Designable 2018: 5 Questions With Procter & Gamble’s Sumaira Latif

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Sumaira Latif P&G Designable 2018

Procter & Gamble has been on the forefront of enabling employees with disabilities and disabled dependents to perform at their peak. Much of the company’s progress has been driven by Special Inclusive Design Consultant Sumaira Latif.

Latif is blind, and the passion for what she is doing at P&G has been inspired by the personal access challenges she has experienced as both a consumer and an employee.

Among other initiatives, the company introduced the UK’s first-ever audio-described ads to aid vision-impaired consumers. As a result of its efforts, P&G received the Inclusive Service Provider of the Year Award in 2017.

More recently, in North America, the company added tactile markings on Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner bottles to help those with vision impairments distinguish between the two. The inclusive design update for shampoo bottles is a first for the 181-year old company, and a breakthrough for mass market consumer goods in general.

On November 14, Latif will be speaking at Designable 2018 in London, which is leading the charge in calling for brands to be more accountable in representing disabled people in its advertising.

In advance of the event, brandchannel had a chance to speak with her.

Procter & Gamble just released new Herbal Essences shampoo bottles designed for people with vision challenges. Can you tell us more about that?

P&G Sumaira Latif

This is a really exciting project that is part of our journey of inclusivity as a company.  North America Herbal Essences is the first-ever mass hair care bottle design that will make it easier for vision-impaired consumers to distinguish its shampoo and conditioner products through the sense of touch. The newly enhanced package features tactile indentations that will help differentiate the brand’s shampoos from its conditioners in-shower given they share the same bottle shape, alleviating confusion and helping consumers confidently perform daily tasks.

The shampoo bottles have four tactile vertical lines on the bottom of the back label and the conditioner has two rows of dots on the bottom of the back label.  The features were purposely kept very simple and easy to differentiate by touch. The brand hopes that once people learn about the new tactile features, they will easily be able to tell their shampoo and conditioner apart by touch.

P&G also added audio descriptions to some ads to promote inclusivity. What
type of feedback have you received from visually impaired customers?

There are over 2 million people in the UK living with vision loss. The introduction of audio description on all our P&G ads in the UK has opened up our advertising to a whole new audience who were previously not benefiting from them. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense too.

Getting inclusivity right is the game changer. People have said it was a pleasant surprise when they noticed audio descriptions in an ad. They hadn’t expected it and it made them feel valued as a customer. They have told us they think it’s great that P&G has taken the initiative and want others to follow. We had people also requesting the audio descriptions through on-demand TV and on digital, which isn’t currently available. From a personal point of view,  I can tell you first-hand the huge difference it makes in really enjoying the drama and the humour that is often lost without audio description.

P&G Herbal Essences Inclusive Design

You’ve said that brands would be wise to place their own employees in other people’s shoes by making them take a “disability challenge.” What is that and how is it implemented?

P&G aspires to be one of the most diverse companies in the world, which makes sense for a business like ours. The people who use our products every day are as diverse as the world is diverse—and the more we reflect them, the better we understand and serve them.

To help fulfill this aspiration, and as part of its broader inclusion strategy, we developed that Disability Challenge—a way for people inside the company at all levels to be in the shoes of people with disabilities while interacting with the products we create to see what it’s like to interact with them when you have dexterity, vision, cognition or mobility challenges. It is important for us to develop empathy among the workforce who can then take action to make products, packaging and advertising accessible.

We have also held events to enable employees to “walk in the shoes” of a person with disability, including “dine-in-the-dark” lunches where employees are given eyewear that demonstrates how a person with visual impairment would “see.”  We also have regular talks through our People with Disabilities network, tackling all areas of disability—visible and unseen—to help drive a supporting culture for all employees.

What other types of opportunities have you identified for P&G to transform products, packaging and services to better serve disabled customers?

Recruitment is key. At P&G, we recruit people who reflect the diversity of people who buy our products. Based on my insight as a blind mum and consumer and employee, we turned that into action and into something that not only helps me but millions of consumers. We work with employees with disabilities or disabled dependents to ensure we can enable them to perform at their peak, ensuring we make necessary adjustments and provide coaching and mentoring opportunities.

Overall, what advances have you seen in inclusive design, and where do you expect to see progress in the future?

I think businesses are beginning to recognise that making products, packaging and services inclusive is actually a way to grow your business. By making your offerings inclusive, it means more people can access them and buy them—and the more people who buy your product, the better it is for your business.  Only 4% of businesses are actively doing this so there is a huge opportunity to grow in this space.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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