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Thesis Assignment 0

Could Design be More Feasible for Everyone?

I had an awkward moment at my city’s local KFC recently. I, with a low-battery phone and a phone plan with no data, didn’t expect this fast-food chain restaurant had replaced all of the human staff with a QR code to take food orders. I stood at the store for five minutes looking for a portable battery station and trying to connect to wifi—both attempts failed. I ended up going home without buying any food.

The design decision behind the KFC QR code is clear: it saves both customer’s line-up time and human labor. Considering the target audience of KFC in China is the young generation, it is understandable that this company has decided to renovate the restaurant with the QR code. However, even people like me, who still somehow qualified at general range of this restaurant’s target audience, had a moment at the restaurant feeling lost. Not to mention others who are not good at using a smartphone, or don’t even have a smartphone.

It seems like design is hard to be equal.

Once there is an “audience” that exists in the design process, it seems like there is always someone else to be left out in this specific design. Taking my KFC visiting experience as an example, because this “audience” is designed to be young, have some abilities to use a smartphone, and don’t mind e-pay, the rest of the group became the “unwanted” audience in this strategy. One could argue that there is still human staff in the restaurant, those “unwanted” audience could still ask for help. Yet they still require to take more steps or time to complete a simple process of ordering food. To some extent, this design decision has made a priority line in audience selection.

On the other hand, designers are always constrained by their views. Just like a male designer can never design a more comfortable sanitary pad than a female designer, it is hard to design for someone else. For sure, we are doing user research before we design something. It is ultimately different from oneself experiencing it by its-own. It is easy to become a stage that “I am designing for someone because I need to design for them”. For instance, in my city, all of the sidewalks have corporate with tactile paving. However, most of the tactile paving has been occupied by motorbikes or trash. When the designers design those sidewalks, none of them have considered the future maintaining or the real context of disabled people using sidewalks.

Designers are and naturally tend to be more interested in a topic that relates to their benefits. It is common and not wrong. Yet it also means that there is always a list of urgent things that need to be designed at the bottom of the line. Good designers are always spending hundreds of hours deciding on one pixel of a new company’s logo. Few of them had the extra time to take care of other issues, like the tactile paving on the sidewalk or the people don’t use a smartphone at KFC.

Could design become more feasible for everyone? I remembered at our first semester’s design for this century lecture, one guest speaker talking about how everyone from all kinds of backgrounds should learn machine learning to reduce the discrimination in this fast-paced industry. I believe it is the same answer for design. We need more people to design, not only the ones who graduated from those “so-called” design program. We need more people to think about those small details in our everyday life, to ponder through a possible solution for anything they care about, to have extended answers for the non-traditional target audience.

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