In Mara Mintzer’s TED Talk  How kids can help design cities, she makes the point that while adults are designing and building areas that will use by children, planners have historically ignored this group even though they represent 25% of the population and are part of the end users.

In 2009, Mintzer was tasked with designing a new park in Boulder, Colorado. Her group decided to include children since they would be part of the group using the park.

Not including children in city planning was a bigger design problem. After all, shouldn’t we include end-users in the design process? If we’re designing a park to be largely used by kids, then kids should have a say in the park’s design.
Mara Mintzer

The project was a success and now Mintzer’s group has been including kids in the design process of cities for 8 years.

Kids think differently than adults. Adults think using constraints. Kids think about possibilities. They literally think the sky is the limit. So…the old saying “thinking outside the box” isn’t a fantasy here, it’s reality.

Kids think without constraints and limits

What is interesting to note is that when a child designs a city, there are many elements and considerations that largely benefit other groups. Kids can’t drive, so they consider transportation. They love animals, so they include spaces for flowers and nature.

A city friendly to children, is a city friendly to all.

While this is a fascinating look at urban planning and a great talk, I think the concept has larger implications.

Participatory Design

If you haven’t heard of Participatory design yet, it’s a method of designing that involves the community to build better results. It’s inclusive, and involves both the stakeholder of the design and the end-user. With urban planning and the discussion above by Mintzer, she is using participatory design.

However, this can be done in any industry and on any project. The real-world implications are immense.

Let’s think about a few scenarios…

  • If you’re designing a product, include people that will buy it and use it
  • If you’re designing a community center, include the elderly
  • If you’re a Web designer, include users with disabilities in your design process

Involving users early in projects helps you understand real-world accessibility issues, such as how people with disabilities and older people use the web with adaptive strategies and assistive technologies. Involving users early helps you implement more effective accessibility solutions. It also broadens your perspective and can lead you to discover new ways of thinking about your product that makes it work better for more people in more situations.

I could keep going, but you get the point.

So, now what?

The notion of including end-users in the design process is much easier said than done in some cases. Budgets and traditional design methods act as barriers. But, as companies place more and more emphasis on design, the cost of not including end users will be high.

As a designer, regardless of what industry you work in, it’s time to really start considering participatory design.

Let us know if you already do this in the comments below. We’d love to hear about more real-world experiences!


Chuck is the Design Brother and CEO of Rareview, where he's been lucky as all hell to win several design awards, including the coveted Webby Award. Now he really thinks he's a designer.

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