Pinterest Design

Designing intentionally inclusive products at Pinterest

Mar 22, 2024

By Katie Elfering, Corrine Aberdeen, Jose Hernandez and Chloe Ng

Graphic showcasing Pinterest's body type ranges tool

Our Inclusive Product team’s mission is to ensure that everyone feels like Pinterest is a place for them. We’ve shared deep-dives of some of the team’s work: skin tone ranges in search in 2019, hair pattern search in 2021 and body type technology in 2023 and an overview of our inclusive research practices. On the occasion of the latest launch of body type ranges — which gives users the choice to self-select what body types are featured in their search results for women’s fashion and wedding ideas — we thought we’d ask the team to share more about what it’s like to be a product designer, researcher or content designer on the Inclusive Product team. How is designing for inclusive products different?

A few members of our Inclusive Product team shared their perspectives with Katie Elfering, Senior Staff Qualitative Product Researcher on inclusive products: Corrine Aberdeen, Senior Content Designer; Jose Hernandez, Senior Staff Product Designer; and Chloe Ng, Staff Product Designer.

Their conversation has been edited and condensed.

Katie Elfering: Why do you work on inclusive products? Why does it matter to you to do this kind of work?

Chloe Ng: I got into design because I wanted to make a positive impact on people through tech. At school, we called it human-centered design, and I think on the Inclusive Product team, the “human” part of human-centered design is more emphasized than ever compared to all the other teams I’ve been on. I feel it’s such a unique opportunity to work on inclusive products, and I’m really grateful to do that.

Corrine Aberdeen: Like Chloe, I want to be a part of making people feel good and seen and centered in tech. The opportunity to ensure that there isn’t just one perspective and one identity that’s centered has been core to everything that I’ve done in my life pre-tech and now several years into content design. So it’s really just a natural extension of who I am.

Jose Hernandez: For a lot of the same reasons just mentioned — the impact, the positive impact. It’s not often that we get to have such a direct impact. It’s also been really nice to learn and become more aware. I think we could all use a little bit of that.

Katie: I agree with you Corrine — I really believe that tech can do good and that there’s so much potential to do good, but it has to be done intentionally, and this team includes a lot of intentionality in our work, especially in the way that we design inclusive features.

Katie: What do you think makes designing for inclusive products different from other design efforts in tech in general?

Jose: I think one of the main differences, at least from my experience here, is we don’t often get to design for a marginalized group. We’re always focusing on a larger cohort, and this is one of the biggest differences I could find during the process.

Corrine: I think a big difference was how much I had to intentionally de-center myself. A lot of times I am the expert on an experience, not because it’s specific to my lived experience, but the way we do work is: you have the expertise on this function. So you bring that to this product, you know, the words, the way the experience should be mapped from end to end.

And this time around [with the body type ranges launch], I really had to take a step back because I’m not the expert here — I might be one of many people, I might have some part of my identity that we are trying to include here. But this is not just about me, it’s about a much larger community. It’s a community that’s usually been forced to the margins. So how do I make sure that I am never making a decision that is grounded in what I want?

It requires relying a lot on research, which we were lucky to have a lot of really great foundational research to refer to, but I would say that was probably the biggest difference — at every single moment checking in and making sure this is what the product needs based on what our audience is saying they need.

Chloe: I totally resonate with what the two of you just said. Coming in, I felt like I didn’t know anything here, and that put me in a very nervous state. But also I realized, in a way, that’s a great way to approach the space because users are so central to it, and we involve people in every single decision we make. It’s coming in with a very humble approach and really letting the users and the people who we are designing for guide us.

Katie: Completely agree — I think the thing that sets working on inclusive products apart for me is the reliance on designing with people, not for them. And that means listening to people, checking in constantly, doing more research than in many other situations and consistently validating that what we are building truly meets the needs of the people we are building it with.

User interface screenshots showcasing Pinterest's body type ranges tool

Katie: How do you take some of your own biases out of the design process here? How do you do the work to sort of counteract unintentional biases as you start designing in these inclusive spaces?

