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June 28, 2021

App design and its impact on the trans community

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education

On the occasion of Pride Day, which is celebrated on June 28th, at Ironhack we want to analyze how the technology sector takes the trans community into account in its product design processes.

Satory, alumni of the Ironhack UX/UI Design bootcamp, tells us about her user experience and that for other people in the trans community:

My name is Satory, and in addition to being a UX / UI designer, I am a gender-fluid non-binary trans female. If you haven't understood anything ... don't worry! It happens to most people. I explain this because trans realities are very diverse and I think they deserve to be made visible. If all this sounds very strange to you, I have left a small glossary of terms at the end of the text that may be helpful.

When I started thinking about the focus of this article, my first idea was to create a list of tips and good practices to consider when designing digital products. But I think that would put aside a much more important need: that it be understood how the design of the products we use in our day-to-day affects us within the collective. So with the help of friends and colleagues we have compiled some of the situations that we find ourselves in and that should be taken into account.

Situation 1: Do you really need to know my gender?

I once attended a talk in which they spoke about a child who asked if this whole mess could be solved if we simply categorized by something more practical like a person’s blood type, rather than their gender. I found it brilliant. Many times, gender is only asked out of habit. But if we do decide to ask for gender, we should take into account what we want out of it and know how to ask. All the trans people we have talked to have experienced having to close an app or a form during the onboarding process because of how the issue of gender is dealt with. Two problematic situations that we usually encounter are these:

  • They often ask about sex, when in fact what they want to know is gender. Furthermore, when offering options, it is important to avoid the “Woman / Man” binary and offer at least the “Woman / Man / Non-binary / Other / Prefer not to say” options.

  • If what you want to know is how to address the person, you can ask more directly about their pronouns, since some people use several. You could offer a single choice or ideally a multiple choice, of "She / They / Him". It is also better not to indicate it as "Female / Neutral / Male" since it does not always coincide.

Situation 2: Legal data vs. actual data

We understand. There are certain processes that require that we give our legal data. But for many people, their actual information does not match with what appears in their documentation.

A legal process to change name and gender today in Spain lasts a minimum of 2 years and it is normal for it to last much longer. In the case of migrants and non-binary people, the possibility of this change is not even contemplated.

This means that there is a long period in the life of (almost) every trans person in which their legal data does not match their real data. During this period, unless care is taken with the way in which our personal data is collected and processed, we are highly violated and exposed. Violated because we are treated with data that is not really ours, and that can become very hurtful; and exposed because many times that data, which is very intimate, is shown to other people without our consent.

An all too common example is the treatment of the name. Trans people usually have a deadname, the name we had before transitioning and choosing our own. Not everyone changes it, but that is what’s most common. And generally, we prefer that our deadname is not known. 

It is easy to understand the problem that arises when making, for example, a bank transfer or using Bizum if we have not been able to change our legal data. The deadname appears in the data displayed by the other party, which creates an awkward situation to say the least. Because of this, many of us choose not to use these services if we can avoid them, however convenient they may be.

On the contrary, there are apps like Verse that, although they collect legal data, allow everyone to choose the name with which to show themselves.

Two interesting approaches to this would be:

  • Collect legal data, explaining the reason, and enable an option for people who wish to also register with the data that they prefer to use within the service: name, gender, pronouns, etc.

  • Leave personal data to the choice of the user, without demanding that they be legal, and allowing change easily and as often as desired. And at some point, if the service requires it, request an identity verification explaining why, and making it clear that this data will not be visible to anyone either in the service or outside of it.

Situation 3: What box do I put myself in, and what box do they put me in

It may seem obvious, but if we assume that all the people who will use a certain service are normative, we are leaving out those who are not. And here we have found the most problematic situations with health-related services.

The most serious case we have come across is that of the public health service program, which does not allow referrals for some essential services to trans people who have changed documentation. It is a purely technical question: the system is automated and does not allow referral, for example, to a man for gynecology, or to a woman for urology. Due to this design flaw, the only solution that these people face is to go to the emergency room to request that they be treated, even for routine check-ups, or that each time they want to make use of this service they file a claim.

