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The Department of Internal Affairs Customer design and uptake team share what they’ve learnt about designing digital processes for different communities, including the transgender community.

The Department of Internal Affairs Customer design and uptake team share what they’ve learnt about designing digital processes for different communities, including the transgender community.

We’ve used ‘transgender’ in this post as a catch term which includes takataapui, intersex, non-binary, gender diverse and gender minorities. We acknowledge the differences between the communities and the many other terms not listed here.

Our research

Recently our team did research interviews with people from transgender communities to learn more about their experiences with one of our processes.

Prior to going out and talking with people we read through published and open source information to get a sense of some of the issues relating to the process, and to be informed of wider issues for the communities.

Some members of our team also have friends, whānau and colleagues who are transgender so could bring their experience to the research.

Always prove me wrong

The value of customer design is realised when you discover the unexpected, or your informed assumptions about your customers are proved wrong.

As expected, there were many common and shared experiences for the people we interviewed. However, there were just as many significant differences to consider such as regional, cultural, connections to personal and online social networks, views and beliefs and also differences in preferred terminology.

Discover the differences

When you’re thinking about improving services to a segment of the population whether it’s rural youth, 70-80 year old men, or dental assistants, it’s important not to think of them as one homogeneous group.

If you’ve met and talked to one transgender person, you’ve met and talked to exactly one transgender person.

Of course there will be things they do share in common, along with the label we apply, but it will be discovering the differences that give greater value to understanding your customers and creating service design solutions.

The community may fill the void

Our research revealed that our organisation was not the ‘go to’ source for people to get helpful information on our own process — this was a hard discovery for us to hear, but an important one.

If information does not exist or is unclear for how transgender people can access or interact with your services, then the community may create and share that information themselves.

There are a couple of things that can be problematic with that.

  1. It shouldn’t be on the community to fill the void using their own time and resources.
  2. You’re no longer in control of what that information is and it may not always be entirely accurate.

Whether you’re providing services for commercial fishers, freedom campers or seasonal workers needing childcare, talking with those groups will help you understand how your information is currently accessed, understood and shared.

Make it a service design challenge, before it becomes a customer challenge

When transgender people try to change their name and sex to reflect their gender with organisations, it was not always clear whether the difficulties they faced were because of:

  • legislation
  • processes and policies
  • IT systems
  • a staff member’s discretion.

Sometimes the problems are only discovered when a customer challenges the system which is in place.

Service design can help anticipate (and address) these problems. Some questions to ask of your service could include the following.

  • How does having this information determine what your organisation does?
  • How does changing the information affect what your organisation does? Does changing this information require identification? If so, what specific identification do you want and why?
  • Are you collecting this information for marketing? If so, could the change improve your marketing?
  • Are you collecting this information for security? If so, what other security information could you use?
  • Are you are restricted by legislation? If so, are preferred names and gender able to be used?

Digital identities can change … and systems need to enable that

As more and more services go digital there has become a greater reliance on a customer’s digital identity. DIA have been working on a Digital Identity Trust Framework which includes exploring what rules and policies are needed to give people choice and control over their personal information.

Good digital design shouldn’t assume a person’s identity will remain static throughout their life. Many digital services will allow a customer to make changes to their online profile and identity details – but not all.

Imagine if you were stuck with your teenage digital identity, that dorky profile picture and login name ‘sk8rgurrl182’, and every interaction you had for the rest of your life with that service was fronted by that information. Not great.

There are a lot of archaic IT systems with an intricate patchwork of interfaces being used by organisations. There is continuous improvement in this space, and part of that battle is with the inbuilt assumptions, biases and limited flexibility of those systems.

There are many service design and UX blogs which cover the issues of how digital design can include  people who are transgender and non-binary.

What can you do?

Write a policy and a process that your staff can refer to. If it’s not obvious how transgender people can change their details with your organisation make that information available. Be prepared and flexible to allow your information to be corrected or changed if needed. It won’t be something your organisation deals with every day, but it is something that transgender people deal with every day.

Challenge your design testing and research to engage a broad range of people and in different locations. The greater diversity of people informing your designs the more inclusive they will be. There is also a good amount of resources already out there to help your services meet the needs of transgender customers as well as many support organisations that are happy to offer advice.

Check out these links for further information about the transgender intersex and non-binary communities:

  • Counting Ourselves — Counting Ourselves was the first comprehensive national survey of the health and wellbeing of transgender and non-binary people in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Gender Minorities Aotearoa — A national transgender organisation for trans people by trans people – and a great place for cisgender people to learn more.
  • Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ) — ITANZ is a New Zealand registered charitable trust and provides information, education and training for organisations and professionals who provide services to intersex people and their families.


If you’d like to learn more about this work contact or Kiri.O’

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