Designing for Others
It is natural for designers to resist the constraints imposed on their creativity when designing for others. Even when the needs of users are carefully considered, the designer must also take account of the context in which the design will be used. This activity introduces the idea of an iterative process of design that focuses on a specific user group and context.
The activity is best run with small teams of three to five people. Teams will need some sticky notes, a timekeeper and someone nominated to write things down. Follow each step in the sequence and resist the temptation to read ahead if you can. The topic of this activity is a food menu. Remember, it is the process that we are interested in rather than the topic!
UX designers think sensitively about who the user may be and consider their context. This activity aims to show that the use of general or stereotypical models of users can result in designs that fail.
Working as a team, create a single three course menu that you all agree would provide you with a great dining experience. You will need to consider the cultural, dietary and personal preferences of everyone in the team. Take care to make sure that everyone is happy with all three courses of the final menu. Write each course on a separate sticky note and put all three in sequence on a suitable surface.
Having agreed a suitable menu, your team now needs to consider if it is suitable for people in a particular demographic group. Select a group at random from the list below. These are your diners but as this is a UX Design activity, we'll call them users.
- six-year-old boys
- honeymoon couples
- fashion models
Discuss the characteristics of the selected user group. Does the menu that you created for your team appear suitable? Make changes to any of the courses if doing so would provide a better experience for them. Don’t discard the original sticky notes, just place any changes in a new note alongside it. Aim to make as few changes as possible.
Now that you have a suitable menu for your users, you need to consider the context in which it will be prepared and consumed. Write each context listed below on a piece of paper and select one at random.
- a street cafe at 1pm on Sunday
- on holiday in a tent pitched in a field in Ireland with six other people
- a business class seat on an aircraft flying to Paris
- a hospital bed in a war zone
Discuss the characteristics of the user group and make changes to any of the courses in the existing menu if doing so would provide a better experience for them. Keep the original sticky notes, placing any revisions alongside on a new note. Again, aim to make as few changes as possible.
Analysis and review
You may have found that getting everyone in your team to agree on a single menu was difficult and perhaps compromises were needed to reach agreement? If this exercise was run before lunch, then perhaps the ‘great dining experience’ may have been translated to ‘something to satisfy my immediate hunger’.
How did your team relate to the user group chosen at random? Were generalizations and stereotypes evident, e.g. all small boys like chips or all fashion models eat green salad? Is this sensible? If not, then how do designers ‘connect’ with their users?
Did the context make a difference? Should the context be considered earlier in the process? How can a user experience designer control the context in which their work is used, or in this case, eaten?
Does the final menu still meet the requirements of Step 1? Have the changes that were made for the defined user and context made the menu unsuitable for all other users? Would it still be acceptable to your design team?
If the activity has been successful, you should by now begin to understand that the user and context are very important in creating a good user experience.
Do you think that introducing constraints to the design can be beneficial in clarifying the scope and providing a sharper focus for the design team?
Were you surprised to find that the resulting design (food menu) was better at providing a good experience for more of the user groups than the initial design created at Step 1? To test this you could consider the final design against the other user groups and contexts listed.