On the other hand, it is practically impossible to find health monitoring apps (body weight control, menstrual cycle control, breast cancer prevention, etc.) that do not assume a specific gender or separate by women and men, without giving more options, such as asking if you are undergoing any type of hormonal treatment.

Here comes the question of, what box do I put myself in? For example, my body weight app calculates that I have 44% of body fat as a woman, but only 21% as a man. Obviously, none of these are right since none of them are adjusted to my situation and reality. Perhaps it would be better to enable more non-normative options, offer extra information, or ask for additional information, rather than making assumptions by gender.

Situation 4: Real inclusion and face washes

In order to include many people, we must try to see the entire process from their perspective. If not, we run the risk of not being inclusive towards others. Lately, some dating apps and social networks have expanded the possibility to choose different genders, with up to 27, 31, or 56 options, allowing you to choose your true gender, even if it is not binary. However, some apps leave it at that, without implementing any functionality related to this choice afterwards, and maintaining a binary operation.

This is what happens in Tinder for example, which allows you to choose between almost 30 genres, but then forces you to appear in the search results of other people as a man or woman. On the contrary, there is OkCupid, which extends its functionality and improves the service by allowing searches by specific genders.

Situation 5: The change of legal data

Finally, if the long-awaited moment for the change of legal documentation arrives…make it easy for us! I speak here also from my own experience. Generally, the change of name and/or gender in a service is not considered, and must be done after long calls to technical service or customer service.

In addition, many times the change is not made to all parts of the service. In my case, years after the change, sometimes my deadname still appears on the bank transfer slips. This generates a double problem for me: on one hand, the social situation that I have already mentioned before, and on the other, the legal situation, since I have to prove that the person who appears in the document is me.

Therefore, avoiding tedious processes to change information, and making sure that once a change has been made, it is done correctly throughout the service, are fundamental things.

Give voice to the community

These are just a few examples that occur in the day-to-day life of a very diverse and increasingly extensive community. In fact, I think that as with everything, the best thing is for those being affected to be the ones speaking out on the solutions. Therefore, my recommendation is that diversity in general and design in particular be addressed by teams in which there are members who live that reality and have the ability to detect these problems and propose solutions based not only on theory, but on your own experience.

At Ironhack we believe that, as design, technology, and education professionals, we must always put ourselves in the shoes of people who use digital products. As designer Sabrina Fonseca points out, there are ways to respectfully ask about gender when necessary. Inclusive design has the potential to make society more respectful and welcoming.

If you want to learn more about UX UI Design, you can take a look at our bootcamps. If you want to propose a topic or tell your experience on our blog, write to [email protected].

This article has been written by Satory Asensio and Ana Cobos Escalante in collaboration with Ironhack.

Glossary of terms in favor of diversity

  • Neither transsexual nor transgender, "Trans”: Transsexual and transgender are two words loaded with problematic meanings and not very accurate, so from the trans community we prefer the use of the word "trans". You can find more information on Google. Avoid transphobic sites ;)

  • Trans: Person whose gender does not match the one assigned at birth (For example, you were assigned a man, but you are a woman.)

  • Cis: Person whose gender matches the one assigned to him at birth (For example, you were assigned a woman and you are a woman).

  • Sex vs. Gender: Sex, to put it simply (and somewhat incorrectly) would respond more to the physical characteristics of people's bodies (gonads, hormones, chromosomes ...), while gender is the way to position ourselves in the world and to live our identity.

  • Binary genders: These are the two genders that are commonly recognized today: Female and Male.

  • Non-binary genders: They are all the genders that go beyond the Female-Male binomial. That is, the gender of people who are neither men nor women, or who are not 100% of one of the two binary genders. Google can give you more information, as it is a bit long and complex.

  • Non-binary people: All people whose gender is non-binary (they are neither male nor female).

  • Deadname: Birth name of trans people. We usually change it because it does not correspond to our real gender. It is a fact that should not be asked and that we usually prefer others not to know.

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