Design for Living: A Day in the Life

Product and service developers can easily be fooled into thinking all they need to focus on is the moment of engagement with their product. The design method “A Day in the Life” can help us put our potential audience (customer, client, or “user”) into a clearer perspective.

A Day in the Life is a simple activity that seeks to catalogue the activities and contexts that your audience might engage in within a typical day to help shed light on the life circumstance and situations that could influence your product.

Begin at the Beginning

Let’s illustrate this simple method with an example: education and training. When we design for education and training, the actual service might be a class, webinar, or workshop. However, the total experience of learning may involve much more than that.

Rather than assume your service starts at the moment people sit down (in person, at the computer etc..) go back to the start of their day.

Start with imagining a ‘user’ — be as specific as possible about this person with as much detail as you can provide that reflects a ‘typical’ or a particular (e.g., specific segment) service or product user.

Then ask: What happened the moment they woke up?

This question tells you a lot and invites other questions: Did they get a good sleep? What were the conditions that they slept in? What time did they wake up?

This matters because one of the assumptions behind your education and training service might be that people are attentive, able to listen and process the material, participate when necessary, and able to codify what’s learned into their brain and apply that later to whatever problem is at hand.

If you want your service to be useful, it needs to fit the circumstances of your user. If your participants didn’t sleep well, had to get up early to commute, are living in a state of fear or violence, or have no good place to sleep at all they are already facing some challenges before they start.

Continue the Story

The first question will lead you to a series of other questions that continue with: What happened next?

You continue this story as you progress through the day in the life of your participant up to and through the actual service event you’re involved in. After that? Continue the story through to the end of the day.

Along the way you will identify such things about your audience like:

  • Demographics
  • Social life and network
  • ‘Touchpoints’ with other systems and services
  • Preferences
  • Social and psychological circumstances.

These are imaginations of sorts based on what you think is a ‘typical user’. To increase the likelihood of reflecting the experience of a diversity of users it is best to conduct some background research to ensure you are reflecting the true characteristics of your audience. This method also works for identifying qualities about non-typical or non-users to help you understand why they might not use or desire your product or service.

Putting it into Practice

This exercise is best done as a group and can be conducted within 2 hours comfortably with more time for more granular exploration. It is meant to be participatory, engaging and allow for some creative reflection.

Materials include:

  • Whiteboards or large flipchart paper
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Stickers (optional)

Over the course of a morning or afternoon, you can bring your team into a place of greater understanding of your users — current and potential — and help set the context for your service. If we consider our example of education and training, the lessons we learn from this might be that we break programming into different chunks, change the distribution model, provide additional or alternative means to access content, or perhaps follow-up with reminders and tips to aid memory or application.

This simple, engaging and powerful method will help you tell better stories about your product or service and those of the people you wish to influence and serve.

A Day in the Life is one of the methods that we teach as part of the Design Loft Experience pop-up held as part of the annual American Evaluation Association annual conference each year. It’s one of many methods we use to help our clients understand the bigger picture and gain new insights into their work. Want help implementing it? Contact us — this is what we do.

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