This feels like pretty basic stuff to me, but it’s incredibly important not to overlook the basics, so let’s talk about it.
I was prompted to think about this again when taking questions after talking at the GUADEC conference in Istanbul recently and someone asked about how you design a good experience when you’re designing for everyone – technical experts and newbies, people in countries around the world.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the answer is quite simple.
Just don’t. Don’t design for everyone. It’s impossible.
All you end up doing is designing something that makes everyone unhappy. Who needs that.
But why does this happen? I call it the myth of the general public.
So, there is this idea of the general public … but have you ever met *anyone* who considers themselves to be ‘the general public’? I don’t think I have.
This became particularly clear to me on a research project I was working on a few months ago where every single person I met told me about how unique their particular area of interest was, and how my client, a museum, only catered to ‘the general public’. The people I talked with complained that museums have ‘dumbed down’ so much because they are talking to ‘the general public’ and said that this made museums less useful for them to interact with, because of their specific interest and expertise.
This is what happens when we design for everyone – we ‘dumb things down’ to the point that they become useless or inefficient for most people. How does this happen? Well, because although everyone in the world might want to use your product or your website, they’ll want to use it in a very particular way.
In order to design your product well for them, you need to understand how they’ll use it and design to support that behaviour.
But wait! That means that all of a sudden the whole world is not my target audience! Horror!
Never fear, all is not lost. Despite the fact that you’ve design the experience beautifully for the specific audience (or audiences, you are allowed more than one!) that you have selected and understand well, other users will insist on using your product/service/website even if they are not in your target audience. In fact, the glowing recommendations that your audiences will provide will encourage others to use your service.
Yes, some audiences may have to work a little harder than others, but some audiences are better equipped to work harder. And at least the audience you *really* care about is being well looked after.
Josh Porter in his recently published book ‘designing for the social web’ (which I recommend that you read because if you don’t know everything that’s in his book, you should) makes this argument a lot more succintly than I have here so I’m going to quote you a slab:
Get as Specific As You Can
Question: Who is the audience you’re targeting?
Wrong Answer: Well, anyone really. Our application has a very broad set of uses.
Right Answer: People who do this very specific activity…
This is a discussion I had with an entrepreneur who was starting a new software company. He was targeting his software at what he called ‘the general public’. And on the surface of things, this makes sense. He didn’t want to limit his softward by saying that it was for a particular audience, as that would make it harder to swim with the current if that strategy didn’t work out. (Investors like flexibility too). For whatever reason, his software ended up being for all audiences.
In practice, however, software built for the masses rarely works. Even in the cases where software has gone to the masses, it started off in a nice and then grew outward, as people realized that it doesn’t have to be used in any one way.
Targeting a broad audience is precisely the wrong approach. The more specific you can get about how to use your application, the more your software will resonate with your potential audience.
Del.icio.us, the social bookmarking tool, is about as broad a tool as you can get. Anybody who wants to bookmark web pages can use it. That is to say that their potential audience is everyone on the web.
Are you interested in Culture, Science, History, Art and more? – share your thoughts and earn £60
We’re working on an exciting project with nine major British museums and need some people who are into their culture, art, science, history – basically the kind of stuff you can learn about at museums – to help us with some user research.
Here’s the catch – you can’t just be a *generalist* – you need to have a particular focus… you could be anything from a fossil collector to a pastel artist, a costume designer or a writer.. You don’t have to be a regular visitor to museums (although, you might be). As long as you think museum collections could help you with your research, your learnings or inspiration for your work, you fit the bill
Does that sound like you? Or one of your mates? Or your dad? We’d love to talk more.
We’re interviewing around central London on 28-29 July. We’ll give you our hearty thanks and £60 for an hour of your time. So, drop us a line if that sounds like you, or spread the word to someone you think might fit the bill.
This seems to be my theme at the moment. Respect conventions.
Respecting conventions doesn’t mean that you have to slavishly follow them, that would be boring and unnecessary, BUT if you *are* going to break with convention then make sure it is very well sign posted, otherwise people will make mistakes.
I give you terminal 5 at Heathrow.
Firstly a quick question – how long before an international flight do you need to get to the airport?
The vast majority of people would say that the conservative answer is 2 hours but they don’t usually give it quite that long.
Another quick question – how long before a flight to a European destination do you need to get to Heathrow?
Again, most people will give you an answer around the 1 hour mark.
