Designer Chris O’Leary comments on the brilliant idea behind ‘mutative design’.
Over the past two years responsive design (the ability for a website to transcend across multiple platforms and devices with ease) has become more than a nicety, and is now a basic requirement of website design. Simultaneously, brands are moving more towards focusing on providing an ‘experience’ for the consumers, rather than giving a flat offering that pays little attention to what customers want. Altogether, we’re definitely seeing a move towards a more connected relationship between branded identities, digital experiences and end users than ever before. Quite an exciting time huh?
Recently I came across a very interesting article by Liam Spradin (Head Designer of Touchlab) while he was in conversation with developer Jae Bales about a new project aimed at helping young children learn to code. While planning the app and considering the age range they were targeting (3-13), Liam started thinking about a way to conceive a design concept capable of adapting to each and every user: a design concept completely personal to that persons needs, traits and abilities. Enter ‘mutative design’.
This concept would mean designers looking into the problems faced by people with dyslexia, colour blindness, ADHD etc, and adapting their digital design to help make the content easier to understand and engage with. Considering one in ten people in the UK is dyslexic and 2.7 million people are colour blind, this is a process we should be getting on board with. Imagine, for example, an app that teaches you how to cook, but based on some preliminary questions you answer after downloading it the app might mutate, possibly shifting its interface, colours, and roughly how it works to help those with poor vision, disabilities or short attention spans. This blew my mind.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – WINSTON CHURCHILL
There is, however, one issue that I hope this new idea will overcome. It’s the unfortunate truth that as younger people have become more and more exposed to the internet (I’m looking at you millennials), they expect a level of personalisation while offering as little personal information online as possible; the average consumer is more digitally confident and expects to be rewarded easily. This issue could affect our ability to practice mutative design as a process in certain sectors. Imagine shopping online and being asked if you have any disabilities? I would love the website to display information in a quicker and simpler way if I had ADHD, but I can’t escape that in the back of my mind I will be questioning if these personal details will be sold.
I suppose this comes down to trust and ethics in design. If we are willing to pursue a design that is this bespoke to the user, then either we have to be able to trust the brands that we are sharing our information with, or we have to come to terms with the fact that a world with better informed products and brands is also a world where our information is widely shared.
Regardless of the ethical implications, the reality is that in the near future I will more than likely be working on digital projects that have a mutative design element, and that this means working on projects where we can really start to plan for specific people instead of the faceless target markets.