Should you make it universal or personal?

Anthony Di Bitonto
Partner
New York

We often hear that the products we love are designed for us, but today that could mean very different things. You may have used an OXO peeler when preparing a meal and noticed how good it felt in your tired hands. Or perhaps you smiled as Spotify recommended new music to explore, generated from your individual preferences and listening behaviors. Both these experiences connect with you, and improve your life in small but impactful ways.

Yet they are very different. The comfortable peeler is an inclusive design that results in a universal experience for all, while the streaming service is a product offering personalized to your exclusive needs.

But which path is the right one for you? Design is a tool used to connect with people via meaningful experiences. As a reaction to continual business pressures and the influx of enabling technologies over the past three decades, design outcomes have had to evolve to answer people’s unique needs in new ways. Here we look to uncover the best approach for each design challenge you might face.

Inclusive design results in products that are more accessible and usable by everyone. To achieve a successful outcome, the design process addresses the needs of extreme users. The hypothesis is that if the experience can be made better for these users with extreme requirements, then it will be better for all. OXO kitchen gadgets were developed based on the needs of arthritic users who have lesser dexterity, and struggle with typical scissors and can openers. Their original designs took advantage of new molding processes to generate more ergonomic tools, such as rubbery non-slip cushioned handles that made it easier for every cook. Similarly, Apple took advantage of Multi-Touch as they created the pinch-to-zoom gesture that allows people with poor eyesight (and everyone else) to view small text and images effortlessly and delightfully. This inclusive functionality changed the way we interact with smartphones and took our expectations to a new level – small buttons and screens were no longer acceptable. For both OXO and Apple, the application of inclusive design principles drove the ultimate success of their brand. By making simple tasks not only easier to perform but also enjoyable, they connected with their audience’s needs in a memorable way, establishing a lasting level of brand affection.

On the flip side, personalization provides something exclusive, just for you. As digital technology has augmented its intelligence, we’ve developed the ability to learn from your behavior – making your experience simpler, predictive, more pleasurable, and most of all, unique. Lancôme uses smart technology for Teint Particulier, creating a bespoke foundation cream by scanning your skin, sorting through 22,000 possible skin tones, and mixing the optimal shade while you wait. Once you have purchased the first bottle customized with your own name, you have your formula for life! It’s a special feeling knowing that a product or service has been tailored to your specific needs.

When our client Gatorade decided to innovate their offering to better meet elite athlete’s desires for enhanced performance, they looked to personalization for the answer. Through a series of iterative prototype and piloting efforts, we designed and developed an entire new service offering that delivers individually tailored hydration and nutrition recommendations – empowering coaches to optimize the training and on-field success of their athletes. Gatorade Gx is a connected system that relies on emerging technologies to measure fluid and electrolyte loss, and generate unique sweat profiles and sports fuel recommendations for each athlete. These recommendations are delivered via small fuel pods and new squeeze bottles – ones with custom printed name caps that deliver a sense of ownership to each person. In addition to physiological performance and injury prevention benefits, the Gx platform experience has created another important and positive side effect that sportspeople crave; coaches have reported an upswing in athlete confidence arising from this contextual, individualized approach to their needs.

Today, digital disruption is impacting almost every area of our lives. It’s critical for brands to stay relevant as customer needs and expectations evolve with these emergent technologies. But which design approach should you use to achieve success? If the nature of the challenge is primarily usability driven, inclusive design is your answer. The universal solution will ensure all users are able to enjoy your experience, unencumbered by functional shortcomings. On the other hand, if people are looking for a truly unique experience to satisfy their individual tastes or needs, then personalization is the approach that will deliver an exclusive connection. Picking the right methodology will put you on the path to reimagining everyday experiences – and meaningfully connecting with people, both functionally and emotionally.

And if you really get it right, you may even generate enduring brand love.