products like AI systems will be more representative and stand out in a crowd of AI products that users often describe as “garbage in, garbage out.” 


    Generally, the majority of our marketing is full of products geared towards cis men in different-gender relationships. By being inclusive of all genders and sexualities, your products will stand out. 

    Thinking back to the example of setting up the profile for a family-service website, the choice of a female avatar does not indicate a person as woman-identifying. In today’s world of automation and AI, make sure not to assume someone’s gender automatically. Give users options to tell you how they identify and, to support that further, represent a wide range of gender and sexual identities in your products. When you only design for & recruit cisgender people in different-gender relationships, you lose valuable product insights. Designing for one (identity) does not lead to design for all (identities).  

    Designing for all identities is not a zero-sum game. Products do not lose valuable user experiences or customers from a particular user group when they design for all identities. In fact, the opposite is true. By integrating our tips into early UX research—such as keeping product teams informed with the latest knowledge on gender and sexualities, employing appropriate and inclusive demographic measures, and including representative samples of marginalized genders and sexualities—you create a superior product for everyone. This approach ensures users recognize that all identities can connect with the product, ultimately fostering more loyal customers.