Connecting design strategy with a new audience

Sparking a new organizational conversation


This is about a global retail company that wants to better serve older adults. Sometimes companies begin an effort like that with research. A small group of specialists uses ethnographic methods and maybe surveys to dive in deep. So that small group become experts, and they have the feeling for the people they’ve met. They’re probably a little bit in love with the folks they’ve been studying. Meanwhile, the rest of the organization is touched only by reports, and presentations, and maybe some videos. It’s business as usual. That has often been my experience. 

In this story, design leadership is choosing to do something different. They want all 500 of their designers and design managers, and the many groups they collaborate with,  to have personal experience with the folks they’re seeking to serve. They want to introduce a new conversation about possibility, about who these people are, into the entire company. 

Eventually they’ll need research. But how give that whole design organization an experience with the realities of being seventy-five years old? 

This work is still in progress, but here’s what we’re doing. Every one of those five hundred will receive an audio “mixtape,” which they can listen to like a podcast while they drive or cook dinner or whatever. What’s in the mix? Things like this: A conversation about the key principles of universal design. Older folks telling stories. A provocation about inclusive strategy. And a few questions for group discussion. 

Meanwhile we’ll gather stories from a diverse group of older folks. We’ll curate the results into a video organized around themes. 

The first gathering is on Zoom. All five hundred designers and managers will watch that video together, theme by theme, and discuss it in groups. Older folks and senior designers will be there to help make sense of what’s showing up. 

That kicks off a series of activities and gatherings over six weeks. Everyone will receive a “challenge kit,” which equips them to listen to older adults in their own community. They’ll contribute what they learn to a common pool. And we’ve organized a series of co-design sessions. Small groups of designers and older folks will imagine possibilities for specific scenarios. 

It’s all part of what I call a “participation strategy.” By the end, everyone in the organization will have stories from time they’ve spent with the people they intend to serve. And the conversation will be alive and emergent in the culture.

This makes for a beautiful beginning. With feeling and memory at play in the organization. Before research, before concepts, get into relationship.

ContextGlobal consumer retail companyGroup size500DurationSix weeksOutcomeMany in the company connected to customers, a new conversation in the organizationCollaboratorsAlive Ventures