November 29, 2017

In/Visible Salon: Reimagining “the User” with Mike Youngblood

We are always looking for provocative ideas about strategy for design, and at our most recent Salon, design anthropologist Mike Youngblood of The Youngblood Group led a conversation about how we think about “the user” when we are designing something for them to interact with.

In our heads, he explained, the user seems obvious: It’s the person who directly, intentionally, and actively uses the product. But nothing is that simple, and when we strategize and design, we also need to take into consideration the “tangential users,” all of those other people who may be influenced or affected by the product, or those who may be future recipients and subsequent users of the product.

Here are some examples of potential users:

Direct User. Guy who plays a video game.
Indirect User. Wife who watches her husband play a video game.
Intermediary User. Nurse who prepares medical equipment for a surgeon.
Governing User. Airline passenger who reclines his seat.
Dependent User. The miserable dude behind him, who gets the seat reclined into his lap.
Parallel Users. Multiple users engaging directly, for example, a team of copyeditors working together on a google doc.
Serial User. Someone, such as a Zipcar rental customer, who uses the product directly before or after other users.

To design for each of these, we need to consider their demographics, goals and expectations, and life context. “It’s important to understand the full ecosystem of who will be the user in total,” Mike said, “because it opens up our imaginations to solutions by giving a total view of the world we’re designing for, and it grounds our creations.”

This process requires a creative combination of social science and human-centered design, something The Youngblood Group excels in. Ultimately, Mike said, “We need to understand the complex ecosystem, then make a decision to design for it, in light of it, or with it as collaborators.”

Part two of the Salon was the inspired discussion after the talk, the intimate environment provided by General Assembly was the cherry on top of a great night. Thank you to everyone who joined us!

Did you know that In/Visible Talks is just one part of the In/Visible Project? We’ve also been hosting salons and attending other events in an effort to bring people together around the art of design. “Any creative work involves processes and thinking, inspiration and challenges,” says co-founder Dava Guthmiller. “Our talks dig into these behind-the-scenes pieces of creativity—making the invisible visible—or at least talking about it!” Check out the blog for more salon reviews.

Photography by André M. Pennycooke | @pennycooke