Focus on Functional Needs and Preferences

When designing for users “at the margins”, including those with disabilities, the focus can often be put on the limitations of an individual or group of users, rather than on their functional needs related to completing a task or reaching a goal. Keeping the design focus on meeting a user’s needs puts the responsibility squarely on the features of the product or service to meet those needs - that is, if the users’ needs are not met, it is a failing of the design, rather than of the user (a mismatch). Also, by focusing on needs and preferences, our perspective is broadened to include others who may benefit from the same design features.

Individual needs and preferences are complex and defined by much more than a medical diagnosis or other singular label. When engaging in co-design, or when developing personas and use-cases, taking into account a user’s full range of interests, daily experiences and contexts will help to ensure that the unique and complex needs and preferences of a broad range of users are included.


  • When co-designing, conducting interviews or writing personas focus on an individual’s interests, goals and needs, rather than on their limitations
  • Write personas and use-cases based on real people and real situations