By Khoa Pham, Creative Director, K4Connect.
One of the major problems with a user-centric design approach is that you typically end up with one or two personas of typical users. This means that those who don’t fall into the category of a “typical user” are often left to deal with a product that has been designed for someone else. For example, is an 85-year-old woman really going to be using Snapchat to check-in on her grandkids? Maybe, but typically that is a one-off situation.
For many technology companies, the typical user is a majority share of the market, therefore appealing to and designing for the typical users makes business sense. Furthermore, the most frequent consumer of technology is a younger professional. For example, according to InfoScout, the typical Apple user is a single male, with an advanced degree, under 34 years of age. For most technology companies out there, it doesn’t make financial sense to try and capture the other few percentage points of users the marketplace.
And that leads us to the next problem. By focusing on a typical user, organizations are excluding a segment of the population that could benefit the most. Instead of the latest technology to analyze the health of your hair, why not create technology that could dramatically improve the quality of someone’s life? Seniors, for example, are often left behind or ignored altogether by technology companies because they are not the “typical user”.
So, let’s flip this notion around. What if you made seniors your entire market and developed personas from there? If you follow the traditional user-centric design approach, you would do some ethnographic research and come up with a couple of personas of typical senior users.
The problem is that the typical senior user is a lot harder to pin down. Their needs and abilities vary much more than a single male with an advanced degree under the age of 34. They run the gamut from being independent to needing advanced care, to physical limitations, to cognitive limitations, the number and kind of medications they take, to family dynamics, to comfort level with technology, to geography and cultural differences and the list goes on. While there are some commonalities between them, there are just as many unique cases.
The more we discovered, the more we realized that these were not traits unique to only seniors. Anybody at any age could have the same varying levels of ability. A 22-year-old could have multiple sclerosis. A 34-year-old could have trouble seeing. A 12-year-old could be color-blind. We realized that it’s less a question of age and more a question of ability and need. What we’ve developed and continue to prioritize is a more inclusive approach to design products to better serve the underserved.