Design 4

Designing for the needs of a target audience

“Despite the technocratic and materialistic bias of our culture, it is ultimately experiences that we are designing for, not things.” – Bill Buxton

The more you understand the people you are talking to and designing for, the more relevant and persuasive the design will be.  In the industry, the target group is defined through extensive market research.  The audience can be general or specific.  But remember, that an advertisement is a conversation between two people (client and consumer); and a designed object or platform is an experience or interaction, so the more specific the target group, the easier it is to know exactly how you are communicating and what kind of experience you are providing. These insights makes it easier to generate ideas.  Once this target audience has been established, look at it closely. But don’t think of them as a group. A good design strategist should be able to narrow the field down to an individual within a the group, aka a persona.

Rarely will you be targeting someone exactly like yourself.  A strategy or concept that might not appeal to you could really appeal to your target market, and vice versa. You must therefore learn to listen and look and “wear different hats,” to step outside your world, and get into the different mindset and character of the person(s) you are designing for.

Lets look at an example of how the persona can be used to discover the goals of a specific audience.

“The roll-aboard suitcase makes a good example of how powerful designing for one persona can be.  This small suitcase with the built-in wheels and retractable handle revolutionized the entire luggage industry, yet it wasn’t designed for the general public – it was originally designed for airline flight crews, a very narrowly defined target user group.  The personae used may have included, for example, Gerd, a senior captain flying 747s from Vancouver to Franfurt for Lufthansa; or Francine, a newly minted flight attendant on Reno Air.  Gerd flies long distance flights, while Francine flies the length of California three times a day, serving drinks and handing out peanuts.  Gerd and Francine are dramatically different personas, flying on different types of flights and schedules, but their suitcase goals and needs are equivalent. They need to easily and quickly get to and from different gates in airports, fit one or two nights worth of clothing into a suitcase, and maneuver the luggage down narrow aisles and then fit their luggage into the small over head storage bins on a plane.

By looking at the experience of the target audience; talking to real people, listening to their needs and challenges, the designers were able to find areas in the experience and the goals of a person to create a better design. The designers didn’t ask “hey would you like wheels on your suitcase?”, they asked people in their target audience to describe how they used luggage and they listened for opportunities to make their audience’s experience better.

The design purity of the roll-aboard suitcase pleased airline flight crews enormously. The rest of the traveling public soon saw that it solved their luggage problems, too.  Carrying it through crowded airports was as easy as maneuvering it down airliner aisles, or stowing it aboard planes.

After the roll-aboard succeeded in its target segment, it was launched into other markets.  Now, you can buy double-sized roll-aboards, designer roll-aboards, armoured equipment roll-aboards, and kid’s roll-aboards.  Today, purchasing luggage without built-in wheels and a retractable handle is difficult.

So what can be learned from this example?

As a design tool, it is more important that a persona be precise than accurate.  That is, it is more important to define the persona in great and specific detail than that the persona be the precisely correct one.  The end result is to have a (design) program that does the right thing, addresses the needs and goals of a persona through meaningful experiences. And meaningful experiences can be designed by first watching and listening to how people think, feel and behave in the real world.

After identifying the real audience of a design system, you can then start to discover what their goals are, and in turn how these goals inform what the design system will do – simply by talking to real people (representatives of a target audience) in order to identify their needs.  This sounds straightforward, but one of the problems with trying to identify the requirements for a design system is that people often do not know what they want, or else their tasks and life have become so second nature to them they are unable to tell you what their needs are and how they behave. However when users are able to tell you their needs, people will in general describe what they want from a design in terms of two types of needs: felt needs and expressed needs.

Felt needs, in many cases, are hidden or slow in being identified, as people may not know or understand what a potential design solution or system may be able to offer them or how it could make the accomplishment of their goals easier; so they do not realize that they have a need in the first place.  You might identify felt needs by questioning individuals or, on a wider basis, by using surveys. Observational, ethnographic research is another way to see behaviors and identify opportunities for design.

Expressed needs, on the other hand, are what people say they want.  For example people may have grumbled for years about the lack of a particular feature in a luggage system, or the hassles of traveling with baggage without ever doing anything about it; yet when they are consulted, this missing feature may be one of the first things they identify as an essential requirement.

It is up to the astute designer to notice the patterns, needs and possible solutions to move design forward and to help better address the goals and needs of real people.

For more information refer to:

Sketching User Experiences, by Bill Buxton, 2007, Elsevier.

The Inmates are Running the Asylum, by Alan Cooper. 1999 Excerpts from chapter 9, The Roll-Aboard Suitcase and Sticky Notes, pp. 126, 130.

The Advertising Concept Book, by Pete Barry, 2008, Thames and Hudson, p. 47

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This entry was posted on 2012 April 16 by in Design, Interaction Design, Persona, Strategy.

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Welcome to the Design 4 Blog

This blog is for inspiration and education related to the Parsons Design 4 Information Design and Visualization course taught by Andrew Robinson. The objectives of this class are to help students in the Strategic Design Studies program to learn how to create effective information design as a tool for communication. Beauty in form and function, which communicates ideas effectively, is our goal.
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