Now… you may already know this, but if you want to fly from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to Istanbul in Turkey (as I did the other day – yes the weather is beautiful, thank you!) they want you to get there not one, not two, but THREE hours before your flight.
We arrived an hour before our flight the other day and were severely reprimanded and had to be given ‘permission’ to proceed from the check in desk to try to get our flight. Fortunately (for us) the entire security software system crashed and massive queues meant that most flights (including ours) were delayed and we made our flight with plenty of time to spare.
So, given that getting to the airport 3 hours before the flight is apparently a big deal for BA, and given that T5 is relatively new, and given that in all my years of international flights, I’ve never been expected to be anywhere any earlier than 2 hours before the flight, you might expect that BA would make a big song and dance about this 3 hour requirement.
You’d be wrong.
They *do* make a big song and dance about the fact that we were leaving from T5 and that T5 is a new terminal. I definitely knew that because they advised me at almost every interaction I had with them regarding this flight (and these days there are quite a few touchpoints between purchasing the ticket and boarding the flight). But what did they tell me about time?
This is an excerpt from the email they sent me one week before the flight, specifically to help me to prepare for my upcoming flight:
IMPORTANT: For flights departing from Terminal 5, you must pass through ticket presentation and security at least 35 minutes before the flight departs. For other important information about passport, visa and UK domestic flight security checks, please visit ba.com/t5information.
So, honestly. Do they *really* expect me to turn up 3 hours early when this is the information they give me.
Perhaps they do, but I can tell you that a good portion of the passengers for the Istanbul flight were stuck in the security queue with us, having arrived much later than 3 hours before. And I doubt that it was because they were being naughty travelers, or that they liked the adrenaline rush of almost missing a flight. They just assumed, as we did, that turning up an hour before a flight from London to somewhere in Europe was the right thing to do, because that’s what we’ve done many times before.
This is what we do as humans. We make assumptions based on past experience and if we think we *know* how something works we don’t bother investigating it in detail, because we could spend our time and energy investigating things we think are new and interesting.
If people are making assumptions about your product, service or interface design and you’re *not* following the conventional approach, make sure whatever you’re doing differently is very clearly signposted. And then signposted again. Otherwise mistakes will happen.
And a customer who is making a mistake is very rarely a happy customer.
(disclaimer – yes, yes. I know that technical Istanbul is both European and Asian, doesn’t really make a difference to the discussion tho’)
My little boy is six months old tomorrow. I’ve been thinking a lot, since he’s been around, about what the world looks like to him now, what it might be like in the future, and trying to understand how his little brain develops and turns him into a real little person (incredibly quickly, as it turns out).
I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately and I’d love to workshop it with you…
For people born in 2008 (and probably a few years before) – ambient intimacy will just be a normal state. It won’t have the novelty that it has had for us. The ability to stay in touch with people that we have stronger or weaker ties with in this light weight way will be something available to them from a very young age and – in all probability – throughout their entire lives.
What do you imagine the repercussions will be?
For example, assuming that within the next few years, more and more people will have a social presence online, my little guy will have no real excuse to ‘lost contact’ with anyone he makes contact with. Can you imagine a kindergarten equivalent of Facebook? I can. Extrapolate from there.
What does that mean? Being able to ‘lose touch’ is, when you think about it, a pretty valuable luxury. How will we negotiate this I wonder.
What about ‘contact’ scalability. How many contacts could you accumulate over the course of a lifetime if you start really young? How will we manage that? If we get stressed about our mum’s friending us on FaceBook now, what do our kids have coming? We think Twitter gets distracting now – how will we manage all the noise that such a huge number of contacts will generate? Or will we all just shut up? (I doubt it).
How will we manage our identity online as our identity changes? Will this pressure that seems to be about to have an ‘integrated’ online persona (work, social, family, all in together) continue? If not, how will different personas evolve and how will the be related? Will we be able to re-invent ourselves? Will it be as fun? Will our kids ever forgive their parents for putting so many photos of them on Flickr when they were babies?
On the brighter side though, imagine how powerful and extensive these networks will be – the ability to motivate, research, refer, inspire, inquire. How distributed and trusted information sources will be.
Put on your future goggles and imagine what it would be like… what do you see?
My name is Leisa Reichelt. I am the Head of User Research at the Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office.
I lead a team of great researchers who work in agile, multidisciplinary digital teams to help continuously connect the people who design products with the people who will use them and support experimentation and ongoing learning in product design.
If you're interested in working with me or would like to talk more please email me