From One to Everyone

Design Director
New York
Technology Director
New York

Stephanie and John recently presented at the 99u conference, here’s a summary of their masterclass.

From One to Everyone

As designers we are taught that we shouldn’t take things too personally and that we shouldn’t design for ourselves. As engineers, we are taught to build dynamically for scale because static code is considered amateur. And as consultants, we are often asked to design to perfectly segmented personas.

But what would happen if we designed for ourselves? And what if developing static code actually got us further, faster? And what if we were designing with real people in mind instead of personas?

Designing with real people

Designing with real people is at the core of inclusive design. At Smart Design we believe in order to create a better experience for everyone, you must bring real people who represent the full spectrum of diversity into the design process. Whether that’s expressed in ability, language, culture, gender, age, or other human differences.

The power of designing for one real person

Typically, designers approach inclusive design by considering a wide range of people. But, through recent projects, we have pushed our thinking of what an inclusive design approach could mean by leveraging the same tools and processes but applying them to just one person’s situation.
It might sound counterintuitive, but by narrowing our focus to one person, it allows us to dive deeper into their specific needs, and allows us to achieve more in a shorter period of time.

We’ve used the “designing for one” approach recently on the following two projects. For the first, we created a voice assistant for someone living with MS: Project Susan.

For the second, we redesigned the fertility experience with one woman at the center, doing it on her own: Project Junior.

These recent experiences taught us that getting personal through designing for a single person who is excluded or underserved changed how we thought as designers and engineers. But what did we learn?

Questions we all should be asking

We believe we should be asking the following questions from the onset of any project to uncover both the positives and negatives which we may take for granted.

  • Insights: Are there any people being excluded from our product, experience, or service? If there are, how can we include them in the design process?
  • Design: What information, features, or tools would they find the most valuable?
  • Engineering: What quick way or ways can we make it real for them to learn?

By asking these questions and involving that one typically-excluded person in the process, you will be able to go deeper by focusing on their journey first. The benefits of this approach are twofold. First, you have the ability to generate emotionally-compelling ideas sooner because you’re spending energy ideating and prototyping with one person vs. many people. The second is the ability to arrive at unique and actionable insights faster because you are experiencing the nuances of only one journey vs. what’s generally shared across many.

Failing a challenge vs failing a person

We felt the inspiration, purpose and reward in these projects were amplified because you don’t want to fail that one person — so you’re more accountable and therefore more motivated. Designing for one allowed us to get to the heart of the problem and how to solve it, faster. The rewards were greater as the problem we were solving became far more real and personal. You are driven by fixing a problem for a person, and there’s no bigger driver than that.