Designing for Equitable Communications: Approaching Inclusivity in Our Work 

Paper cutout of head with glowing light bulb against orange background.

This piece is part of a series exploring how storytellers and communicators can approach inclusivity in their work. Late last year, we dove into how participatory grantmaking offers a model for communicators to follow. Below, we explore how Design Thinking offers a model for communicators to follow. 

In my final semester as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I was introduced to the concept of Design Thinking. Under the instruction of Professor Sarah Rottenberg, I grew to understand how Design Thinking can help create social innovation initiatives. As a communicator, I also saw how this process could help us increase inclusivity in our work. 

Design Thinking offers a structured, people-first approach to problem-solving that can be extremely beneficial in creating more equitable communications. This methodology is grounded in empathy and iterates through five distinct stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. By applying these principles, communicators at all levels can ensure their work is inclusive, accessible, and resonant with the people their organizations serve. 

Emphasize: Understanding Your Audience

Inclusivity begins with understanding the diverse needs, experiences, and perspectives of your audience. The first stage of Design Thinking, empathize, encourages communicators to go beyond surface-level assumptions and delve deep into the lives of the people they wish to reach. This involves engaging individuals from various backgrounds, listening to their stories, and acknowledging the barriers they face in accessing or understanding information. 

When the Minerva team first engages with a client, we emphasize the importance of our discovery process. This includes interviewing stakeholders, conducting focus groups, or even holding informal conversations. This anecdotal data collection process allows us to foster empathy for the people our clients aim to reach. 

Before supporting Seattle Children’s Health Equity and Anti-Racism Report, we held conversations with staff across departments to understand their perception of past reports. This information, combined with our material review and landscape analysis, allowed us to envision a report that would better serve staff and patient families. As communicators, this continued practice in empathy allows us to identify unmet needs and hidden challenges that might not be apparent at first glance.

Define: Framing the Problem

Once a deep understanding of the audience is established, the define stage focuses on articulating communication challenges in clear, human-centered terms. Simply speaking, it’s about identifying specific inclusivity gaps in an organization’s communications strategy. Perhaps certain groups feel alienated by the language you’re using, or there may be accessibility issues that prevent people from engaging with the content fully. 

In 2022, Minerva developed a new website to ensure that our online presence was accessible to all visitors. With the expertise of Equalize Digital, we improved the accessibility of our website by making it more perceivable, operable, and understandable – especially for our visitors with disabilities. This included providing text alternatives for images so that they could be changed into forms other people need, such as large print or speech; making sure that all functionality (such as scrolling) is available from a keyboard; and ensuring that the layout of our web pages appear and operate in predictable ways. This year, we plan to undergo a similar process to create a more accessible slide deck template to ensure our presentations are inclusive for our clients, workshop participants, and more. 

Ideate: Generating Inclusive Solutions

With a clear problem definition in hand, the ideate stage is where creativity comes into play. Our design partners, such as those at Akiko Baron Design, LLC and Poche’ Design Studio, work with us to brainstorm a wide range of solutions to enhance inclusivity. As we break away from conventional methods or channels, we challenge one another to think how else information can be displayed. 

A great example of this in action is our work with Seattle Foundation’s Fund for Inclusive Recovery. Through our partnership with creative agencies, we created multiple formats to tell the story of this $50 million fundraising effort. This took the form of an infographic, an animated video, a website landing page, and other forms of collateral. 

The ideate stage could also mean exploring new formats that are more accessible to people with disabilities, experimenting with language that resonates across cultural boundaries, or devising strategies to include marginalized voices in the narrative. Our main objective at this stage should be to think broadly and inclusively to ensure messages continue to resonate with our intended audiences. 

Prototype: Developing Tangible Concepts

Moving from ideation to action, the prototype stage involves creating tangible versions of the proposed solutions. For communicators, this could mean developing sample content, designing mock-ups of inclusive communication materials, or setting up pilot programs to engage with underrepresented groups. 

Time is often a luxury in this process. A/B testing on social media or through digital channels is one method that communicators can implement quickly to gauge audience reaction. Minerva has done this for several of our clients, especially when creating new content that aims to promote a community event, fundraiser, or new initiative. By taking this small step, we can quickly adjust to see what will resonate before fully implementing a messaging framework. 

Test: Evaluating Impact and Iterating

Finally, the test stage is critical for assessing the effectiveness of the communication strategies in reaching and resonating with diverse audience members. Minerva stresses our iterative process, which involves gathering feedback from audience members, analyzing engagement metrics, and critically evaluating whether our communication tactics are truly inclusive. This ongoing cycle of feedback and iteration is the backbone of the test stage. Through this process, communicators can determine what adjustments they should make based on what they learn, continuously striving for greater inclusivity. The principles of Design Thinking provide communicators with a framework for how they can approach their work and foster a deeper understanding of inclusivity. This process not only enhances the equity of communications but also ensures that messages are meaningful and impactful for all audience members. 

About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.