Design for all?

Latest video and writing over on LinkedIn. My video is specific to footwear but I think this applies equally to all kinds of products.


Design for everyone is design for no one.

It’s not the popular thing to say, but good design is not inclusive. Good design is specific.

Good design is targeted and precise.

“Design for all” sounds great. But it’s not reality. “All” people are not the same and design is about solving specific problems.

While it sounds counter to social trends, more exclusive design is a growing trend, especially in performance footwear.

Full post and video via LinkedIn

You’re playing with narrative language here, Richard Kuchinsky. (i.e. Design for everyone is design for no one, inclusive vs exclusive et al.)

In order to better understand what point you are making about design, it would be helpful for you to define what ‘social trends’ you are referring to here that you are countering with your assertions of exclusivity. Which demographic is being left behind or dropped as a target, for instance?

Indeed language and semantics are part of it.

There’s also a lot between the lines as only so much I can fit in 1:30. The original script/notes were more than twice as long.

Happy to have the discourse.

Re: social trends, and example would be gender free fashion and clothing. It works (I suppose) with a formless beige sweatshirt, but not so much when you are talking about performance footwear that has to fit (women are not small men!).

Re: targeting, my example was about pace for runners. It’s pretty common to hear language celebrating the the back of the pack runner, etc. but the truth is the biomechanically different paces have different needs for cushioning. There’s been several scientific papers about the (non) effectiveness of super shoes for slower paces and it’s interesting to see brands moving from “everyone is a runner and equal” to shoes that clearly say “these are not for you”.

To be clear, “exclusive” I don’t necessarily mean as high end or unavailable but selective. The aspirational aspect of brands (see: Tracksmith controversy over apparel only for Boston Qualifiers) is a whole different topic I am saving for another day.



I’ve been waiting for someone to post that :wink:

I find that peeler to be too chunky to use as fast and precisely as I can a normal slimmer peeler, which I actually prefer. While I certainly can live with oxo, it is not the optimal design for ME. So I side with Richard here.

I think what this really gets at is that there is no singular panacea when it comes to solving problems with design. Footwear is a great example as a category where both inclusivity and exclusivity thrive simultaneously. Neither is inherently right or wrong - at times specificity is the solution, at others it is not. It’s our job to understand the problem, the opportunity, and the desired outcome to decide which is the appropriate strategy.

That said, I do agree with @rkuchinsky that the idea of “inclusive” design has, at least publicly, dominated the conversation around design strategy for quite some time. Products with narrower targets and/or consumer markets are often thought of as “less than” or “simpler” in the realm of design success, but the reality is they are often the products that inspire just as much, if not more, utility and joy from their users than many of their more inclusive counterparts.

Inclusivity can be a wonderful aspiration, but if your target user wants and needs specifics to execute at peak levels (as if often the case with something like performance footwear) and will additionally be turned off if they don’t feel those specifics are being addressed in a genuine manner, inclusivity is not the best solution to the problem.

Of course there are dozens of solutions for any given problem. And if you don’t explore them, you suck as a designer.

But ultimately the solution you bring to market not only reflects customer needs, it also reflects the companies needs. So yes, you can design a running shoe for a female with northern European descent who runs in a barefoot style. It can also be a success. Or, have a shoe most schlubs thinks it makes them jump higher because of a name and certainly not exclusive. Arguably the most successful shoe of all time.

But this had always held true. Is there a new thought somewhere I missed?

I’ve no clue about running shoes but there’s some truth in “If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one.

Maybe it looks like this? Where the area under the curve represents volume:

Interesting visual @FluffyData … It might be something like that, or some sort of inverse of the long tail effect.

@engelhjs you are right. There is a place for both inclusivity and design for the masses as well as design for specifics in footwear (and other industries of course). It is interesting that you mention “simplicity” as I actually think it is the opposite. Designing for a broad range of users I think is actually easier and simpler than designing for a very specific use case or performance need.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t agree with that sentiment, but I have often run into the opinion from others that designing for an extremely specific user is “simpler” or “easier” because the user profile is so narrow.

I do think it’s often harder to make a broad-appeal product successful in so far as the business goals it needs to achieve are much loftier than something more niche. A good analogy for this is the modern film landscape:

  • For a small indie film to be considered a success it needs to generate buzz and awards with a very specific crowd, and while it’s nice if it makes a little money there’s not much expectation of it tipping a studio’s balance sheet one way or another.
  • For a $250MM summer blockbuster to be considered a success it needs to have “four quadrant appeal” and make a billion dollars. Maybe it won’t be remembered for its artistic value, but it’s intentionally crafted for a much wider audience than the indie festival darling.

Again, I don’t think either of those views and strategies are inherently right or wrong, easy or hard, simple or complex - but it’s the way many people see it, in my experience.

A big tentpole blockbuster is also usually the place where you see a Studio throw shit at the wall to see what sticks. Just look at all the crap Marvel movies. Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Ant Man, etc.

If you aim for a huge audience you are bound to hit something a good volume of “something” if you try everything and when you do get a “hit” it can pay for all the dogs and more.

Looking at the big picture, we seen things like “inclusivity” trending downward on all fronts, whereas exclusivity appears to now being given some investment. An example of this is The Enhanced Games.

A whole new category of sports design is opening up under the umbrella of legitimized and well funded PED (performance enhancing drugs) sports competitions. There will be many investment dollars lost on the way to new world records, but the aim is to create a new trend that will end in the inclusion of a much larger segment of the population participating in this kind of enhanced sports activity.

It will include many other sectors of the economy (tech, medicine, academia, manufacturing et al) and may even leverage and include the trans-human movement to bolster its growth. The growth of The Enhanced Games may even help other fledgling industries like cannabinoids get to the next level of growth.

One thing is for sure, the inclusion of marginalized and intersectional users is out, as it has proven to be a money loser.

American Gladiators did it first.

Edit: There isn’t a sharp enough knife to peel back all the layers of cynicism in Peter funding this foray into science experiments with other people’s bodies.

It is indeed, “Squid Game” level sh#t.

Definitely some sort of 80s movie plot here. Running Man x Max Hedroom x Robocop x ??

Interesting article,

In my opinion Design for All is not the same with Design for Inclusivity.
Inclusivity is more to embracing the diversity and try to accommodate them.

For instance, smartphone is one of the example of product with inclusivity, through its Screen Reader feature. When certain users need it, they can activate it.

Another example of inclusivity is the signage in Singapore, it has 4 different languages (English, Chinese, Hindi, and Malay), to accommodate the diversity of people who lives in Singapore.

I strongly disagree that ideas around the specificity of design as it relates to footwear are applicable to all other areas of design.
Footwear is bought by a single user from a huge selection. The user does not then share their shoes with other people.
Conversely, home goods, kitchen utensils, tools, AV equipment… all examples of items that are used by everyone in a household.
To design a can opener that can be used just as easily by Junior and by Grandma is a good thing.

Thank you. You’ve raised an interesting question.

I want to see the ultra-high-performance single-use can opener. 1HDC reboot?

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