News and Insights

Design for the Edges

March 10, 2019

Yesterday I talked about changing brand creative to a different default. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, change the default of who represents your audience.

Today, I attended Tanarra Schneider’s session “Close the Digital Divide: Design for Social Impact.” In it, she described a concept I had heard before, but found as an interesting strand to my thoughts from the previous day. The idea is to design for the edges. Rather than a traditional model of trying to hone in on your “average” customer and designing for an 80% model, think about the 20% who are not “average.” By doing this, you’ll end up with new applications, better products/offerings, and discover things about yourself that you didn’t know. Her first example about work she did for Playboy is decidedly NSFW, but taking the example I heard about on Friday about a UK Supermarket that opened an hour earlier with a quiet period to help autistic shoppers, here’s how it could play out with edge design.

Rather than opening an hour earlier for shoppers that are autistic, the supermarket could take the principles that make that idea good, and apply them more widely. Instead of an hour, the entire supermarket experience could be one that autistic people felt comfortable in. I’m not sure I have the exact answer to how to do that, but the result would likely be a calmer, more relaxing, better performing shopping experience. All shoppers would feel more comfortable spending more time in the store, and more time in the store would mean more revenue.

Designing for the edges leads to more empathetic brands, but it also allows creative thinking to remove its barriers of assumption. When the barriers are removed, new opportunities are found. And in fact, when you design for the edge, the edge gets lost because you have a better and more inclusive design.

To design for the edges, you need to do a few things:

  • Think about mindsets in addition to simple personas (and build better personas!)
  • Think about impact rather than intent (intent is creating the automobile for mobility, the impact is climate change [negative] and a more connected community [positive])
  • Create future casting models that project the implications of what you are creating years out
  • Don’t fumble it – if you can’t carry things through and have a real conversation, don’t enter their world; leaving behind promises of edge design without delivery can hurt the edge groups you are trying to design behind

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POSTED BY: Matt Bostrom

Matt Bostrom