Learning Activities

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.

It is best run with small teams of three to four. Each team 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 exercise is a food menu. Remember, it is the process that we are interested in rather than the topic!

Steps

  1. The quick solution

    Work as a group to create a single three course menu that every member of the team agrees would provide them with a great dining experience. Write each course on a separate sticky note and put all three in sequence on a suitable surface.

  2. The user

    Having arrived at a suitable menu as a team, you now need to consider if it is suitable for a specific user group. Write each user group listed below on a piece of paper and select one at random.

    • six-year-old boys
    • vegetarians
    • honeymoon couples
    • fashion models

    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 user experience for them. Don’t discard the original sticky note, just place any design revisions above it. Aim to make as few changes as possible.

  3. The context

    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 user experience for them. Don’t discard the original sticky note, just place any design revisions above it. Aim to make as few changes as possible.

  4. 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 and, 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 received? 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?

Outcomes

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. You may have also found that introducing constraints to the design can actually be beneficial in clarifying the scope and providing a sharper focus for the design team. You may be surprised to find that the resulting design may be better at providing a good experience for more of the user groups than the initial design created at Step 1. You could test this by considering the final design against the other user groups and contexts listed.