Corrine: Rely on the research. It was a lot of relying on the research. It’s so easy to think that you found a good solution and that you have considered every potential pitfall and every way that you may be being insensitive. And then the research will tell you, hey, there’s an entire thing you have not considered.

There are probably a million and one things we have not figured out yet and as we keep going, we’ll keep listening and making improvements.

Katie: As much as I love the research appreciation here, I also really agree with this point. There is an intentionality to this work that requires extra effort — ensuring we have the right people in our research efforts, doing more foundational research than we usually would, validating and re-validating ideas with different audiences to ensure that the right voices are being heard.

Katie: Let’s talk a little bit about how we put into practice what you just talked about — that listening to people and that learning. How was the process of building and designing body type ranges different?

Chloe: The timeline. I’ve been on teams where we’re constantly launching and then looking at metrics. On this team, we’re very intentional. We’ve had so many rounds of research, and in that process we’ve learned so much.

At the beginning of this project, we had a crash course in size inclusion, and before we even started sketching anything we had foundational research. When we started putting concepts together, we had Katie’s amazing eight-week research study. (Also the longest I’ve done a research study for a project.) That was super cool — every single week we got to talk to people on Pinterest. Overall we spent more on the preparation and design phase.

Jose: I would agree with all those things. There was an eight-week sprint, but I’d like to emphasize the word sprint. We worked pretty hard and pretty quickly and turned around things fast. I’ve been in sprints before, but that was a long one. It turned out great though.

Another thing I would say was different for me in this experience was working outside of our norms. We are focusing on the margins and the research uncovered specific needs, and a lot of those things had requirements that made us go out of our established design patterns. Having to navigate that with the rest of the team and explaining why we aren’t doing things in the way we’d normally do them was much more a part of this project than others — it was interesting to navigate that.

Katie: I think that’s a super interesting point and you all have very generously mentioned research many times. From a research perspective, this is more research on a feature launch than I think I’ve ever done in my entire career as well.

And I think it’s interesting — maybe more so in inclusive products than in other spaces — how we see research really informing design decisions. Like Jose was just mentioning, acknowledging where we need to break some of our systems or where we need to really think differently about how we might design things, given who we’re designing for and with, what the end goal is, what they’re looking for.

Katie: Are there other things that the combination of research and design working so closely together changed for you? Was it the colors or the themes or the layout? Are there things that you were like, we wouldn’t have made this decision had we not been doing all this intentional work to really understand the audience we were trying to design with?

Jose: It feels like in retrospect, almost all of it. A lot of it, maybe not all of it, but a lot of it — maybe 80% of it felt net-new or if we didn’t have the research, it would have been a completely different thing.

We probably would have gotten it wrong on a lot of different levels if it weren’t for the research foundation — also the consulting with our partners.

Chloe: I want to give a special shout out to the color, the rainbow gradient. When Jose added that, I was so happy. I was like, oh my gosh, this just feels so happy. Even though people in the research might not have said I want color, I do think there was some element of them telling us, hey, this feature makes me feel seen or I want to feel happy looking at it. Hearing from people on Pinterest talking about how this feature impacted them really made me feel like I wanted to make this feature feel like we put care into it — because we care about the people who are using it.

I think the animations and the gradients, all of the emotional aspects of it that might be pushing our design system — that emotional aspect I think naturally came from just talking to people so often about it.

Katie: Well, I love that you call out the animation and the color because in the last round of research we did on this, the amount of people who would open and say like, oh look at that little wiggle or oh look at how, how these colors really like set this apart or oh, this looks like somebody actually thought about this and they match these things and they did this in a way that’s really intentional. There’s that sense of intentionality. But to your point, Chloe, there’s this sense of happiness that comes from this as well because I think one of the team mottos as we were doing, this was like: optimize for joy. And we really want to make this a joyful experience, especially for people who don’t always see themselves represented online. So I feel like everything — the colors and the animation and all these little touches just add a little bit of care.

Thank you all so much for your work on this project and for hanging out and chatting about it. We’ve all worked so hard on this process together, and it’s nice to sit down and reflect on how we did it and what makes it really unique.

Read more about the body type ranges launch.

Inclusive research and design

Product design


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