Designing For Everyone Yields Bland Results

Jared Spool

October 31st, 2012

It’s rare you hear anyone bragging about the food served at a school or government institution’s cafeteria. The food there usually fits the bill of edible, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about.

These government-funded venues have to serve a lot of food to anyone who walks in the door. They can’t think about catering to the needs of individuals. They are resource constrained and do the best they can, given what they have. Yet, that results in delivering meals that aren’t awesome or amazing, just bland.

They are designing their experience for everyone and when you do that, you inevitably end up with bland results. If you want to go beyond bland, you have to stop designing for everyone.

A great restaurant can make exceptional and delicious food because it doesn’t try to cater to everyone. They pick a cuisine, and hone in on a menu to match that. Immediately, by reducing the choices, they eliminate everyone who doesn’t like that style of food.

Yet, by putting those restrictions on who they are serving, they can produce results that delight those customers. They can spend time learning what those customers will order and seek out. Not trying to make everything frees them up to do a better job on the few things they do make.

When we try to design for everyone, we end up producing the design equivalent of an institutional cafeteria – producing bland results that aren’t interesting to anyone. The best way to move to great results is to decide which group were focusing on, and give up on everyone else. Then we can make something awesome for that group, which will improve the quality of our designs.

One Response to “Designing For Everyone Yields Bland Results”

  1. Patrick Brown Says:

    Great analogy. I work for a major university, many in leadership want a “big tent” site. Well, we find a way to fit it all in, but it looks like a flea market and does little to serve any of the constituents.

    I’ve heard you speak about the edu’s, and our devotion to a) group-think, and b) status quo. Driving in to work some mornings I really think I have the same mindset as a pro football player; anticipating hits, executing strategy quickly, hiding schemes… all I need is a jersey, some gatorade and 75,000 fans in a municipally-funded, corporate-sponsored stadium.

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